By Danielle Spano | Photo Courtesy of James Coats
What do you do when you spent much of your childhood in the hospital, had a rough family life, were voted least likely to succeed, and even lost the roof over your head due to medical expenses? If you are like James Coats, you create your own path, start a multi-million dollar manufacturing company and form a charity to bring hope to children.
Unable to play outside due to extensive allergies, Coats spent much of his time alone in sterile hospital rooms. He found comfort reading comic books and related to storylines where weak main characters gained super powers. After dropping out and then returning to college, Coats used his love for comic books to pave his own path to success. In 2012, he founded Phalanx Defense Systems, a manufacturer of safety products for first responders, where he purchased and studied the design of movie stunt suits to create designs for body armor manufacturing. Eventually, his collection of superhero movie suits grew to represent almost every superhero, and two years ago, Coats began giving tours to children battling diseases to give them hope and time to escape from their illness and just be a kid. Just last year, this endeavor of hope became an IRS approved 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, and Superheroes for Hope was born.
The movie replicas are displayed throughout the converted 1950s armory where Phalanx operates. Through partnerships with the Ronald McDonald House, UF Health Shands Hospital and Partnership for Strong Families, between 25 and 30 children, whether on the spectrum, battling diseases or displaced, tour the facility each month. Whenever the organization is alerted that a child or group of children is available to come to the facility, Superheroes for Hope springs into action to gather real life heroes (firefighters, policemen and women, and military personnel) to talk to the children before they get a tour of Phalanx to see the collection. The goal is to bring hope to and inspire each child that comes through the 30,000 square foot building. Earlier this year, Coats was awarded the 2018 Spirit of #GreaterGNV for his contributions to the community and Superheroes for Hope.
In addition to displaying the memorabilia at the facility, the organization transports the collection to charities nationwide to use in fundraising for their individual causes. Recently, the organization transported a moving truck full of pieces for Partnership for Strong Families to use in raising awareness. Superheroes for Hope covers all the costs of transporting the pieces to these charities, and donations help the organization transport these pieces to other charities and as well as expand the collection. Their current goal is to purchase a series of Iron Man suits to rotate at UF Health Shands so that children undergoing monthly treatments will have a reason to look forward to going to the hospital.
In the short time since it began, Superheroes for Hope has expanded to include a mentor division to bring hope and direction to children from various foster programs and kids from broken homes. Board members from Phalanx and Partnership for Strong Families serve as the mentors for the short time they get to spend with the children. Because the children, referred through Partnership for Strong Families and Youth Build, often move around or are in a short program, the mentors have but one or two opportunities to make an impact on them. The aim is to inspire the youth and present them with survival skills like how to get a job, balance a checkbook and be an entrepreneur. “The reason I do this is because I was a broken kid, and it’s no big secret that we are all broken,” said Coats. “There are a lot of kids that get stuck in the system, that all they have is the traditional path to follow and they can’t follow it.” After grabbing their attention with Iron Man suits and Batmobiles, Coats then connects with the children by disclosing how he has been homeless and had a tough family life. Showing how he has overcome these obstacles gives inspiration to these children, so that they too can strive to succeed in their own way.
Superheroes for Hope is an organization for children in need of an extraordinary experience. Whether it is allowing a sick child a chance to feel strong for a day, helping a troubled youth find their purpose or making an unwanted child feel heard, this organization helps children feel special. “Children are the only true natural resource that we have,” said Coats. “We have to invest in them or it creates a lot of problems down the road. We have to invest in our youth. It is my hope that others who run businesses can take part of their business and open it up to kids.”
For those of you who are more Clark Kent and less Superman, the organization can always use volunteers. Superheroes for Hope has an annual party for underprivileged children in Gainesville that even features a superhero-themed professional stunt show. Find your inner hero, as helping hands are needed to wrap presents, usher guests for the show, hand out gifts, provide food and more. If you would like to donate, volunteer or learn more about this organization, visit Superheroesforhope.org.