What started as an Instagram post led to a coast-to-coast adventure for two men – who live 2,019 miles apart.
Yuri Williams and Rodney Smith Jr. are preparing for their third Hand of Hope Tour, where they will attempt to visit all 50 states in less than a month.
The 17,000-mile trip will take place in Smith’s van, with the goal of helping families with special needs, children and / or children with terminal illnesses, the homeless and animals in the shelters. The tour began on Friday November 26 in Kentucky and is scheduled to end on December 20 in Hawaii.
The effort stems from the pain and heartache Williams endured after the death of her mother.
Williams said he had a bout of depression five years after the death of his mother, Lynda Hubbard, after an eight-year battle with cancer. Williams, who works with mentally ill youth in the Orange County Probation Department, lived at her mother’s house in Long Beach – but the memories of her were heartbreaking.
“I never knew what depression was until my mother died,” he said. “I decided it was time to move on because I couldn’t live like this anymore. I had to move.
So five years ago, Williams moved to Signal Hill.
During this time, he had an idea that would allow him to help the under-served. Williams has always considered himself a generous person, he said, thanks to the example set by his mother.
“My idea was to feed the elderly, children, veterans and the homeless,” Williams said, “and also to visit sick children in Spider-Man disguise.”
The first efforts worked, and that’s when the idea of forming an association sprang up in his head. In 2017, AfutureSuperHero.org was born.
After browsing various social media sites, Williams decided to write his first Instagram post to let people know what he was doing.
It was a simple message:
“It’s me in a Spider-Man costume,” he wrote next to the photo, “give back”.
The first person who responded to the message, Williams said, was Tommy Norman, a police officer from North Little Rock, Arkansas.
Norman, who does community service in his town, then introduced Williams to Rodney Smith Jr., who lives in Huntsville, Alabama.
Smith is the founder of Raising lawn care services for men and women. He challenges young people to volunteer to mow the lawns of seniors, people with disabilities and single parent families. Smith has traveled all 50 states 12 times – mowing lawns for free.
“In 2015, I saw a struggling elderly man in Huntsville and I stopped and helped him mow his lawn,” Smith said. “I posted a post on social media saying I’d help you mow your lawn. Now 3,000 children are helping.
After Williams created his AfutureSuperHero.org site, he contacted Smith. They met for lunch and agreed to collaborate on something special for the kids.
“I saw Rodney mowing lawns,” Williams said, “and I dressed like a superhero and went to Miller Children’s Hospital.”
They both have similar philosophies about the power to help others.
“Giving is a way of life for us,” said Smith, “and we encourage others to do acts of kindness. “
Williams, meanwhile, said he was going to write a book called “Instagram Saved My Life.”
“I contacted Rod,” he said, “and now we talk every other day about how we can help each other.”
After successfully completing the Hand of Hope cross-country tour in 2018 and 2019, the men had to take time off last year due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The road trip may have been canceled, but the donation was not.
“I couldn’t visit the kids in the hospital, so I would FaceTime and dress still,” Williams said. “I still visited people and dropped things off at their homes. I went shopping for the elderly.
I told Rod we were putting our love on the line, ”he added. “The need will always be there. “
The two men agreed that the past two years have been difficult for families with children with life-threatening illnesses. But, Smith said, he and Williams hope to bring some Christmas cheer to children this year, no matter what state they live in.
“I’ll be Santa’s helper and Yuri will be disguised as a Santalorian,” Smith said, with the Williams costume playing on the Disney + show’s main character “The Mandalorian”. “Many families have been hit hard financially. So many people right next to us could use a hand of hope right now. “
There’s a reason their trip started in Kentucky – Louisville to be exact. The men had befriended a 10-year-old boy named David, who had cancer.
Smith saw David in September. But the youngster passed away recently and therefore, in his honor, the tour will start in his hometown.
From Louisville, the men will cross the south of the country before heading west then looping back into the Midwest and, finally, east.
Smith had estimated the cost of the hike across the country to be around $ 17,000, but soaring gas prices turned things upside down. They have a Go Fund Me page – gofundme.com/f/50statestour3 – that, said Smith, he hopes the people will come.
The goal is to visit multiple states in one day, but it all depends on the size of the states.
“So many people need help right now,” Williams said. “We usually stop in one or two cities per state, but it’s all about making memories for these parents because it could be their child’s last Christmas.
“And so,” he added, “if that means visiting one or two more cities, we will.”