Union County corrections officers don superhero suits for Special Olympics
ROSELLE PARK — Once again this year, corrections officers from the Union County Jail in Elizabeth will be dressing up as superheroes to participate in the Law Enforcement Torch Run, which leads up to the opening ceremonies of the Special Olympics Summer Games in Ewing next month.
One of those officers, Peter Femia, is the charity coordinator for the jail's endeavor, dubbed "Heroes4Heroes," and also dresses up yearly as Batman. He said New Jersey does more for the Special Olympics than almost any other state, and law enforcement is a big reason why.
However, his team has traditionally faced challenges in fundraising. One factor is that corrections officers are not visible in the communities they serve in the way that local police departments are, and another is that the profession of a corrections officer is often "misunderstood," as he puts it.
That is where the idea of masquerading as superheroes has helped the group, as Femia said even those who have no idea what a corrections officer does can recognize Batman, Superman, or Spider-Man. And the Heroes4Heroes moniker is truly meant to evoke the admiration these officers have for the courageous Special Olympics athletes.
"It's a great cause, and at the same time, we can get out from behind the walls of this jail and let people in the community know who we are," he said. "You may not know who we were before, but now you know who we are. You know who we are as people, you know how we are as people living in your community, and you know who we are as family members."
Those who show up for Heroes4Heroes' annual fundraiser at Frenchy's in Roselle Park on Friday, May 26, will see these officers like never before — and not only because they'll be in costume. The costumes themselves are getting more elaborate with each passing year, according to Femia, as enthusiasm for the effort grows.
"It almost becomes like a little rivalry between all the people on the Heroes4Heroes team," he said. "Everybody tries to upgrade their costumes."
Last year's event at Frenchy's raised $6,000, around two-thirds of Femia's group's total contribution to the Special Olympics for 2016. Attendees this year are asked to just give whatever they can give, while coming out to enjoy free, donated food, live music, and the opportunity to take pictures with the "superheroes."
All that is in preparation for the Torch Run, which culminates with the opening ceremonies of the 2017 Special Olympics Summer Games at The College of New Jersey on Friday, June 9.
"It's really amazing and it's really inspirational, and I love what the Special Olympics are doing in the state of New Jersey, and the Torch Run is just an incredible cause," Femia said.
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