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Some of the volunteers, lined up and ready to go.
Some of the volunteers, lined up and ready to go.
Photo courtesy of Cosplay for Kids

UHD Students Take Their Superhero Alter Egos to Kids in Homeless Shelters

As it turns out, cosplay isn't just some self-indulgent endeavor that committed comic book nerds do. Case in point: Abigail Murillo and sister Milimar who along with some other University of Houston-Downtown students formed Cosplay for Kids, a group of volunteers who role play in an attempt to entertain some of the kids in Houston who have the least.

In some instances, they say, it's places that not too many other volunteers think about, shelters and neighborhood centers that maybe don't get the same level of attention that other better known organizations do.  "These places do exist. These people are here and they need your help," Abigail says. They also go to hospitals.

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They buy or make their own costumes, bring in coloring books and crayons that they buy out of their own pockets and present a 20-minute script that they've written. The most recent theme is the one of forgiveness. They spend the rest of the two-hour visit with the kids helping them decorate felt masks brought in so they can concoct their own super hero identities.

"The most popular by far is Spiderman (played by Justin Bowyer, a technician at Rice). We've had kids running after him. He always has kids climbing over him," Milimar says. "Spiderman is one of the cooler ones just because the character in the movies and in the comic books is really funny and he's a teenager soI think he may be more relatable and they have a lot of fun with him."

Milimar, who now has her bachelor's degree in biological and physical sciences and works as a medical microbiology assistant, says they started Cosplay for Kids two years ago. "We were just a group of nerds that wanted to do something nice and found the nerdiest way possible to do so. One of the volunteers made a Facebook post and people started joining the group and slowly but surely we got some very dedicated volunteers."

Abigail, a senior majoring in social work, says they loved Comicpalooza and anime conventions, but realized that a lot of kids could never afford to get to go to such an event. She's Supergirl and Milimar is Wonder Woman.

"If you walk through a convention and you see all the children that sometimes parents bring, they get so excited at the characters in costume and come in for a hug and come in for pictures," Abigail says. "That kind of triggered for me that idea that it could be amazing if we could do something like that in a hospital or for the kids who can't come to that thing or who don't have the money for something like that."

"Not every kid can afford to have a Spiderman hired for their birthday party."

So why was this so important to the Murillo sisters?

"When my sister and I first came to this country it meant starting completely over. I know what it's like to be in those shelters where we volunteer now," Milimar says. "When we first came here we were homeless. If we weren't able to stay with a relative we stayed in a shelter. I was 7 or 8 and she was 3 or 4." It meant a lot to them when volunteers would come into their facility and engage them in crafts or other activity that would be a break in their routine.  "It's a way of giving back some of that kindness that I received."

They have two volunteer writers and the scripts are adjusted if, for instance, they're going into a shelter where kids may have come from homes where there's been domestic abuse. any of the fight scenes are comical," Milimar says. "Instead of throwing punches, Spiderman twirls away," Abigail says. "It's very goofy very comical but trying to teach an important lesson at the end of it, in a fun way."

"Some of the children will come up to you and tell you an episode this and that and how did you feel about that?" Abigail says.

Places they've gone include the Mission of Yahweh, a homeless shelter for women and children, and participated in marches for the Epilepsy Foundation's Stroll for Epilepsy and Easter Seals. They've even been invited to a senior living facility, whose residents had intellectual and physical disabilities, Abigail says, and who were very excited about them being there. "Now we're even expanding to older adults."

They are looking for help with costs so that they can continue to expand to visit hospitals and other shelters and have set up a GoFundMe page. Ultimately they hope to find more sponsors.   In the meantime they spend a lot of time at the Dollar Store.

"It’s really community engagement. People just find it like a cute story. But you’re going out there to vulnerable populations, seeing people at their worst sometimes and you're out there making a difference," Abigail says. "It's completely different than reading it in a book. It's completely different to actually be there and see their faces.  That's very valuable for any individual."

"It’s sometimes a little heartbreaking to have to leave," Milimar says. "We say 'We have to go fight crime now.' Sometimes it's a little hard to detach from them. "

Spiderman: every kid's favorite hero.
Spiderman: every kid's favorite hero.
Photo courtesy Cosplay for Kids

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