As RS&H associates excitedly gathered around the patio on Friday, October 18th, five children and their families eagerly awaited the arrival of custom wheelchair-accessible Halloween costumes.
Over the last few weeks, RS&H associates worked together to engineer costumes for children from the Independent Living Resource Center.
Since 1978, the Independent Living Resource Center of Northeast Florida (ILRC) has empowered people with disabilities to live independent, self-empowered lives.
“Each person who walks into our office receives the services they need to set and achieve their goals for independence,” explained Aaron Lewis, development manager at the ILRC. “We believe in a life of self-determination, self-empowerment and equal access.”
The ILRC caught RS&H Architect Brand Pourch’s attention years ago after seeing a social media post about a father who built costumes for his son with muscular dystrophy.
“I was inspired and thought I could help children in my community, too,” Pourch said. “My friend Tyler Lasher Morris is the Executive Director of the ILRC, so I brought up the idea with him, and he was all in. I recruited about 15 coworkers and we built our first costume, a Mardi Gras float for Hayden Chadwell.”
This year’s costumes included Cinderella’s Carriage for Calliope, who sported her costume complete with a pair of glass slippers. The Flintstones Car was built for Avalynn who proudly showed off her new ride for the crowd. A replica of the Disney Monorail was constructed for Eli, who completed his new costume with his mickey outfit and ears. A Vanellope Von Schweetz candy car was presented to Rose, who arrived wearing her best Vanellope Von Schweetz wig. Finally, there was the 1969 Chevy Camaro for Sophia, who wanted a car just like her grandfather’s.
The costumes are built out of insulation foam board, which was donated by Coastal Construction, and painted with supplies donated by Behr. Fifteen volunteers, including RS&H and ILRC employees and interior designers from the IIDA, worked to paint, decorate and perfect the costumes in the weeks leading up to the reveal.
RS&H Program Manager David Mantia, who has been involved with this event since 2015, not only enjoys the time he gets to spend with his coworkers while working on the Halloween costumes, but also enjoys engaging his son in the event as well.
“I really enjoy working with my son and seeing him want to help and put others before himself,” he said. “The reveal days are extra special. Everyone is filled with emotions – seeing how happy the kids and the families are is just awesome.”
As the children showed off their new costumes, the crowd of RS&H employees, parents and ILRC staff were overwhelmed with gratitude.
Calliope’s mom, Geneva Eagle, who will be dressing up their family’s poodle as a horse to pull Cinderella’s Carriage, spoke about how meaningful this experience is for her family. “This means so much to my family, and we were just so excited to be here to see the reveal,” she said.
“For the first time, people will look at these children and see the kids first and not their wheelchairs,” said ILRC Board Member Angie Miller. “This is a profound experience for them.”