Bunny’s Heroes brings smiles to kids

Sure, they adore dressing as Disney characters like Elsa from “Frozen,” Snow White, Cinderella, Tinkerbell, Rapunzel, and Princess Aurora from “Sleeping Beauty” – but for the members of Bunny’s Heroes, the real enjoyment comes from seeing children smile.

Bunny’s Heroes is the Black Hills’ only cosplay (that’s short for costume play) group which strives to strengthen the community by entertaining children. The group consists of 76 men and women ranging in age from their late teens into their ‘30s, but all ages of adults are welcome to join. Participation is 100 percent voluntary, and most members make their own costumes from scratch. About 40 Heroes are active at any given time, depending on their work schedules and other responsibilities.

“I wanted to find a way to use my geekery and costuming friends to help build the community,” said Shareece Tatum, 32, who founded the group in August 2013. Tatum also founded the SoDak Anime Convention in 2009, and she credits her involvement with SoDak Con in helping her meet like-minded people who enjoy cosplay, acting and anime.

“My only requirements are that you must love kids, and you must stay in character,” she said. “Many of our Heroes take acting lessons at Seraphim Theater in Rapid City to help them perfect their roles in the group.”

Shortly after forming Bunny’s Heroes – named for Tatum’s costuming nickname, “Bunny” – Tatum contacted Storybook Island and asked to bring the magic of a few well-known Disney characters to the Once Upon a Festival weekend the park hosts once a year.

Ever since, Tatum has built her army of characters to include Merida from “Brave”; Princess Fiona from “Shrek”; DC Comics supervillain Tigress; Obi-Wan Kenobi, storm troopers, a Jedi from “Star Wars”; a Klingon from “Star Trek”; Marvel Comics’ Spiderman; Dr. Who; Thor; and a green Power Ranger, to name a few.

Taffy Anderson, 36, of Belle Fourche plays Tinkerbell and Ana from “Frozen.” “Ana is so popular right now, that I try to watch as much of ‘Frozen’ that I possibly can to make my character as realistic as possible,” she said. “I love being involved in charity work – it’s super important to me. About 99 percent of the time, most of the kids we meet believe that each person in the group is his or her character. I love that we can make kids so happy.”

In the past year, the group has been involved in more events at Storybook Island, and they have branched out to work with multiple nonprofits. They participated in Walk-For Wishes, the Make-A-Wish Foundation’s 2014 annual fundraising walk. They also collaborated with WAVI, the Rapid City Arts Council, and Relay for Life. The group regularly visits schools and reads to kids at Books-A-Million in Rapid City. Tatum’s ultimate goal is to “be able to visit sick children in the hospital.”

“For privacy reasons, we’re only able to do hospital visits if parents contact us directly and invite us into their rooms,” she explained. “We have started to gain enough awareness in the community that parents are beginning to reach out to us.” Tatum said the group doesn’t normally perform at birthday parties, but they will make exceptions for children with illnesses and injuries.

The next chance to see Bunny’s Heroes in public is at Storybook Island’s Christmas Nights of Light, which began Friday and runs through New Year’s Eve. In April 2015, the group will have a booth at the Youth & Family Services’ Kids Fair.

When Tatum is not busy with her three children and her tourism and hospitality management classes through Black Hills State University, she works to expand Bunny’s Heroes. A Colorado branch opened in in June 2014, and a branch opened in Texas in July 2014.

“There’s nothing like bringing hope and smiles to children who don’t have it,” said Tatum. “That’s what I love most about this group.”

Since the group is not yet a nonprofit (although it may seek nonprofit status in the future), Tatum asks that those wishing to donate to the group make a donation to any of the organizations they support.

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