For four years now, RS&H architects, engineers and associates have worked together to create special Halloween costumes for children of the Jacksonville’s Independent Living Resource Center (ILRC). And every year, they try to outdo themselves with their wheelchair-fitting costume creations.
On Friday, as four ILRC children and their families and nearly 100 RS&H associates crowded in the office’s atrium for the costume reveals, another dozen volunteers made up of RS&H associates and IIDA North Florida members cut foam boards, painted and pieced the costumes together. RS&H Senior Administrative Assistant Melanie Nichols had sewn costumes for the children to wear to complement their new rigs.
Soon, there was a Star Wars X-wing fighter, a locomotive, a sleigh and a ring of 3D-printed buildings that make up the Jacksonville skyline ready for their reveal.
“Thanks to all the volunteers who helped make these four children’s Halloween one they’ll never forget,” RS&H architect Brandon Pourch told the assembled crowd. “We didn’t think we could top last year’s costumes but from the reactions we’ve had so far I think we did.”
Jacksonville’s ILRC aims to empower people with disabilities to live independent, self-empowered lives. The group serves five counties in Northeast Florida and helps more than 1,000 individuals every year set and achieve their goals for independence.
The ILRC caught the interest of RS&H associates Brandon Pourch and David Mantia in 2015 after Pourch sought to put his architecture skills to work for children with disabilities. Since then, Mantia, Pourch, Briehn Wildman and a group of a dozen RS&H associates have built costumes for ILRC children.
On Friday, Eveyn, 6, received the sparkly, blue sled from Frozen along with a hand-sewn Olaf Snowman costume. Her brother received a scary snowman “Marshmallow” costume, and her sisters each received princess costumes to make the group an entire Frozen family. As the sides of the sled fastened in around her, Eveyn smiled as her siblings leaned in for a closer look.
Christian, 12, loves Harry Potter almost as much as he loves trains. When it came to his costume, the Hogwarts Express was a perfect fit. Dressed in a brown suit with a black tie and matching hat, Christian was ready to serve as conductor.
When his train came around the corner, Christian couldn’t believe his eyes. A two-piece locomotive was ready for him to board, complete with smoke – in this case, dry ice – rising from the train’s chimney.
“Oh my gosh, it’s so amazing!” Christian responded, his hands on his face in excitement. “I love it! I love it! Thank you so much!” He then went chugging through the atrium to a thunderous applause from RS&H associates and friends.
Jacob, 11, loves the Dr. Strange movie, which features a time-bending portal into New York City. For Jacob’s portal, the 3D-printed portal was representative of his home, Jacksonville. Jacob even had Dr. Strange’s costume – again, made by Nichols – complete with a proper beard.
“The portal does not actually allow Jacob to travel across dimensions, but our engineers are working on it for next year,” Pourch joked.
Jack’s favorite Star Wars character is R2-D2, which is exactly what he wanted to be for Halloween. The RS&H-IIDA team had the perfect robot helmet for him – encapsulated inside an almost-to-scale-sized X-wing fighter. The detachable wings had to be taken off to fit the fighter and Jack through the office’s double doors.
The X-wing fighter even came with a pilot. Michael Boyce, a volunteer with the Rebel and 501st Legions, was in full costume for Jack.
“I volunteered a couple of years ago as a Stormtrooper when RS&H built a TIE fighter,” Boyce said. “We visit hospitals and camps all over. It’s a really rewarding experience.”