I’m glad you asked. It was Valentine’s day, many years ago, when my kids were 3 and 5, that I got them a DVD set of the show that I watched as a kid: Batman! Of course, it was the 60s version, so I was unsure if they’d even have an interest.
To my utter amazement not only did they like it, they made their own outfits using bath towels as capes, they made their own masks from paper plates and would even swing at imaginary villains! Watching their excitement made me wonder how I could take their superhero experience to the next level. So naturally I started researching, “do Batmobiles even exist? Can you see one? Can you touch one?”
It wasn’t long before my research led to a Craigslist ad to buy an actual Batmobile.
Call me crazy, but, yes, I bought the Batmobile on Craigslist! My whole game plan when I brought this car home was to let the kids put on their makeshift costumes, jump in the car, and play the theme song really loud as we drove to Dairy Queen for ice cream. That was it: I wanted to take my kids to get ice cream in the Batmobile. I didn’t know this would be the beginning of something bigger than I ever imagined.
It was December 2009 when I got a completely unsolicited call from a Make-A-Wish wish granter who told me she had been working with a young boy, Colten Cowell, who was terminal and who would soon be released from the University of Arizona Tucson and sent home. The request was for me to bring the Batmobile, hoping that in some way it would serve as a distraction from Hospice arriving that same night. There was no question, I would absolutely be there.
It took me quite a while to process what I saw at the Cowell’s that night.
For the most part, it was a very joyous scene. I vividly remember Santa Claus being there, Christmas carols being sung by a Christmas tree and Snappy the elf was someone doing magic tricks, and everyone was laughing and singing.
As wonderful as that moment may have seemed, it was also very sober. I watched as Colten’s Mom Erika help to set up the morphine that would take her own son’s life. I watched Colten beam with joy for the first time that night as he returned from his ride in The Batmobile, only to see his Dad behind the wheel, tears streaming down his face as he asked permission for one more ride around the block. It was a lot to take in.
Once I did process everything, I realized the power of giving kids and families joyous and magical moments in the midst of hardship and tragedy. So in a very casual way, and with the help of different charities, I started taking the Batmobile out to a particular family’s house. Eventually I integrated things like giving small gifts to the kids and giving a small check to the charity that had told us about the family. I continued to involve my kids, and either one or both of them would come with me to act as hosts, escorting the child into the Batmobile and presenting them with a check to give to the charity.
I didn’t envision it becoming bigger than that.
I didn’t want any fame or glory for myself. But I really felt it was super important that something be named after that little boy who gave the Batmobile a bigger purpose: Colten Cowell, the 3-year-old boy who got dealt the worst possible hand, yet he made a huge difference. So I asked his parents, Erika and Earl, if they would allow me the privilege of naming this after their son. I was thrilled when they said yes!
10 years later the Colten Cowell Foundation has become bigger than me - with a full on Cave experience - and continues to grow! We hope it has the ability to attract still other people who want to help. It has been one of the great privileges of my life to be able to put this together.
I guess you really can buy anything on Craigslist!