Feature: Portland SuperHeroes Coalition

Written by: Riri (@lillyums)

Our cosplay community is growing bigger and bigger year by year. More individuals are showing up in cosplay at conventions, cosplay events, and more.  But what we don't commonly find ourselves imagining cosplay at is at hospitals and charity events. Believe it or not, this is also a growing part of the cosplay community. In addition to cosplaying for the love of cosplaying, these group of people are cosplaying for a good cause - to help raise money for charitable organizations.  

Today we're here to feature an amazing group of volunteers. Meet the Portland SuperHeroes Coalition, based in Portland, Oregon.  

The Portland SuperHeroes Coalition is an organization dedicated to raising awareness and money for a variety of charities.  This is growing group of wonderful volunteers, and I wanted to find out more about this group from the founder of this group, Brady, and hear more about everyone's experiences.  I hope this interview inspires you all as much as it inspired me!

Riri: Hello Brady! We can't wait to hear more about the Portland SuperHeroes Coalition. Can you tell us a little bit about your group? 

Brady G.: The Portland Superheroes Coalition is a group of volunteers with top-notch Superhero and Pop Culture outfits that give time to appear at charity events, community events, sporting events, parades, movie premieres, hospitals, and we even make special personal visits and videos if requested. We do it all free of charge and make no money for ourselves. If going to a business we do ask that a donation is made to an agreed upon charity if no other fundraiser is happening or if the event is not kid-oriented. We are not mascots or anything official, nor a 501c3; we just do this to make others happy and to help where we can. Our outfits are custom and hand-made as we don’t allow mass-produced, because we believe public outings and special visits should require something higher quality than a typical con or Halloween costume. 

Riri: I love the idea of preserving the quality of cosplay for a great cause and not just for a convention.  How big is the group right now? 

Brady G. : Currently there are 46 members, but that number is always changing depending on people who come and go due to schedules and availability. 

Riri: That's quite a group and I bet it will continue to grow! Can you go into detail about what you all do at these charity events?

Brady G.: April 2013 was our first official event and so far we have done 58 of them! At most of our events we roam the area and meet-and-greet for family photos, but also will help the event staff with any chores they might have where a Hero could be fun. We’ve also been known to carry around donation buckets for the event’s charity in exchange for having a photo taken, and sometimes we setup a photo booth with backdrop and props.

Riri: 58 events is a lot to do in a year! You guys are totally making great impressions everywhere you go.  Where does the money you raise go towards? 

Brady G.: We’ve been involved with events to help raise money for charities such as The Children’s Miracle Network, Give2TheTroops, local veterans associations and veteran hospitals, local Youth Outreach programs, the Kiwanis, TransActive, Open House Ministries family homeless shelter, St. Baldrick's Foundation, Great Strides Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, Ronald McDonald House, Cure JM Foundation and Relay For Life. But I’ll admit a favorite cause for us to raise money for is Doernbercher Children’s Hospital. We are honored to be able to visit them every 3 months with at least 6 Heroes for the afternoon. Every patient we visit gets toys that are donated by our own Heroes or people in the community, their siblings get a toy, and we take a photo if the family wishes. We’ve even made special visits to special patients and gave birthday gifts and surprises as well.  

Riri: Dang! That's a pretty impressive list of charities you guys have been involved with. It's very touching to hear how much positive impact you've made with the patients at that hospital, and everywhere else! Why did you start organizing this group?

Brady G.: The Coalition idea was initially started after the movie theater shootings happened at the last Batman movie. It was going to be used to somehow send out a Hero if anybody from that area needed one, but then sat dormant for a while. Later after Portland Wizard World 2013 (basically the Portland's first BIG Con), and I had so much fun and met so many great people  that I decided something more frequent and for a good cause needed to happen. So the Coalition was slightly tweaked and reactivated and people were recruited one by one.

I have always made things since I was a little kid, and I started making movie props and costumes 14 years ago; so it was great to meet people of the same mindset and to use the ability for good and not just for Halloween/Con show or attention. Don’t get me wrong, cons are great and all, but if you have the ability to volunteer time to make others happy or help someone on a regular basis, I think it’s worth a shot. Plus when doing Coalition events for a few hours on a weekend, you get to dress-up and forget about being yourself. You get to become your Hero and interact with other Heroes with kids and families, and take a little mini trip to the random event locations to hang out with friends. It really is good for everybody for many reasons. 

David P. : I was also involved with the formation of the group. It was Brady's idea and he did all the work, so all the credit goes to him. But I was the sounding board for ideas about what the purpose was. I joined because I believed in the purpose. Bring a childhood hero to life and our put a smile on someone's face. Joy is the best medicine! And not just children. Adults become kids again when they see and interact with you. It is a great way to give back while having a great time yourself. 

