Josh Aryeh founded The Real Batman initiative with one mission in mind: to brighten up the lives of sick children and their families in their most dire time of need.
What started as a small initiative to help just one child has now grown into something much larger helping over 20,000 children since its inception. I spoke with Josh to learn more about The Real Batman initiative and how you can help.
What inspired you to start the Real Batman initiative?
It was a combination of things, starting from my own personal experience of losing my younger sister. When she was 18 she randomly got sick and passed away within seven days. Unfortunately, the doctors had no idea what was wrong. In the beginning they thought it was a bad cold but she ended up having a staph infection that spread throughout all of her organs and by the time they realized what it was, it was already too late for the doctors to do anything. So within seven days she passed away and that was the worst experience of my entire life. She was my only younger sibling and it really had a large impact on me and my entire family. Thankfully my family is very close and we have a great support system but I realized how rare it is for someone to have that. So I wanted to become the person that I would have needed if I wasn’t part of such an amazing family. So that’s what I started to do, to try and give back to people in a time of such despair. It started off as just something simple but as time went on I realized the impact that I was able to have I decided that this was something that I wanted to do for the rest of my life.
So when I started to pursue the path of volunteering to help others in need I decided to combine my two passions of helping and my love of exotic cars. I grew up loving exotic cars however I was not able to afford them. As I got older I developed relationships with people that owned exotic cars, occasionally they would allow me to use the cars to do errands for them and eventually to take the cars home for a few days. One day I had an idea to use the cars to visit sick and underprivileged children since I figured there would be children that had the same passion for exotic cars as I did. I started calling various organizations letting them know that I had access to multiple exotic cars and that I would gladly use them to surprise the children if ever there was a need. After a few months, I received a call that there was an 8 year old girl battling stage 4 cancer whose dream was to go into a Lamborghini. Immediately I called someone on the North Shore to ask if I could use their exotic car for 2 days to surprise this child. This was the moment that changed my entire life! The family knew I was coming but the child had no idea that I was going to surprise her outside of her house with her favorite car. They brought out this little girl in a wheelchair. She’s looking down at the ground since she was extremely sad and she looks up and sees a bright yellow convertible Lamborghini parked in front of her house and the entire child’s face lights up with the biggest smile I’ve ever seen. I put the top down and drove her around for approximately 20 minutes. When we got back to the house they transferred her back into a wheelchair and brought her inside. As soon as she got inside her mother started hysterically crying I looked the mom and I said if I did something or said something offensive I didn’t mean it and the mother looked at me and said you don’t understand my daughter was diagnosed with cancer at the age of 4 she’s had over 20 surgeries she got an infection which caused her to become partially paralyzed which is why she’s in a wheelchair she said this is the 1st time I’ve seen my daughter smile it in 4 years since she was diagnosed with cancer. At that moment I said I don’t know how but I want to dedicate my life to volunteering. Since that child I have been privileged to visit more than 20,000 children.
How has Covid impacted the work you do?
Covid Had a large impact on the way that we operated through my non profit organization to visit the children. We were not allowed to go to hospitals and needed to maintain social distancing and wear proper PPE equipment. During the beginning of the pandemic we shifted from doing hospital visits to delivering medical supplies masks and food to elder couples and families with children that are immunocompromised that could not leave their houses. Additionally, we altered the way that we would do the drive by visits for the children. Instead of stopping and interacting with the children we would arrange for a large group of exotic cars to drive by hospitals, outpatient centers, or the children’s houses to let them know that we care and that we are still with them during these tough times. During the 1st few months of the pandemic we did more than 600 drive by visits. Now we are allowing the children to go into the cars but while we aren’t in them we are looking forward to being able to go back to the normal visiting situations that we took for granted as daily life.
Where do you get the cars from?
In the beginning when I started volunteering I borrowed cars from people that owned these exotic cars. When I wasn’t unable to borrow a car I would rent them from various rental companies. Eventually I saved enough money to purchase a car to enable me to have access to an exotic car 365 days a year for the children. In 2020, I met one of the owners of ASAP Restoration which is based in Hewlett NY. He Heard about all of the amazing volunteer work that my team has been doing and he donated a Rolls Royce Wraith and a Lamborghini Aventador to the organization to be used for the children!
Which hospitals are you working with? Or how do you connect with children?
We’ve visited children in hospitals or outpatient centers in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Philadelphia, Florida, California, and Las Vegas. Majority of the children that we visit are from messages that we receive on Instagram. Either one of the hospital staff , a family member, a family friend, or other families that we visited in the past are referring the children
How often are you visiting children?
We visit children every week and sometimes even daily. There are some days that we can visit more than 20 different outpatient centers for houses and others only 1 or 2. It all depends on how the children are feeling since their conditions can change by the minute.
I saw on your Instagram you’ve done work with the NYPD, can you tell me a little more about that?
My organization has teamed up with the New York police department fire department state troopers and multiple other agencies. We try to do anything possible to make these events memorable for the children and their families. We’ve done multiple events with the police department to enable the children to become an honorary police officer for the day. Additionally, we have another program with the police department that every year during the holiday season we give out more than 15,000 toys in Brooklyn to children that are in hospitals or at specified meeting locations to make sure that every child receives a present.
What positive impact have you seen what you do have on the kids?
When you are doing or random acts of kindness the impact that you have and that ripple effect is always much greater than you could ever imagine. Children that I’ve met more than a decade ago have recently told me that I am part of the reason why they are still living. Between the painful treatments and not being able to enjoy their lives they wanted to end their lives but they said that despite that I didn’t know them previously I treated them as if they were my best friend from the 1st time that I met them and I always told them that if they had an issue they could reach out and I would visit again or arrange an exotic car ride. They said that it gave them something to look forward to and despite all the pain it gave them something to look forward to so no matter how painful it was they pushed through the pain because they wanted to go for a ride in the exotic car and get food or presents.
How can someone get involved? Donate?
People can get involved by messaging us on our website or on our Instagram account to join our team. Donations can be made via our website which is www.SmilesThroughCars.com
What kind of impact do you wish to have with your organization?
My goal for the organization is to have representatives in every city throughout the United States and then to expand into International countries as well. I want to implement our mentality throughout the world.
What are some of the challenges in running it?
Some of the challenges that we’ve faced is lack of funding. Despite not having anyone on payroll we receive too many requests and not enough funds to be able to do everything that we want for the children during these times of despair. Sometimes the children only have a few weeks remaining to live so our window of opportunity to grant their final request is extremely time sensitive. However, despite having issues we always find a way to make sure that what we are trying to do is successful.
How do you hope to grow this organization in the next year?
My goal for the organization during 2021 is to increase the amount of volunteers that we have on the West Coast and to continue building our team to enable us to expand into other regions as well.