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Kidsburgh Hero: Rachel Makary and Volunteer Princesses

Mandy Fields Yokim
November27/ 2014

Here at Kidsburgh, we are on the hunt. We are scouring our city, chatting up our neighbors, monitoring our newsfeeds–looking for a very special type of Pittsburgher. The kind of person who selflessly devotes himself or herself to improving the lives of our city’s children. The kind of person who exemplifies the mission of Kidsburgh–to make Pittsburgh the best place on Earth to raise children. We like to call them Kidsburgh Heroes. And we will regularly be featuring these individuals to spread the word about their inspiring work.

Our next Kidsburgh Hero has brought smiles to the faces of many Pittsburgh children. Meet Rachel Makary, college student and founder of Volunteer Princesses. Rachel is anything but your typical college freshman. With maturity beyond her years, she’s found a way to take her greatest passion–crafting homemade costumes–and use it to make Pittsburgh kids happy. Intrigued? We were! Here’s our recent interview with Rachel Makary.

What is Volunteer Princesses?

Volunteer Princesses is an organization bringing costumed princesses, princes and superheroes to children throughout the city. We started off visiting nonprofit organizations like the Women’s Center and Shelter of Pittsburgh, HEARTH Women’s Transitional Home, the Children’s Institute and the Ronald McDonald House. We had such an overwhelmingly positive response that we recently started holding our own public events and visiting private birthday parties. Whenever someone needs us, we do our best to send them a character.

Frozen Sisters, Photo courtesy of Rachel Makary
Frozen Sisters, Photo courtesy of Rachel Makary

What characters do you offer?

Our volunteers dress up as a variety of well-known characters. For trademark reasons we have to rename them–but you will definitely recognize them when they arrive. We have the Frozen Sisters, Tangled Princess, Ocean Princess, Dark Knight, Spider-Guy and many more. Most of the volunteers share my love of making costumes and have fun creating their own.

What activities do you do with kids?

We do many different activities with the kids, including sing-a-longs, story times, face painting, arts & crafts and games like “Red-Light, Green-Light” and “Red Rover.” We understand that children have different interests so we try to accommodate their tastes.

Who are your volunteers?

The volunteers are a diverse group of people who all share one common passion–making kids happy. Our volunteer age range is from 15-29 years old and we have both male and female volunteers. In order for someone to volunteer with us, I must meet them first in person and interview them. I also check different databases to make sure they have clearances.

Our volunteers are separated into two categories: “character volunteers” and “helper volunteers.” Character volunteers dress up in costume at our events. The helper volunteers set up the activities and assist the character volunteers. Together, both types of volunteers help each other out and make sure the activities run smoothly.

Fun with Pittsburgh kids, Photo by Brian Cohen

What inspired you to start Volunteer Princesses?

The idea of Volunteer Princesses came to me in the summer of 2012 when I was 16 years old. I had just seen the Disney/Pixar movie Brave and decided to make a Merida costume for myself. After it was done, my friend offered to take a few pictures of me in it. After the photo shoot, I went inside a nearby library to wait for my ride home. Children started coming up to me–asking me to read them books or take pictures with them. I knew at that moment that my costumes could be used for a greater purpose–to make children happy. I went home that day and immediately started recruiting my friends to join Volunteer Princesses. Soon after, we started volunteering at local nonprofits.

Two years later, I am 18 years old, a freshman at Carlow University and Volunteer Princesses is going strong. We have a website and numerous bookings. Our volunteer numbers have increased drastically. We hope to continue to grow and to bring joy to the city’s children!

How is Volunteer Princesses helping children in Pittsburgh?

Volunteer Princesses is helping children in many ways. We are providing fun and free interactive activities to children citywide–some of whom are sick or economically disadvantaged. These kids may never have the opportunity to visit Disney World or have an expensive birthday party with hired characters. So we bring the magic to them for free! In the end, the reason we do this is to help children–whether it is through nurturing their creative sides, sparking their imaginations, becoming their friends or simply putting smiles on their faces.

What’s next for Volunteer Princesses?

We are currently trying to find a venue to host a Winter Festival with a Frozen sing-a-long. I am also hoping to have an Elsa and Jack Frost skating event this winter. Finally, I am planning a Superhero Training Camp event with our superheroes for the spring. We have a lot of great events coming up! Visit http://volunteerprincesses.com and http://facebook.com/volunteerprincesses for updates on upcoming events, to book our characters or to find out more about volunteering!

Do you know an inspired individual who could be our next Kidsburgh hero? Tell us more at [email protected]

Featured photo: Rachel Makary, founder of Volunteer Princesses. Photo by Brian Cohen

Mandy Fields Yokim

Mandy Fields Yokim is a nationally published writer and editor based in the Pittsburgh area. Her work has appeared in Parents Magazine, Blue Ridge Country Magazine, NEXTpittsburgh, Kidsburgh, TEQ Magazine, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and nearly 20 parenting publications across the United States and Canada. Her blog posts have appeared online at Pittsburgh Magazine, Kid World Citizen and Wonderaddo, the global education initiative she founded in 2013 to encourage kids and families to explore the world in Pittsburgh. She is contributing editor of regional books such as Grit, Smoke and Steam, Ultimate Pittsburgh Trivia and Bridges of Pittsburgh.