Riri: That's fantastic that you took the initiative and just made the Coalition happen, especially for a great cause. Do the Portland Superheroes Coalition also make appearances at the local comic/anime conventions? 

Brady G: We do go to various local cons yes, but Coalition members just buy a ticket like everybody else. So far cons are used more for Hero recruiting purposes and just having fun rather than fundraising simply because we don’t have a budget ourselves to support a booth given it’s just a volunteer group. But, we were given a free booth at Salem’s Cherry City Comic, and we used it as a photo booth to collect donations for Doernbecher Children’s Hospital. If people could donate, we only asked for $1 for a few photos with us. If you couldn’t donate, we still took photos and just asked that a dollar was given to some charity in the future. We raised $248 which we were pretty stoked about, and took it to the hospital at next visit. They were quite surprised we brought money as well as toys.

Riri: That's so cool you raised that much! You really have put a lot of work into this group and to hear that so many people support your group brings happiness to my heart! I'd like to hear some responses from the group as well.  What prompted you all to also join when you heard about the Portland SuperHeroes Coalition?

Allysha B.: Three years ago i went to the Portland Super Hero Pub Crawl. I had such a great time, that I decided to make an epic costume for the next year. I made my Hawkgirl costume, which sports an 8 foot wingspan and a mace. I won first place at the costume contest at the pub crawl the second year, and it was there when I was approached by a coalition member and handed a business card to check out the group. I had never heard of the Portland Superheroes Coalition, but it sounded like a pretty great deal. You help people, and raise money for charity events, all while dressing up like a superhero and playing around like a kid, what could be better? I've also always been pretty shy as well, but it's a lot easier to be brave when you're wearing a mask and no one knows who you are. I still struggle with being brave, but I feel like my activities within this group has helped me become a stronger and better person.

Allan Q.: I  joined the coalition when it first formed in 2013 and it was a place where quality cosplay costumes were showcased.  It was a perfect fit for my wife and I.  We enjoyed networking with many folks with super hero costumes and doing events throughout the year.  The members would be available to help in many communities around the state of Oregon, the Children's Hospital in Portland being one such event and another hospital in Eugene, Oregon. 

Dave B. : One of my close friends is Brady, and I had already met several of his friends (members of the Coalition) through various activities and events. So, I joined the group to hang out with them all. I also have a background in Drama, so doing the superhero thing is an outlet for me. I can do my art (the costume and the character acting), and have fun. I don't have to think about my daily life; I just hang out, have fun, and never break character. Well, almost never.

Sierra W. : I like what the Portland Superhero Coalition stands for and all the opportunities for volunteer work. I joined the group because I wanted to do more than just put on a costume and take pictures. I have had the pleasure of being part of the special group of people for about a year and the experiences I have had have been unforgettable. I look forward to each and every event. Words cannot describe how great it feels when a child, adult or even elderly person glances at you for the first time and their eyes get a little big brighter and their smile just a little bit bigger. I think that even if it’s just for that moment, all their worries go away and they can’t wait to meet you.

Riri: Tell me about the experiences you all have had when you visit the children at the hospitals, or any experiences at charity events.

David P. : At the hospital, I usually introduce the group and explain to them why we are here. At that point is all about bridging the gap. Sometimes kids just open right up and sometimes you have to reach out to them. That's what is great about this group, they reach through and touch kid's lives. Superman or Wonder Woman aren't just bigger than life; they become their friend and someone they can look up to. If they value them, they value themselves. 

I had a little girl who was in isolation (we couldn't go into her room) talk to us and at first she was very shy, and was fighting cancer. We work very hard at asking the right questions to get each child comfortable to open up. One of the questions we usually ask is if the child is a super hero. That "we superheroes know another superhero when we see one" made our little girl laugh and she admitted to being a super hero. The natural follow up is, "What are your super powers?" She quickly replied to with, "I'm super smart" followed by a huge smile! But it didn't stop there; little miss super smart also could roar super loud. So as we stood in the hallway watching our beaming new super hero explain why she is super awesome, we also requested a demonstration of the super roar. Much to all our joy, little miss super hero huffed and puffed to get the biggest breath possible and let out one huge roar, followed by giggles to go around for all of us. I doubt she really believed she was a super hero but in that moment. .. as she put cancer to the side and let her imagination run. .. she was a super hero to us all! The hospital children actually give more to you than you could ever give to them.

Is it fun? Sometimes it is, but sometimes it breaks your heart. But I would go back everyday if I could. Do we make a difference. .. I hope so. A smile brings hope, and hope strengthens will, and will gets you through those difficult moments. 

