“We create magic for the kids we volunteer for. And that’s an incredible feeling, to be the source of that magic. Of that joy. Especially for those kids who really need a little extra magic in their lives.”
I started Cosplay Volunteers of Atlanta in June of 2013 as an experiment with a handful of faithful friends. I had an increasing amount of support for special needs children from the cosplay community with an increasing amount of need for volunteers for children’s events. My two worlds collided and Cosplay Volunteers of Atlanta was born!
Volunteering at our local children’s hospital has been an amazing, rewarding and humbling experience.
Danielle Tharpe of Rhapsody Cosplay comments “Volunteering has opened my eyes to a lot these past 2 years. I know that people have it harder than they let on, but to see some of the battles these little ones and their families face, is just earth shattering. It makes me just realize that my worst day could be considered someone’s best day.”
“I learn something new with every volunteer event I participate in.” adds Amber of Gingerly Cosplay “Sometimes about myself, but more importantly about the resilience of the human spirit and about how much we have to learn from even the littlest of fighters.”
Cosplay Creations by Holl explains “(Volunteering) brings so much joy and fulfillment to your heart. You also can’t ever get enough of bringing creativity and fantasy into others lives. One should never outgrow their sense of whimsy.”
Several months ago I handed the Cosplay Volunteers crown onto Rob Brayton of Brayton Family Cosplay, who is and has been a very dedicated volunteer and grew the organization to an entirely new level. “The worst feeling is when there’s a volunteer event and I can’t make it.” explains Brayton, “If I could, I would spend every single day doing this! There is no more rewarding experience in the world!”
Brayton explains the challenges: “When small children see you, they see that character. You aren’t somebody playing dress-up. It makes you want to be the best that you can be, to be as spot on as possible…costume, knowledge, accent, everything. Because the last thing you want is to disappoint one of the kids and ruin that magic for them.”
I must have watched Brave 100 times repeating everything Merida said in preparation for my first visit. Now when I’m on my way to an event, I read the road signs in a Scottish accent to get into character!
“You have to be quick on your feet when volunteering. It really takes a lot of character study to do this right, and I think a lot of us are very serious about our characters. Kids will throw the wildest of questions your way.” adds Wesley. The first question I ever got as Merida was “How is your Mom now that she isn’t a bear?” (spoiler alert)
There are also wardrobe issues! I have assisted everything from ponies to bears to Batman! “I need a handler to be with me so I can get in and out.” explains CVA’s resident Batman, Steve Wayne. “They have to be dedicated to the entire time frame and be comfortable with me down to my underwear.”
And then there’s the humbling reminder that these kids are the real heroes.
“Some of these kids are clearly very ill or have serious injuries. It is difficult sometimes to separate the patient and illness from the child. but that is what they need from us the most. They look forward to seeing us because it is an opportunity to escape from everything they are going through in the hospital and just spend
some time being a regular kid again doing kid things.” remarks Corinne Hall.
Adds Amber, “Some of (the children) will never get to have the life I’ve had, and knowing this makes me wish I could give anything to give them even an ounce of normalcy in their lives.”
There are lessons only learned through experience. With every event we gain more reasons to keep volunteering.
Moony Hime sums it up perfectly, learning “A brighter perspective on life and that a smile can go a long way. Sometimes, it’s just what a person needs to keep fighting one more day.”
Aside from hospital visits, Cosplay Volunteers of Atlanta has participated in numerous events including walks, Trunk or Treats and holiday parties, reaching children who are impoverished, in foster care, or are sick. We have met children with cancer, mitochondrial disease, HIV/AIDS, accident victims and a myriad of other rare, chronic and terminal illnesses.
“It makes Cosplay more than contests and recognition from the community. It’s about big smiles and helping others when they need help the most.” explains Rain of Moony Coutre Designs. Volunteer Jordan Sparks adds “Volunteering gives me the opportunity to use my interest in costume design and cosplay for a good cause: making children smile.”
Volunteering provides a lifetime of amazing memories. Here are some of the replies when asked about their favorite memories:
“A young girl at the UMDF breakfast was determined for me (as the Mad Hatter) to sit next to her at her family’s table. Once I sat down, she climbed into my lap without a moments hesitation and just did NOT want me to leave. After the breakfast, our group of volunteers walked over to watch some of the Christmas parade and there she was. She took my hand and wanted me to stay with her and watch the parade. My day was made!” Rob Brayton
“My favorite memory is the impromptu tea party we were asked to participate in for a little girl who had to miss a friend’s birthday party because her doctor decided to admit her to the hospital. She was so excited to see all these princesses waiting for her at the courtyard. The hospital brought us tea and cookies and we had a blast just talking and visiting!” Corinne Hall
“My first hospital visit. I don’t think I’ll ever forget all of the sweet smiles and hugs!” Jordan Sparks
“When I cosplayed as the original MLP unicorn Queen Daisy, all the little girls were so excited took see me and wanted pictures and hugs. One girl in a stroller (around age 4 I think) asked me if I was real. Her Father quickly answered that I was a real person and not a toy. Then the little girl asked if she could keep me!” Cosplay Creations by Holl
“During one of my first visits to Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, I volunteered as the Brave princess. I met a sweet lass who’d recently undergone surgery. Despite that, her spirit was something to be admired. I told her how much courageous I thought she was, and before leaving, she thanked me for teaching young girls how to be brave and strong. She gave me a bracelet that she made. I’ve worn it every day since then as a reminder of her.” Amber
When asked what they’ve gained from volunteering the response was unanimous: making friendships!
There are many different reasons why cosplayers volunteer: giving back to the community, helping children, personal growth. Some of our volunteers have more personal reasons. Hall relates too well: “My sister is a cancer survivor. I know first hand how much difference the volunteers at her hospital made for her during the treatment process. I am also so grateful for all the hard working people at hospital who were so important in saving my sister’s life so this is my way of “paying it forward”.”
And my inspiration for starting Cosplay Volunteers of Atlanta? My daughters, pictured below.