Josh Aryeh founded Smiles Through Cars as an initiative to spread joy, love, and happiness one simple visit at a time.
Josh Aryeh and a VIP guest at an Easter event on April 4, 2020
Growing up as a car aficionado, Josh Aryeh had long dreamed of one day owning a vehicle collection that would rival Bruce Wayne’s. What he didn’t know at the time was that his future would indeed hold access to a bevy of automotive genius, but the purpose of this collection would be far more aligned with the motives of Batman than Bruce Wayne.
Founded by Josh in 2018, Smiles Through Cars was created as a source of joy and emotional relief for terminally ill children and their families tasked with bearing the weight of incomprehensible circumstances. With Josh overseeing the project as a whole and president Aviva David tackling West Coast operations, the NPO has experienced rapid growth in just over two years.
Made possible by the hundreds of volunteers and supercar owners who donate their time and vehicles to the project, Smiles Through Cars is on a mission to drive joy across the country, bringing smiles to thousands of faces in the process.
Recently, I had the pleasure of speaking with Josh about his inspiration behind Smiles Through Cars and how this not-for-profit grew from a passion project between him and a few friends to an organization spanning the nation.
(CJ) – What made you decide on exotic cars as an instrument to share smiles?
(JA) – “I grew up as a car enthusiast, even as a little kid. At the time I really wanted to be a billionaire like Bruce Wayne so I could buy tons of exotic cars. Eventually, I befriended some people who owned exotic cars. After getting to know them, they let me test out their cars myself. Not long after that I was running errands for them and could borrow their cars from time to time.
“At that point, I realized there were probably other kids out there like me who really wanted the opportunity to see and ride in supercars. So I reached out to local charities to see if they knew about any children who might be interested. From there, I began connecting kids with the coolest cars that they had only seen on television, and I was able to see just how happy these cars made them. The supercar owners equally loved the experience as they got to see how much happiness a single possession could bring to others.”
(CJ) – When did you begin visiting sick kids?
(JA) – “I’d heard about an 8-year-old girl with cancer who really wanted to go for a ride in a Lamborghini. After learning that, I called up one of my connections to see if they would help. They loved the idea and let me borrow their car to show her. The girl didn’t even know we were coming.
“I showed up to surprise her, and her family lifted her from her wheelchair and into the passenger seat. We went for a 20-minute drive. When we came back, she was smiling as we helped her back into her wheelchair. At this moment, her mother started crying. Instantly, I apologized as I hadn’t meant any harm or to offend her. She then explained to me that was the first time she had seen her daughter smile in 4 years.
“After that moment, I made it my life mission to bring smiles to sick kids through this experience.”
(CJ) – When did Smiles Through Cars start?
(JA) – “The not-for-profit was created in 2018, but I’ve been visiting children in hospitals for over 10 years before that. It really began with the one girl and the Lamborghini, and from there it grew to encompass more kids at more hospitals in more cities across the country.
(CJ) – Was there a life event that inspired you to create these experiences for sick kids and their families?
(JA) – “In 2007, my younger sister got sick and passed away suddenly. It was a staph infection, and by the time the doctors figured out what it was, it had spread past the point of return. Within one week she was healthy, and then she was gone.
“From this experience, I’ve been on the other side and can empathize with families going through similar trauma. I thank god that I come from a supportive family, but a lot of people don’t have that. I want to be the person that I would’ve wanted if I didn’t have the support I had during that time.”
(CJ) – How many children have you and your volunteers helped over the years, both on your own and with Smiles Through Cars?
(JA) – “Since I started doing this, we’ve visited over 25,000 children. And it’s not a one-time thing either. I’ve been visiting some of these kids over and over for the last 10 years. Sometimes I’ll even go weekly to chat with them and show them they’re not alone.”
(CJ) – When did you start dressing as Batman?
(JA) – “In 2012 I actually heard about Lenny B. Robinson after a video went viral where he was pulled over. He had a black Lamborghini and was the first person I knew of doing what I was doing. Lenny would dress up as Batman and visit children in the hospital with his Batmobile. Unfortunately, Lenny passed away in a car accident in 2015 after his vehicle broke down on the highway.
“When I later learned about Lenny’s passing, I knew I wanted to keep his legacy alive. In honor of Lenny, I started dressing up as Batman with my own makeshift Batmobile created by folks from ASAP Restoration.”
(CJ) – When did you reveal who it was behind the costume?
(JA) – “I kept my identity secret until 2019 because I didn’t want it to be about me, I just wanted it to be about the kids. On my personal account, I posted pictures, but for our 100k fans on Instagram @Batmanrealaccount, I didn’t let them know who I was.
“There were some questions about me and a lot of people thought I was born into money. That’s when I realized, I should let the world know a bit more about me so I did an event in 2019 at a hospital and shared who I was. I wanted people to know that I wasn’t born into money. I’m just a simple guy with a big heart.”
(CJ) – What are some significant moments for you?
(JA) – “Not long ago, I heard about a 5-year-old boy with cancer that was spreading rapidly. His final wish was to go for a ride in a Ferrari or Rolls Royce. We did him one better. We first drove up to the hospital with one exotic car, and then proceeded to roll up with a unit of 70 other supercars in all makes, models, and colors. His family, nurses, and hospital staff were all crying – they couldn’t believe that we were doing this.
“So many times, when I’m on the way to the child I get a call telling me not to come. Either the child has passed away or has gone to the ICU and won’t be able to see us. It hurts and it happens quite often. These moments remind me of the significance of each and every one of our visits.”
(CJ) – How has Covid-19 impacted your charity work?
(JA) – “We’ve done some hospital outdoor visits, but I haven’t gone to visit any kids in person since March of 2020. In the last year, we’ve had to change from regular visits to socially distanced visits. To date, we’ve done over 600 drive-by visits and do up to 20 per week. We even did a drive-by parade for one child who was unable to leave his house due to the safety risks.
“Since we aren’t available in all states yet, I try to arrange a video call with the kids who are outside of our zones. If I can’t do that, I’ll send them a personal video from Batman to show them that they’re important and they matter.”
(CJ) – What do you have planned for the future?
(JA) – “Post-pandemic we are looking forward to visiting in person again. We’re also excited to grow and expand. Normally with non-profits, you’re chasing after volunteers and donors, but now people are reaching out to us. We made a timeline that we hope to follow in order to grow in the coming years.
“We’re always looking for more people to help out, whether by donating cash, their time, or even a supercar. Of course, it’s not just about having a car. We want people who have empathy and will treat the kids properly.”
The Smiles Through Cars team with NYPD for an Easter event
Josh’s story of aspiring to be Bruce Wayne only to realize that being Batman comes with far greater rewards demonstrates the power of people helping people. Smiles Through Cars is not simply an exotic car collection, but rather a vehicle successfully transporting positivity, joy, and connection to those most in need of a smile.
Looking to join the team of volunteers and donors who make these smiles possible? Connect with Smiles Through Cars today.