Heath: For me it had to do with using my character (Batman) to make young kids and older kids at heart smile. For one, who doesn't love Batman. I always wanted to visit children's hospitals and other charitable organizations to make this happen. And being part of a team that wishes to do the same is a great opportunity.

Andrew M. : My best experience was when we were at a yogurt shop doing charity work and we all decided to walk down the street and meet some of the local businesses. I was dressed like Link from Legend of Zelda and this little boy maybe 3-4 years old saw me before his parents put him in the car. He asked his parents if he could have a photo with me. I, of course, was all for it. But before his parents could take the picture he asked,
"So when you were in the fire temple, was it hot?"
I responded, "Yes, I tried to go in there with my green tunic on but I could only last for 3 minutes before I would collapse from the heat."
He then asked, "So were you able to find your red tunic?"
I responded, "Oh yes that was a hard tunic to find too but I was able to eventually get into the temple without collapsing."
By this time his parents were ready for the picture so I told them to wait and I pulled out my wooden Master Sword and gave it to the small boy and said, "Alright, I want you to hold it up to the sky like you just pulled it out of the ground." He did so and his parents took the picture. They thanked me for being so cool with their son. It is kids like him that make this whole cosplay thing worth every minute.

Allyssa B. : I have gone to all of the hospital visits for the past year, however I have elected to only go as a helper and hand out toys and take pictures, rather than in costume. And there are a few reasons for this: one is that I think the hospital rooms are just not really a good place for me to spread my (Hawkgirl) wings, and two, I think that the kids know some of the other characters a lot better, and it will mean more to them to see Batman, Superman, or Wonder Woman instead of the lesser known Hawkgirl.

The visits to Doernbecher Children's Hospital have not been what I expected. I thought it would be harder and more emotional to see all the sick kids, but because we bring so much joy to them, it's a fun experience rather than a sad one. One of the best things I have seen as part of this group was when there was this one little boy that just LIT UP from seeing Superman, his favorite hero. Smiles that went on for miles, and he was just SO HAPPY. And when we left, the ladies that worked at the hospital said that little boy had not smiled once since he got there, until that moment. That is why we do what we do. There is a playroom where Batman and other heroes have sat down and had a tea party with the kids, or drawn pictures for them. We had one little girl who was really into Tinkerbell, and was going into surgery on her birthday for cancer. We did not have a Tinkerbell, so I recruited a friend of mine, and I made a costume for her to wear in two days so that it would be ready for this, and it was magical. This little girl got to celebrate her birthday and open her presents with her favorite fairy.

Allan Q. : Since many of the heroes are living in other parts of state besides Portland. we would contact other venues in our communities such as a hospital here in Eugene, Oregon. I would contact the Children's Miracle network and ask if the opportunity would arise to visit the children in the ward. When we got the green light, we would visit. The reactions of the children touch your heart since they are in the bed and are hooked to tubes (some are but not all). Some are tired, but when we knock on door, their faces light up. For a child to be in a room during treatment really brings joy to them when we pay a visit. I am touched emotionally and I give them an encouraging word and ask if they would like to have a picture with them. The parents are so happy and ecstatic. This does help them and to know someone as a hero would come visit them and encourage them a speedy recovery and keep strong. It warms the heart when a child say to you that they love your character. Seeing their eyes grow wide and huge smile as we enter. 

Sierra W. : About every three months the coalition makes a visit to Doernbecher. On my last visit to Doernbecher I meet a very special girl named Jillian. This visit touched me just a little bit more than some. I formed a special bond with Jillian and kept in touch with her through Facebook with her parents. The Coalition was asked to do an event at the Eugene Emeralds baseball game for Superhero Day. Superman and Wonder Woman were asked to throw the first pitches. When Jillian saw a commercial saying that the superhero were going to be in her home town, she wanted her dad to find out if Wonder Woman would be there. When I was contacted I immediately wanted to do something special for Jillian. I asked the event coordinator if I could have Jillian throw my first pitch. I then ran out to the local fabric store to start making Jillian a matching cape and wonder woman cuffs. KVAL news was at the game and here is the story they did on Jillian.

http://www.kval.com/news/local/The-hard-times-the-pain-its-not-there-Its-Jillian-being-a-child-267874741.html

I’m sure next time I see Jillian, she will be wearing her cape and cuffs. 

image from KVAL.com

image from KVAL.com

Wow! What great experiences from everybody! Each and every experience touched my heart; I hope that these stories can become an inspiration for many more cosplayers out there! Portland SuperHeroes Coalition is a wonderful group and if any of you cosplayers are in the Portland area, be sure to check out their group :) Here's their Facebook page!