FARMINGTON — Dustin Kasai loves seeing kids smile.
And behind his superhero mask, he said, it's often hard to contain his own joy.
"The reward for me is seeing the cheer and the happiness in kids' faces when they see me in costume," said Kasai, of Farmington. "My goal has always been to make kids happy."
The real estate agent by day started regularly dressing up as Iron Man about three years ago after someone told him he resembled actor Robert Downey Jr., who plays the hero in the Marvel films.
Kasai invited a longtime friend, Robert Potter, to participate as fellow Avenger Captain America, and the two have been making appearances at hospitals, charity fundraisers and other events ever since.
They've been joined by other superhero lookalikes along the way, and they put on quite a show for families and kids throughout the state who need help finding more reasons to be happy.
"They don't ask for help, but we know their situation," Kasai said.
His group, Kids Heroes Foundation, accepts donations and gives everything to families in need.
"Even if they have decent medical insurance, the bills for copays and things that aren't covered are ridiculously expensive," he said. "This is something we know they need help with. We help where we can."
On Monday, Iron Man and his gang of approximately 23 other cosplay stars will attempt a two-hour roller-coaster marathon at Lagoon. The idea is to raise awareness of the foundation and stir up some donations by doing something different from the usual 5K races or charity fundraisers.
The Kids Heroes Foundation has a goal to raise at least $5,000 for at least three carefully selected families who need a little help and more if donations permit.
Donations can be made online at www.kidsheroes.org.
"I used to love those kinds of rides when I was younger, but my equilibrium is not what it used to be," Kasai said. "I'm hoping I can do it at least a dozen times."
One of the first recipients of the Kids Heroes Foundation years ago was Austin Hulse.
Hulse was born with a congenital heart defect and hydrocephalus. He's had more than 110 surgeries in his short lifetime, mostly to keep him alive and functioning. The 21-year-old is awaiting a heart transplant but has yet to get a match.
Hulse, who has two siblings, requires a lot of attention and care from his single mom, who is also an amputee.
Kasai said the family's hardship is "unbearably hard to believe." But seeing his superhero pals in action makes Hulse feel happy, and that makes the countless volunteer hours worth it for Kasai and others who participate on a weekly basis.
Another family that could benefit from financial help the foundation offers is hoping for a life-changing surgery for their 4-year-old daughter that is only offered in California. The family's insurance plan will cover the surgery, but not the associated travel expenses and lodging costs.
"The best thing in the world is getting a hug from these kids who don't even know you, but have an instant connection with the character," said Kasai, who has two kids of his own.
With all the events he attends as Iron Man, Kasai said the Kids Heroes Foundation is more like a second job — one that's "very rewarding," he said.
"Helping children is something I've always wanted to do," he said. "Giving them a reason to smile just makes it easier."