Near the Cosplay stage at New York Comic Con earlier this month, there was tucked a small table, with a few raffle items on it and containers full of cash. A couple of superheroes relaxed behind the table, as one might expect. Their banner read: Costumers with a Cause, and they were there raising money for STOMP out Bullying. I was excited to learn more about CwC, which is an entirely volunteer-based organization that sends cosplayers to visit sick kids in the hospital as well as raise money for charities.
Jennifer Whipple, Board Director and Central Florida Branch Co-Head, answered my questions about this heartwarming organization, which seeks “to work together with children’s charity organizations and charity events that promote community growth, unity, education, and hope for every child’s future.”
Jennifer’s husband Scott is the other Co-Head of that branch in addition to being President of the organization overall, and their daughter Brianne is the Central Oregon Branch head. While the Whipple family is certainly central in the organization, from what Jennifer tells me, it sounds like a big part of the appeal for volunteers is that the organization itself has a family feel.
Jennifer, thank you for answering my questions! Please tell us about your family’s involvement and history with the organization.
Costumers With A Cause started out as small a group of individuals with like minds, helping people in the Tampa area, to which my husband had a connection. Back then it was community boards mostly, Facebook was just getting started. “Groups” and “Pages” I don’t think were even available, we all just had a “wall” and our scrolling news feeds.
Unfortunately, in Tampa, the group slowly sort of melted away in that they weren’t doing any events and the members of the group were falling off and joining other local cosplay groups. The group became inactive.
My husband, Scott Whipple, (who is now the President of Costumers With A Cause, Inc.) and our family lived up in the Chicagoland area. We were attending an MS walk in Naperville, IL in 2009 and he had asked if it would be “okay” for him to do the walk in costume as “Costumers With A Cause” and was granted permission to do so. He attended the walk as Wolverine, and our daughter, Brianne, attended as X-23. I think she was about 12 or 13 at the time..probably 13 years old at the time.
While the small group that was in the Tampa area died down the group in the Midwest flourished! The Midwest branch covers all of Chicagoland, Northwest Indiana, and some of Wisconsin. Scott, Brianne (Bree), and I worked hard with the group in the Midwest for several years. While we started by just doing a few events each year, each year Midwest CwC did more! By the time Scott transferred with his employer to Clearwater, Florida in December, 2015 and at the same time, Bree moved off to the Springfield, Oregon area, Midwest Costumers With A Cause (CwC) was doing over 100 events each year!
When we moved to Florida, Scott was asked to take over the inactive group that was here. He reached out to some of the members who were part of that original small group of individuals and we slowly grew the Central Florida branch that now, also does over 120 (ish) events each year! There were, and still are, a lot of obstacles in the area but the Central Florida branch covers from Orlando, to Tampa, to Clearwater, to Sarasota. That is a big area so there are bound to always be obstacles.
Brianne, with her experience in the Midwest, started her own branch in Central Oregon and they have been doing very well there.
As for myself, while I may attend events as a character, I do mostly the behind the scenes things. making sure background checks are done, coordinating events for the Central Florida area, writing thank you letters and asking for Corporate donations or in kind donations to keep our organization operational.
I feel I need to tell you, that is completely how we operate and have operated since day 1, off corporate donations or if a donation is made SPECIFICALLY to CwC. When we choose a fundraising beneficiary, 100% of the funds we raise go to that organization or that family in need. We don’t keep a penny of it. That is pretty much unheard of.
How do you select the organizations with which you partner, and the ones that you fundraise for?
Great question! Each branch tries to find an organization that is local, if at all possible. Usually for a quarter at a time we will fundraise for that organization. But, to be selected, we check their ratings on Charity Navigator, Charity Watch, and Consumer Reports, their reviews, and we look to see what percentage of the funds actually go toward whatever cause they are representing. There are several websites that will give you a clear view on how a non-profit is allocating their money.
As for causes, we ask our members if there is any cause or organization that holds a special place in their heart, and they bring it to our attention. What impacts them, impacts us. With CwC, we try to choose organizations that the funds are being used for what they are presenting them as being used for, rather than a higher percentage going for CEO salaries, things like that.
I guess here is where I should mention, CwC is 100% volunteer. From the President all the way down to a member who maybe comes out twice a year…100% volunteer. We get absolutely no money at all for doing this.
Do you have any favorite stories of events you would like to share?
I could show you photo albums of “favorite stories” from over the years. Each member of CwC would be able to rattle off a list of favorite stories from events, lol. For me personally, what really gets me, what really sticks in my head is when there is a child that is going through treatment and they get to meet their favorite Superhero, Princess, or character and while the child is super excited, smiling, usually jumping with happiness, getting high fives, hugs, or sharing stories with our members, you look over and you see mom and dad tearing up because of their own joy and happiness at seeing their child like this and experience this moment.
When I looked at your website after visiting your table at New York Comic Con, it was those images that made me cry: parents sharing pictures of their kids in the hospital, excited to meet their favorite characters.
I had a mom turn to me with tears running down her face after her son met Batman and Superman and she thanked us for being there because she said every day for her son is a question mark. They don’t know what it will bring and so moments like this mean the world to their son and to them.
We also visited a little boy who had undergone several back and leg surgeries due to birth defects and he didn’t want to get up and walk because it hurt too much. A visit from Superman where Supes sat with him for quite a while talking and really listening to him made a world of difference. Superman encouraged the little boy to walk with him while he held his hand. It took a little coercing, but eventually he did it! He stood. He stepped. He walked! Even Superman teared up, but didn’t let the little boy see, of course. 😉
It’s clear your members are really devoted, and you showcase them on your blog in VIP member spotlights! What do you think draws volunteers to your organization? Do you think there is a typical profile that describes your volunteers?
I think the thing that draws volunteers to our organization is our “Family” atmosphere and culture. Our members from coast to coast are amazing! I’m not just saying that either. We have some of the biggest, kindest-hearted people in CwC that I have ever had the pleasure of meeting! In return, we genuinely care about every one of our members and what is happening in their lives, this is from the President, to the Board of Directors, to the Branch heads and admins all the way down. We have had fundraisers to help a member that was hospitalized and had been in ICU, TOTALLY without them asking or knowing about it and it was initiated by another member. A member’s vehicle was in the shop and they needed a way to get to work a few days, they had a car loaned to them for a few days from a member who could afford not to have it for that amount of time.
CwC…it’s always about the kids. That being said, those with big egos don’t stay very long. We try to keep the drama to a minimum and while we aren’t invincible against it, we do what we can to mediate and stifle it.
We encourage our members to remember who they represent when they are out there, but also, to have fun! But yeah, when a new member is announced, it isn’t uncommon to see a response, “Welcome to the CwC family!”
Jennifer, thank you! It’s been great learning more about this welcoming and effective organization.
You can learn more about Costumers with a Cause from their website, including how to contact the organization about an event you are hosting but if you are considering volunteering with one of their regional branches, consider this endorsement from Jennifer herself about how satisfying it is to volunteer with them:
The satisfaction comes from those little moments you catch when you least expect it, like a huge smile from a child who feels miserable from a chemo treatment, or a full belly laugh from a child who is wrapped in bandages and you saw just a few minutes ago crying because of the pain he was in. The reason we do this is because that one, seeming small insignificant moment, in reality can make such a positive impact in a child’s life…and knowing that, it doesn’t matter who else knows it, the feeling you walk away with in your gut…THAT, that is the satisfaction sensor going off!