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Ill child surprised with superhero room makeover

MARIETTA - As Superheroes, Marvel Comics' "Storm" and "Black Widow" use their powers to fight evil.

This week, they used their powers to paint walls, install floors and hang posters.

The Superheroes, "Storm," portrayed by Amani Velma, and "Black Widow," portrayed by Taylor Hemmeter, in the national production of "Marvel Universe LIVE!" spent one day this week using their handyman powers to transform a bedroom into a Superheroes haven for an ill child.

Elliott Ross, 8, a son of Eric and Amy Ross of Lancaster County, is being treated for leukemia at Penn State's Hershey Medical Center.

Eric had wished for a superheroes room.

Enter Feld Entertainment, producers of "Marvel Universe LIVE!," who partner with "Special Spaces," an organization that provides dream bedrooms for children with life-threatening illnesses.

The motto of Special Spaces is, "Changing children's lives one bedroom at a time."

Because the Marvel Universe production was going to be in Hershey, Special Spaces was asked by Feld Entertainment to find a child from the area who would benefit from a room makeover.

Special Spaces, based in Knoxville, Tn., contacted the hospital for names of potential children for the project. Because there were so many from which to choose, the company went another route to try to make a fair decision.

"We put it on a Facebook page that we were looking for a child for a room makeover and Elliott met all the criteria," said Chris Lamberson, Tennessee State Director of Special Spaces. "He enjoys superheroes, and he's old enough to enjoy going to the show, as well as having the new room. A 2-year-old, for example, wouldn't be able to really enjoy that. And, he has a life-threatening illness."

Tuesday morning, Eliott and his family were sent to enjoy the attractions at Hershey, while a team from Special Spaces, plus a few superheroes, descended upon the Ross home and feverishly worked throughout the day so that Elliott could come home to his new room.

"He knows something is being done to his room, but he doesn't know the extent," Lamberson said.

Carpeting was torn up, and new hardwood flooring put down, then the walls were painted a "superhero blue," and that was only the beginning. Elliott's new bed has a pre-lit headboard with a movie-poster-like rendition of Captain America. "Spiderman" curtains cover the windows, and a Spiderman rug covers the floor in front of his bed.

A desk and chair are upholstered in a superheroes print, and a gaming system is stationed on one wall, under a "Marvel Universe" sign. Even the drawer knobs are covered in pictures of superheroes. An art desk is covered with superheroes comic books, and on his walls are Iron Man and Spiderman "mask" night lights - also life-sized. The room's lighting switch plates now boast the "Hulk."

A huge, life-sized decal of Iron Man, Captain America and Spiderman spans half of one wall. Thor's hammer (in cloth), Captain America's shield and action figures of the heroes accessorize the room. A special addition was the gift of a number of Marvel Superhero shirts for Elliott.

"Who doesn't want to have a superhero room?" asked Velma, otherwise known as "Storm." "This is amazing."

Velma spent a good part of the day painting Elliott's walls, she said.

"I've never done a room makeover before, and painting is something I know," Velma said. "I'm really glad we could do something special for this family, especially with the holiday season coming up. Being involved with the community and leaving our stamp on it is great."

From Austin, Tx., Velma has been in the production for the past year, touring across the country and Canada.

"It's really cool to play a superhero and Storm is such a great character and role model; growing up, it never occurred to me that I'd be playing Storm," Velma said. "We're in a new city every week and doing a little something like this makes it feel more like home."

Hemmeter's "Black Widow" has been a member of the production for the past two years. From Colorado, Hemmeter was a gymnast in college and a stunt performer when she auditioned for the role.

"It's cool to be a part of this," Hemmeter said. "Every one of our performers do public relations segments, and we always fight over the projects where we can interact with kids; it's a lot more fun to do."

With 150 people involved in the "Marvel Universe LIVE!" production, it is currently the largest touring company in North America, Hemmeter said. The show has 50 cast members, 50 crew members and 50 merchandisers.

"We really put a Marvel spin on the room," Hemmeter said. "He loves superheroes, so we got to come here and "super-hero-out" his room. Now this bedroom is super cool. The wall decal of the superheroes is pretty amazing."

The Marvel show has loads of special effects, aerial stunts, martial arts and even pyrotechnics, all built around a heroes vs. villains plot. It takes two days to build the set in each city they travel to, Hammeter said, giving the cast two days to scout through each town.

"We're in a different city each week; it's a lot of fun," Hammeter said.

The fun really started for Elliott and his family when they arrived home.

First, Lamberson cautioned Elliott that a few people would be in his room with cameras, so he wouldn't be startled.

Elliott knocked on his bedroom door, opened it and was happily speechless.

He bounded around the room, checking out everything, trying out the bed and making plans to play video games.

"Thank you!" Elliott told the crew.

Parents Eric and Amy were just as overwhelmed. Both expressed their thanks, with Mom adding, "I never would have expected anything like this."

Elliott's younger sister, Presyse, 7, was quite impressed, too.

"I'm sleeping here tonight!" she said.

Marvel Universe LIVE! Will be at the Giant Center in Hershey this coming Saturday, with shows at 3 p.m. and 7 p.m., and Sunday, with shows at 11 a.m., 3 p.m., and 7 p.m. For more information, go to: