Heroes Behind The Walls
By PO Valerie Stetz
In 1994, Peter Femia began his career as a corrections officer with the Union County Jail. It’s a tough job in a tough place and definitely not for everyone. Hidden behind the walls, CO Femia has witnessed incredible acts of bravery by men and woman in blue who risk their lives on a daily basis.
During this same time, Femia had many friends working as “street cops”, police officers who had regular contact and interaction with the community. In this manner, they were able to form strong bonds and engage in various activities. Femia states, “I enjoyed my job, but learned soon enough that the public’s perception of a correction officer was often jaded by negative portrayals in movies and media,” Femia stated.
He began to think of ways that corrections officers could make themselves better known to the community while simultaneously serving them.
A few COs had been running yearly in the NJ Special Olympics Torch Run, an excellent event that raises money for those in need. As they were preparing for one of these runs, they began to kick around ideas on how to bring more attention to this event, how they could raise even more funds for the amazing athletes that take part in the Special Olympics. Femia adds, “Let’s face it, as correction officers, many in the community have little knowledge of who we are and what we do. That sometimes tends to make fundraising rather difficult.” So, they came up with a way to make themselves instantly recognizable as Batman, Spider-Man, Captain America, Superman, and The Hulk.
They figured that the general public may never know of the heroics that take place behind the walls of correctional institutions, but they could become the “Heroes” that most in society know very well. They recruited more officers from their department, purchased Superhero costumes, and formed the Team known as “HEROES4HEROES” eight years ago. Since then, they have been running in the Torch Run as Marvel & D.C. characters. Seeing the likes of Wonder Woman and Thor carrying a torch down the street with a pack of cartoon characters following attracted immediate attention. Last Year, “Heroes4Heroes” raised $9,000 for the Special Olympics.
Word spread, and soon enough, they were invited to assist St. Jude’s in their Christmas coat and toy drive. “I vividly remember the joy in the room as a small child’s face expressed awe and wonder as Spider-Man kneeled down to chat with him and offer a gift,” Femia said.
Soon after, police departments began to reach out. Elizabeth Police Department requested that “Heroes4Heroes” attend their “Jingle Bell 5K”. Officers strapped on the costumes and did the run, their capes flapping in the wind behind them.
Every year, their numbers increase, and their costumes grow more elaborate. Their exploits received the attention of the F.B.I., and they have been asked to attend events in Newark.
“I’m proud of the Corrections Officers who have donated so much time and energy to ‘HEROES4HEROES’. I’m glad that our endeavors have resulted in raising funds for many organizations in need. I’m also grateful that we have the opportunity to get out from behind the Union County Jail, and show our community who we really are and what we are all about. You can never put a price on the smile of a child. This is most rewarding. I will continue to support the special Olympics throughout my life,” Femia said.
HEROES4HEROES’ next super charity fundraiser is on Friday May 26th, 2017. Come out to support this awesome cause at Frenchy’s Bar and Grill in Roselle Park, N.J. at 7PM, and meet your favorite superhero. All proceeds benefit the Special Olympics. The event is hosted by 30/30’s MC. Charitable donations are encouraged. When you give, you become the hero to those in need.
Valerie A. Stetz (Velazquez) retired on accidental disability from the Jersey City Police Dept. She was injured in a radio car accident responding to a robbery in progress call. Valerie is a member of the NJ Police Honor Legion. She is the radio host for the popular Internet show “Your World Uncensored” on DDV RADIO. She is also the Public Relations Manager for Nj Blue Now Magazine. Valerie is married, with a son and daughter.