A former security guard quit his job with just £240 to his name to become a real-life Spider-Man after his dead grandmother visited him in a dream.
Ricky Mena, 35, launched his non-profit business, Heart of a Hero, following the dream, during which they watched a movie together where the Marvel comic character helped terminally ill children instead of fighting crime.
Ricky, from Pittsburg, California, USA, whose wife, Kendall, 24, does the company admin, said: ‘In this film, rather than fighting crime, Spidey was helping kids in less fortunate situations find happiness in life. My grandmother turned to me in the dream and said, ‘That’s exactly what you should do’.
‘Even though I had hardly any money, I knew when I woke up that I wanted to be just like that Spider-Man.
‘I was so excited when the first superhero suit I ordered finally arrived – being the exact same height and weight as Spider-Man in the comics, it felt perfect.
‘I stood in front of the mirror and felt like it had chosen me, as much as I had chosen it. That was 2014 and I haven’t looked back.’
Since starting Heart of a Hero, Ricky has helped bring a smile to the faces of 11,000 sick children – even following one to England for treatment – mostly visiting them in hospital, wearing his £400-£500 Spider-Man costumes and bringing them gifts.
As his administrator, Kendall sifts through hundreds of messages from parents of poorly children, sent to his social media, asking him to visit them and bring some much-needed joy.
Now Ricky does graphic design work and Kendall works as a personal trainer, to fund their lives and enable them to devote most of their time to running their hero venture, unpaid.
When he started out, Ricky was still working as a security man in a bar, until an experience in October 2014 changed his life forever.
He recalled: ‘Rylan, a young boy I got to know and visited on many occasions, sadly passed away. His father asked me to carry his casket. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. You never think you’ll see a child die right in front of you.
‘When the funeral was over, I went straight to the bar to start my night shift, even though my friends said I should call in sick. I knew I couldn’t because I was desperate for the money.
‘I cried and cried before I started my shift – I was a total wreck. That night there was an altercation at the bar and I got punched straight in the face. That punch was all I needed to knock my head into shape and make me leave my job.’
Ricky has recruited several volunteers who also dress as superheroes, to visit sick children alongside him.
Thanks to donations, he now has a collection of 12 Spider-Man suits.
Explaining why he does it, he said: ‘Spider-Man shows peace, inspiration and fun. It turns into therapy for the kids to have someone to laugh with.’
And his role comes into its own at Christmas, when he has a separate festive crowdfunding page specifically for gifts. He buys things such as brand new bikes and huge cuddly bears for children whose parents cannot afford them.
Although he has help from donations, Ricky and his wife say they still struggle, as he tries to make extra money on the side by doing freelance graphic design work.
Ricky, who wears a Santa hat and coat on top of his Spidey suit during the festivities, said: ‘Christmas is a tough time to do what I do. I remember all the kids we lost throughout the year, but I still love the spirit of giving and bringing children in need the gifts they deserve.
‘Any child in need – sick, poor or bullied – deserves a magical Christmas. I love showing up outside their houses with a truck of huge teddy bears and bikes and handing them out.
‘I’ve seen kids scream and cry with excitement. A single mum of four who couldn’t even afford one gift fell to her knees and sobbed when I knocked on her door and gave her kids five expensive gifts each.’
Meanwhile, Ricky has forged some very special bonds with children he has visited and their families.
Remembering one little girl, Zamora, who passed away aged nine following a two-year battle with a highly aggressive and incurable brain tumour – he recalled going to the UK with her and her mum, Marisa Martinez, in March 2017.
Ricky bought a plane ticket to London so he could be there for the child when she received what her parents believed would be better treatment.
Marisa praised Ricky, saying: ‘He couldn’t do more if he tried. He barely has any money but uses all of it to help others.
‘He wants to change the world for children. He’s such a beautiful person and an angel in my life.
‘He was with Zamora only a few months before she died, but I know it meant the world to her. He doesn’t showboat about it, he just genuinely wanted to be there for us.
‘Zamora’s dad, Marc Lusinthi, 49, had to go back to the US for work, leaving me alone with Zamora and her younger sister Xavia, now nine.
‘Ricky helped take Xavia to school when I couldn’t be there – he was a huge help to our lives.’
But for Ricky, who wants his own kids in the future when he is more financially stable, there is nothing more satisfying than bringing a smile to the face of a child who is suffering.
He said: ‘I’m not an angel, or a superhero, I’m just human and able to spot when children need some extra light in their lives.’
You can donate to help fund Ricky’s charity here.