The cast of Supernatural starting from top left: Rob Benedict, Adam Fergus, Jensen Ackles, Jared Padalecki, Jason Manns, (bottom) Ruth Connell, Alaina Huffman, Genevieve Padalecki, Rachel Miner, and Misha Collins
The cast of Supernatural starting from top left: Rob Benedict, Adam Fergus, Jensen Ackles, Jared Padalecki, Jason Manns, (bottom) Ruth Connell, Alaina Huffman, Genevieve Padalecki, Rachel Miner, and Misha Collins Nathalie Graham

A group of teenage girls huddled together near the ballroom doors. They wore yellow “Seattle Marathon Volunteer” shirts and whispered excitedly, each glancing toward the doors in quick snatches of anticipation.

“Girls!” an older woman said authoritatively. “When they come out of those doors, don’t you dare mob them,” she spat. “If you upset them, they won’t come back. Behave or I will kick you out.”

The whispers stopped, the smiles muted, and the girls inched closer together. They nodded obediently.

The cast of Supernatural, a somehow-still-on-the-air show on the CW, was behind those doors. They were running in the Seattle Marathon that weekend and today was their press day.

It was an effort championed by Misha Collins, one of the stars of the show, and the charity he created, Random Acts, to raise money to fight childhood hunger. For three months, the cast, including the two main guys Jared Padalecki (Gilmore Girls) and Jensen Ackles (My Bloody Valentine), has been fundraising and, supposedly, training. For three months, fans of the show—and of the stars—have funneled in their own money to support the marathon effort, what the cast dubbed The Bad Idea Tour. Through Random Acts’ annual Endure 4 Kindness (E4K) effort, individuals could stage their own endurance challenge and fundraise independently. All of the money was going to the same place, and now the cast of Supernatural was in a multipurpose conference room in Seattle's Westin Hotel to talk about it.

Soon, I would be let inside those doors. I was press, after all. I eyed the angry in-charge-of-something woman and strode across to talk to the girls.

They shrunk back when I approached, surely expecting some more scolding.

“Hey, are you guys fans of Supernatural?” I asked. They perked up.

There were maybe six or seven of them aged 15 to 17. They were all fans of the show. They were also all from Serbia.

“We’re exchange students living with host families in Washington,” Lisa Ramizi, a 17-year-old, said. “We think the actors are doing an amazing job talking about world hunger. We wanted to volunteer.”

Transparently, they admitted that they were mostly there for the actors.

“I don’t understand why they told us to go away,” another younger girl muttered.

“This is not usual for us,” Ramizi continued. “We’re from Serbia. This may be our only chance. I am not kidding when I say Supernatural has saved my life.”

Supernatural is one of those shows with an almost inconceivable fan following. It’s a pretty simple show on the surface, like if the X Files were about the paranormal instead of the extraterrestrial and the cases were investigated by two hot brothers instead of FBI agents. But, there’s something about it—is it the brotherly bond? The actors themselves?—that inspires passion that borders on obsession with so many people of all ages across the globe.

***

Five Endure 4 Kindnesses ago, I was 17. I had a soccer game that day. While I was playing, all I could think about was that I was missing an opportunity to meet Misha Collins. He was running across Los Angeles, from Hollywood to Santa Monica, to raise money for his charity. My soccer game was miles away in the Crescenta Valley. Maybe there would be enough time.

But, by the time the game ended, I had abandoned all hope of finding him. My fickle teenage heart plummeted.

“So, where are we going?” My mom asked, her hands on the wheel.

“What?” I scowled.

“Where’s Misha?” (My wonderful mother was desperate to connect with me on some level so she threw herself into this obsession of mine.)

The answer was that he was somewhere along Sunset Boulevard headed toward the beach. We didn’t have any exact information.

“Hm. Running up Sunset is risky,” my mom mused, nimbly navigating from freeway to freeway just on instinct. “He’ll probably take San Vicente.”

We raced through the streets of Los Angeles. Every runner I saw made my breath catch momentarily. I refreshed Twitter every minute. We had to make an executive decision to take the hillier, safer route through the Pacific Palisades.

My phone buzzed with a notification. Misha had finished. He was at the beach. We were 10 minutes behind. When we got to the beach we saw… nothing. I swallowed the knot of disappointment in my throat. My mom shrugged and said we’d done the best we could have. Internally, I disagreed. For whatever reason, it became my mission to meet him.

Since that wild goose chase, I’ve met Misha Collins many times. I went to Supernatural conventions in LA, and later, in Seattle. I even went to the one in Canada twice. I volunteered with Misha and Random Acts my senior year of high school when we handed out care packages to the homeless residents of Skid Row. I caught wind of his wacky scavenger hunt in 2012 and have done it every year since. I even interviewed him about it my freshman year of college.

I ran into him on the street on Saturday before the press event for the marathon.

“Oh shit,” he had said. “Hey, Nathalie. What are you doing here?”

***

Inside the hotel ballroom, Misha sidled up next to me. Somehow, he was the only person I actually knew in the room. When he asked me how life after college was, all I could think about was how I started as one of those teenage girls on the other side of the doors.

I had never liked the word fan. It seemed like such an ugly word, something said with such derision. Oh, she’s such a fan. I couldn’t shake the way that woman had talked to the girls outside. The world looks down on young women with passions as if they’re frivolous. Just silly girls. And I bought into that for a while. I downplay how active I was in the fan community because I get embarrassed that I was ever that 17-year-old racing toward a finish line that was hanging out with a celebrity I adored.

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But, it was important to me. It's okay that it was important to me.

“What we’re striving to do with this fandom,” Misha answered during the marathon interview, “is to leave a little goodness in our wake wherever we go.”

With this marathon, the cast raised over $115,000. Amica Insurance, the sponsor of the Seattle Marathon, donated $26,200. E4K participants raised another $15,000. That money will be spread through Random Acts to local organizations that target childhood hunger throughout the country and the world.

That’s just money, though. Those teenage girls donated their time to volunteer. Droves of fans dropped off canned goods at the Random Acts booth at the marathon expo. And this is only one instance. This community mobilizes and it has for years.

“I get to go in there ‘cause I’m press,” I told the teenagers outside. “But I’m going to do my best to get them to say hi to you.”

There's something to be said about falling into this community at such an impressionable age. It exposed me to compassion when I was at my least compassionate, just ask my mother. I tangentially became conscious of social justice because an actor I cared about was conscious of those issues. Those things stick around even after the credits roll.

I wanted those girls from Serbia to feel the same joy I had when meeting an actor I looked up to. Supernatural had by no means saved my life as it had for Lisa Ramizi or many other people I met through the fandom, but it had shaped it. It's a weird thing to admit, but it's an okay thing to admit.

Misha bent his head toward me as I told him about the girls outside, where they'd come from and how much seeing him would mean. These were things he already knew.

"We'll go say hi," he said. I didn't stick around long enough to see if they did, but I knew I'd told the right person to get it done.