Look around at any con, movie premiere, or pretty much the entire month of October, and you’ll get an eyeful of costumes. From superheroes, to book and TV characters, to princesses and knights in shining armor, everyone gets a chance to be someone else, at least for a little while. But wheelchair costumes? Not so often seen.
For people in wheelchairs, it’s basically impossible to find those ready-made costumes at WalMart or Target. That’s why Lon and Anita Davis decided to create Walkin’ & Rollin’ Costumes – that’s right, wheelchair costumes, based right here in Kansas City. I found their story heartwarming and inspirational, and think you will, too. Read on to find out how you can get involved and help a child fulfill a dream.
Please introduce yourself and your family.
My name is Lon Davis, my wife Anita, our 10-year-old son, Reese, and our 3-year-old son, Callen.
When did you get into special needs costuming and what has it meant to your family?
Reese received his first wheelchair when he was 3 years old. At the time, he wanted to be Wall-E for Halloween and I knew I couldn’t buy a costume that would fit his wheelchair, so I decided to build one out of a Dell computer box. It fit perfectly over his chair.
Every year, Reese has chosen what he wanted to be for Halloween and what he wanted me to make out of his wheelchair for his costume too. It has been a great bonding experience for Reese and I to build the wheelchair costumes together and figure out how to make them work as a team.
Tell us about Walkin’ & Rollin’ Costumes.
We started W&RC in January 2015. Our non-profit was born with a mission statement that we would create custom wheelchair costumes for special needs children, free to the families that received them.
What made you want to found the organization?
The idea was that we had created all of these great costumes for Reese, but had heard from so many families who loved the costumes but had no idea where to start at making wheelchair costumes for their own special needs child. We also knew that as a family with a special needs child, there isn’t a lot of extra funds to purchase a costume custom designed and built specifically for their child’s wheelchair. So much of your funds go into the equipment, the physical therapy, the adaptations to your home/car/etc. So we knew that asking any type of funds for these costumes (which usually cost around $250 each) would immediately prevent the very people who needed them from being able to purchase them. So we knew we needed to make them free to the families. We needed to look elsewhere for the funds to build the costumes.
Tell us about the launch at Planet Comicon, and participating in cons.
We debuted at Planet Comicon in April 2015 as our first con. We had no idea what people would think. We had a few costumes on display on some of Reese’s old wheelchairs and walkers. We had built a Star Wars X-Wing fighter exclusively for the show.
We were hoping to raise some donations and possibly gather some volunteers willing to help build the costumes. We were blown away by the response. One of the first gentlemen to come to our booth was an older man in a wheelchair. He looked at our booth, asked what we did and within 10 seconds had reached for his wallet and donated $100. He said, “I wish there was something like this when I was a kid.” That was when we knew we might have something special here.
Our second con was the 2015 Kansas City Comic Con and we built our most ambitious costume to date. It was a huge Baymax from the movie, “Big Hero 6.” Reese was dressed as Hiro riding on the back of Baymax.
This costume seemed to gather a bunch of attention from local news stations and we were hoping to let people know about a workshop we had planned where volunteers could come and help build multiple costumes that were being built for 10 kids for Halloween. We ended up having about 40 volunteers show up and we built 6 costumes in a Saturday afternoon.
We just finished the 2016 Planet Comicon here in KC where we debuted our latest costume, the Ant-Man costume with the wheelchair as Antony. It was our first attempt at having moving parts on the wheelchair costume. The audience/exhibitors at PCC were awesome and extremely supportive. We had no idea what would happen next.
The photo and videos we posted of the Ant-Man costume on our Twitter page went viral. They were commented on by Payton Reed, the director of Ant-Man, who then shared it with other members of the special effects team on the Ant-Man movie, the official Ant-Man Twitter account, and the VP of Marvel Digital Entertainment. They all loved it and began tweeting the photos and videos saying, “Best Ant-Man cosplay ever!” and “Best cosplay. Everyone else, pack it in.” The posts received over 10,000,000 views in roughly 12 hours!
What has been the response to what your organization offers?
