BILLINGS - A non-profit group called 'A Future Superhero and Friends' made their stop at a Billings animal shelter Thursday night as part of their Hope for the Holidays 50 states tour. The tour aims to help the homeless community, veterans, children, the elderly and animals before the holidays.
Yuri Williams and Rodney Smith Jr., the founders of the tour, have been frequently referred to as two real-life superheroes for all of the charitable work they do. Montana marked the 17th stop on their tour, where they donated about 20 bags of dog and cat food to the Yellowstone Valley Animal Shelter and covered adoption fees for five animals.
Williams started his organization, 'A Future Superhero and Friends', to help battle depression following his mother's passing in 2009 from a five-year battle with cancer and says this type of work has helped him tremendously with his mental health.
“It’s a super-power energy that I feel," Williams said. "It gets me to go on to the next day because I don’t want to go back to that dark tunnel where I was for that five years because I almost felt like I lost myself."
Smith Jr. is also no stranger to charitable work. He created his non-profit, 'Raising Men and Women Lawn Care', in 2015 after he noticed an elderly man struggling to mow his lawn and assisted him. He began moving lawns for free, eventually traveling across the U.S. to help take care of lawns for the elderly, disabled, single parents and veterans, also doing numerous tours to all 50 states. Now, thousands across the country have taken up the cause with him in his 50 Yards Challenge where kids are challenged to mow 50 yards for those in need.
“It’s helping people, and especially the kids. Yuri does a lot of work with the kids and my organization also helps mentor the kids and they take part in our 50 Yards Challenge. But it’s important to take care of those that need the help," says Smith Jr.
Williams saw Smith Jr’s success and knew he’d found the perfect partner to collaborate with. While both have different organizations, the end goal and missions are the same.
“I was just texting him like crazy and I know he was probably thinking I was a madman, but it was just something that I saw him doing on that was very impressive that I was doing as well. I was like, maybe we should team up, and do the 50 states tour together,” recalls Williams.
This is now the fifth year of the Future Superhero and Friends tour, and for Smith Jr, it's his 17th statewide tour. Each year, Williams dresses as a superhero while Smith Jr goes as one of Santa’s elves. For this tour, Williams took on the persona of Miles Morales (Spider-man).
“The parents seem more excited than the kids sometimes because it brings you back to your childhood. Just seeing these kids smile and their parents smile for that 15, 10 minutes that I’m there, that’s what it’s about,” says Williams.
Both men have made countless memories during their journeys, even getting the chance to revisit some of the same families each year. Smith Jr. shared a story about one child named David they met during their first tour that still sticks in his mind to this day.
"There was one young man by the name of David we met on our first tour together and he had something called DIPG, which is a terminal brain tumor," Smith Jr. said. "And sadly, he passed away, I think, two years ago or so. Every 50 states tour that Yuri and I did together, we got a chance to go see David and I even did a 50 states tour for childhood cancer to raise awareness, and I got to see David one last time with that tour. I think a month later, he passed away. What our organizations do, they go hand-in-hand."
Both individuals dedicate countless hours and work to these projects, but say that the outcome is more than rewarding.
“Every day I get to wake up and do what I love. It’s not working, it’s not hard, I just get to do what I love, and I can’t go wrong with that,” says Smith Jr.
And that love will be felt by some furry friends in need in Billings. The adoption fees covered two cats, a puppy, a bunny and a lizard. As of Saturday, the puppy and lizard have found their forever homes, but visit the shelter's website, yvas.org, for more information about these animals.