Children of the Tri-State have the chance to see some of their favorite superheroes in person and to learn some positive lessons from them, thanks to Huntington resident John Mark Buckland, owner of Heroes for Higher.
Buckland started the business last year with his Batman costume and has appeared as the caped crusader with a positive message at elementary schools, birthday parties, restaurants, agencies and organizations and community events. He said he has $15,000 invested in very authentic suits, which includes Batman, Iron Man, Spider Man and Captain America; his characters’ names are Gotham Knight, Iron Hero, Webbed Wonder and American Hero.
“I get them from licensed suit builders that have contracts to produce replicas,” he said. “I place high standards on the authenticity of the suits because that is what really reaches the children and even the adults. The more authentic the costume, the more open the child’s heart is to receive the encouraging message the Hero has to deliver for them.”
The message to children is to believe in themselves and the message to their parents is to believe in their children.
“We have a huge drug epidemic and a ton of high-pressure situations that these children grow up with,” he said. “We all have a part to play in making the world a better place. This is my way to help make the world a better place and I try to encourage everyone to find out what their way is.”
Bringing a positive message to children is important to Buckland, who had a difficult childhood himself.
He suffered sexual abuse and went on to have a troubled young adulthood, spending some time in jail.
However, Buckland turned his life around.
He joined the military and served as a firefighter for the Department of Defense from 2009 to 2011 in Iraq.
He fell and love and married shortly after his service; he and his wife Ronda moved to the Tri-State in March 2011 and had a daughter, Skylar, who is 5 months old.
“Having this business allows me to be the father she needs and still reach the community in a great way,” he said.
The backstory of the Batman character appealed to Buckland, as he had struggles as a child which he overcame to do great things.
“Everyone has a hero inside of them and it just takes discovering who that is and encouraging the children to find theirs that brings me joy through these characters,” he said. “We can find strength through our past struggles and use that energy to make an impact on the world around us. I teach kids to ‘turn the bad stuff into good stuff.’”
He said just as his life illustrates, a difficult past does not mean the future is doomed.
“We need to teach our children this truth so that they can effect a positive change in our nation and community that seems to be slipping from those positive truths,” he said.
Buckland said he has had experience working with children in fire safety programs as a firefighter and has been able to have good rapport with children when portraying a superhero.
“Most of the kids are wide open and very excited to see me,” he said. “Maybe 3 percent have to take a little extra time to process it, but they come around. I have techniques to earn their trust and make contact with them by the time the event is over. Even those that were a bit shy remember the message they heard.”
He said he believes he has appeared in front of at least 10,000 children since he started the business in September 2012, averaging 20 to 25 events per month.
Visits from Iron Hero, American Hero, Gotham Knight and Webbed Wonder through Heroes for Higher can be scheduled by calling (304) 972-2311 or by visiting partyhero.org.
LEE WARD can be reached at email@example.com or (606) 326-2661.