Fictional characters from movies and books are heroes to many kids...and meeting them is magical. A nonprofit organization is bringing these personalities to life to raise money and build the community.
It’s a sunny morning at Rapid City’s Storybook Island. A car pulls into the parking lot and Wonder Woman steps out. She’s a volunteer with nonprofit group, Bunny’s Heroes. Today they are performing at the park for Character Day.
Shareece Tatum is the founder of the group. She leads volunteers to the dressing room.
Inside, Disney princesses and super heroes greet each other. They put the finishing touches on their outfits and wait for the park to open.
Tatum is standing in front of a mirror drawing freckles on her face. She often gets interrupted with questions from the volunteers. The group started four years ago with just one member
“Since then we have 45 members and about 25-30 active. And we do everything from Storybook Island, the Parade of Lights during Christmas, the Christmas Lights here. We see sick kids at the hospital when they let us. Hi, how’s it going?”
Tatum says the group’s goal is to build the community. They show up to events like Character Day to try and raise money for different organizations.
“So we have character day which is specifically made for Bunny’s Heroes to come in with all different kinds of characters and we walk around the park and interact with kids. We do three performances and the only days that we do this extensive is for Character Day and Once Upon a Festival which is Storybook Islands largest fundraising thing to help them stay free for everybody.”
Tatum is used to dressing up in costumes and acting. She is the founder SoDak Con which she calls a geek convention. Many of the volunteers attend and dress up as their favorite comic book, anime and movie characters for the event. Tatum says Bunny's Heroes gets the community used to these activities. She says volunteers come from all sorts of backgrounds like…
Tatum: “…students and then we’ve got air women, accountants and teachers and all kinds of walks of life that help out with Bunny’s Heroes-”
Aerlona: “Wings! Watch it!”
Tatum’s daughter warns the room as she runs by in a Tinkerbell costume.
Tatum: “Aerlona. Ok so the fun part is where I get to do my wig and my dress.”
She puts on a curly red wig and transforms into Merida from Brave. She gives instructions to the room full of characters.
“Just walk around, interact with people. We have performances at 11, one and three…”
They separate into groups of two or three and walk through the park. Volunteers without costumes walk close to them. Tatum says these are handlers.
“A handler is—it sounds weird but they’re kind of like the babysitters of the characters or the bodyguards. They make sure that they have water, that they’re doing okay, they’ve eaten.”
Volunteers have to stay in character during the event. Families and strollers crowd the side walk. Kids whisper excitedly to their parents when they spot someone they recognize.
A woman wearing a crown with long horns stands next to a man holding a hammer.
Thor: “Thor of Asgard.”
Loki: “I’m Loki of Asgard.”
Thor: “We are here for Character Day to hang out with the kids and take pictures with them, greet them and help make their day a little bit more special.”
Loki: “Or just mischief.”
Thor: “The second we got here we had four or five kids want pictures right away, recognize us right away…”
Loki: “And the hugs.”
Thor: “The hugs are always the best.”
Loki: “The hugs are always the best.”
Thor: “That child or kid recognizes who they see, who you are—their favorite hero or villain.”
The princesses are also really popular. One has long blonde hair and is wearing a bright purple dress.
To her, the best part of being with Bunny’s Heroes is…
Rapunzel: “I say supporting the community with helping Storyboook Island but also it’s really cool when you get the kids and you’re like their favorite princess and they find you. And it’s like the best moment of their whole day and you can just see it on their faces.”
Lockett: “Do you get a lot of that?”
Characters also gather in the park’s theater for performances.
Merida reads a book in her thick Irish accent. Belle from Beauty and the Beast sings a song. At the end, the kids join them in front of the stage to dance.
Bunny’s Heroes will return to the park on August 16th for Storybook Island’s birthday and in September for Once upon a Festival. Many of the volunteers are planning different costumes for SoDak Con next week.