In August 2015, we started a 30-day Kickstarter campaign to raise $1,000 to build 5 costumes for Halloween. We reached that goal in 2 ½ days. We continued to raise money and by the end of the month, we had raised just under $3,000 and we promised to build 10 costumes.
The response has been nothing but amazing. We have yet to find someone who doesn’t like what we do. Nearly everyone who comes by our booth says how much they love it, and will usually donate something, take a business card because they know someone who has a child with special needs.
How can someone get involved with your organization? What help do you need?
There are so many ways people can help. Also, there are many of these that you do not have to be in the Kansas City area to help. Sign up for any of these at https://www.walkinrollin.org/how-to-help.html
- Since we do not charge the families for these costumes, we are always looking for donations to help with purchasing supplies and shipping the costumes to the families. Each costume costs roughly $250 and on average $75 to ship them.
- Our website features numerous sketches of designs for costumes. Anyone willing to design costumes can download templates from our website. They can then design any costume they want and then upload those designs to our Facebook page. We would then add those to our website. That way, when families come to our site to see what types of costumes we make, they have many designs to view.
- Volunteers can sign up to help with construction and assembly of our costumes. When signing up, check the boxes next to the skills which you can help with (Construction, assembly, electrical, painting, etc.) That way, when we have a request for a particular costume, we will know which types of volunteers we will need. If a child wants their wheelchair to be a firetruck, we may need someone who has electrical skills in order to make the lights work on the truck. The point is, we never know what skills we need until we have a request from a child.
- Sewing is always needed for a number of costumes. One example was a girl who wanted to be a princess and we made a giant hoop skirt that went around her wheelchair that matched the dress she was wearing. That way when she was in her wheelchair, it looked like she had a giant skirt around her. We had a very talented seamstress make the skirt from another city and then ship the skirt to the family.
- Anyone around the world can help with graphic design work. When we made the Dusty Crophopper costume, we needed a graphic designer to make all the logos and icons for the plane. A volunteer made them from their home and then emailed the artwork to us which we then produced into stickers to apply to the costume.
- We also offer sponsorships for schools with a special needs program. We will work with a school to have groups of kids work together to build costumes for kids with special needs at the school. The kids learn the importance to work together to build something fun as a group.
- We offer a team building opportunity for companies as well. Use it as an opportunity for a group of colleagues to work together to problem solve and create something rewarding as a team.
What future plans lay ahead for your organization?
We recently finished taking requests for costumes for Halloween 2016. Requests can be made online at https://www.walkinrollin.org/request-a-costume.html We will choose which costumes we will be able to make (due to funds/time/volunteers) and then work with the families to create those costumes. We will host at least one workshop this summer where volunteers can help build some of these costumes together with a group. It’s a great way for people who aren’t sure what they could do to help to give it a try. Last year’s workshop was a huge hit with everyone who showed up.
And after Halloween?
We hope to expand Walkin’ & Rollin’ Costumes to build a network of volunteers around the nation to help pair them up with families in their own cities. It’s always MUCH easier to build the costume with the actual wheelchair there while you are building it as opposed to working off measurement from the family. That way if we have a family in Denver, it would be much easier to pair them with volunteers from the Denver area who could work together to complete the costume locally. This dream would require many volunteers from many cities around the nation, or eventually the world.
Where can someone find more information about Walkin’ & Rollin’ Costumes?
- Website: www.WalkinRollin.org
- Facebook: www.Facebook.com/WalkinRollin
- Twitter: @WalkinNRollin
- Google Plus: https://plus.google.com/110337473034387682856/videos
- LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/9474733
- Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/walkinrollin/
- YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCCglOAgZ99ieM1TDXj8LeaQ
- Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/walkinrollin/
EDITOR’S NOTE: W&RC is looking for volunteers to help with their booth at the upcoming Kansas City Comic Con, August 12-14th. They can provide free admission to KCCC the day you volunteer. If you are interested in helping out, email info[at]WalkinRollin[dot]org and specify the dates and times you would be available.
They have also announced their first wheelchair costume build for 2016 – check out the promo video here.