The children in Reese Davis’ preschool class were often standoffish around him.
“He was the only kid they knew in a wheelchair,” recalled his father, Lon Davis, founder of Walkin and Rollin Costumes — a Kansas City-based non-profit that builds costumes for kids in walkers and wheelchairs, free of charge.
“They didn’t really know how to interact with him,” Davis noted.
Then Halloween arrived.
“The day that we put that costume on him and he came into class, all the kids rushed to him. … Reese was suddenly the most popular kid in school,” Davis said, recalling the history of Walkin and Rollin, which began with the construction of a Disney’s Wall-E costume, specifically requested by the then-preschooler.
Eight years later, Walkin and Rollin has produced 100 costumes — giving kids experiencing limited mobility a similar feeling of inclusion, Davis said.
“My fear was that Nov. 1 — when [Reese] went back to school and he didn’t have the costume — it would go back to the way it was, and to my surprise, it was kind of this icebreaker that allowed other kids to see him as just another kid,” Davis said.
Thanks to Walkin and Rollin, parents across the country are experiencing similar feelings of joy as they too see their kids — who might have otherwise felt socially isolated — finding common ground with their peers, he added.
From “Toy Story” and Marvel characters to a teched-out Arrowhead Stadium that’s garnered viral attention, Walkin and Rollin has become a network of community creativity, thanks in large part to a strong working relationship with Hammerspace Workshop and the Kansas City maker community, Davis said.
“We’ll go in there and have all the materials, all the plans for six or seven costumes and then we’ll have 30 or 40 volunteers show up and we’ll build them all together,” he explained, detailing the process behind the creation of the custom costumes.
On their own, Davis, his wife Anita, and Reese have built 28 costumes in 2019.
A team effort, community partners sponsor costume builds and chip in during the construction phase to fill labor gaps, he added.
“The more volunteers, the more costumes we can build,” Davis said, adding the organization could use more volunteers as the Walkin and Rollin busy season winds down and plans for 2020 begin to take shape.
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Now running like a well-oiled machine, Davis and his family didn’t immediately see Walkin and Rollin as the viable business opportunity it’s become, he noted.
“We were approached by Planet Comicon here in Kansas City in 2014, because Reese was wearing a Captain America costume and he wore that to Comicon and they saw us and they said they had seen some of our costumes,” Davis said, adding that Planet Comicon requested the family set up a booth at the following year’s expo.
“We thought, ‘Yeah, we can do that,’ and we really started to think about it more [and decided] what we should do is see if we can make this more than just a display of our costumes, but maybe see if we can actually build them for other kids,” he said.
On display — and armed with a $1,000 fundraising goal — it didn’t take long for Walkin and Rollin to draw attention from the Planet Comicon crowd, Davis said.
“One of the first people who came into Planet Comicon was an older gentleman in a wheelchair and he came right up to our booth and was looking at everything and he goes, ‘What exactly do you guys do?’ and I said, ‘Well, we’re building costumes for kids in wheelchairs and I started talking to them for just a couple minutes and he never said a word,” Davis recalled.
“He reached into his wallet and pulled out a $100 bill and put it in our donation bucket and he said, ‘I wish there was something like this when I was a kid,’ and then he rolled away.”
A moment of impact for Davis, the encounter was the catalyst he needed to put Walkin and Rollin on public display.
“We realized we might actually have something. We hadn’t realized the impact that it would have. [We launched a Kickstarter] to see if we could raise funds to build five costumes that first Halloween,” he said, adding that they reached their next $1,000 goal in two days.
All together, Walkin and Rollin raised $3,000 and build 10 costumes in its first year, Davis said.
“This is our fifth Halloween. We now have over 150 volunteers from different communities around the nation. … It was a lot of trial and error when we were setting it up, but we knew we wanted wanted to do this,” Davis said of his accidental road to entrepreneurship and the happiness he found along the way.