The combination of blood, brains and a good cause might at first seem unnatural. But Scares That Care, a charity horror convention, offers a unique twist on helping those in need. It conjures up scares, games and celebrity appearances for its fourth year Friday through Sunday.
During his tenure as a police detective in the Baltimore area, Joe Ripple experienced real life horror when doctors diagnosed his partner's 3-year-old with an inoperable brain tumor. He was also helping with security for a regional horror convention, and this spawned an idea that would turn tragedy into inspiration.
"I got to see how kind and generous the people who enjoy this genre really are," he said. "You couldn't find people with bigger hearts."
Ripple saw an opportunity to give those big hearts an outlet to help others, and no similar charities existed. Thus, he founded Scares That Care.
At the beginning of each year, the charity selects three families to support, one with a sick child, another with a child who is a burn victim, and third with a woman with breast cancer. This year, the charity has already raised $10,000 for each child, Brian and Jane this year, and the convention is benefiting an Ohio woman battle breast cancer. The charity is also helping a fourth family with an adult burn victim this year.
"We've worked very, very hard," Ripple said.
For this year's convention, he set a $30,000 goal, part of which covers logistics like paying the DoubleTree by Hilton for the space. That goal appears well within reach.
"Our pre-ticket sales are well above where they were last year, so we're anticipating quite a turnout," Ripple said. He added that exact numbers were hard to pinpoint, but that turnout helps the greater Williamsburg area as a whole, driving traffic down the street to Busch Gardens, to check out Colonial Williamsburg and more.
"We want to try to give back to Williamsburg as much as we can," Ripple said.
Something spooky for all ages
The convention includes a plethora of events, like costume and prop contests and "scaryoke" karaoke. Various workshops delve into the details behind monster makeup, visual effects and the process of writing horror.
For those uninterested — or perhaps, too scared — for the horror themes, Scares That Cares puts on a Friday evening 5K and kids fun run, which are separate from the main convention.
"It all benefits the charity," Ripple said.
New attractions this year include an escape room, based on H.P. Lovecraft's "The Shadow Over Innsmouth," and a kids zone with activities better suited for the younger crowd, like arts, crafts and board games.
"We always try to make it a family event," Ripple said. In that vein, there's the trick-or-treat parade and a "mini-Walking Dead" zombie hunt that pits kids against the undead in a relatively low-key setting. "It's great for the kids and they really enjoy it."
Ripple's prior experience working for a horror convention led to contacts with agents and celebrities, making that crucial part of such an event easier.
"It's just a matter of what they're willing to do to help us out," he said. That could mean working around filming schedules and any specific themes at a given event. "Most celebrities are extremely receptive."
This year's celebrity guests include Richard Brake, who plays the Night King on "Game of Thrones," Samantha Ferris from "Supernatural," and actors from iconic horror series like "Children of the Corn" and "Halloween."
In working with celebrities, Ripple said he's careful to avoid those with egos.
"It's hard enough doing this." he said, but he's not complaining. "It's worth doing this. We want to work with people who truly understand our mission and truly want to help."
More than any single attraction, Ripple is most excited about the event's ability to help people.
"It's a labor of love," he said, and that extends to the rest of those working for Scares That Care, all of whom are volunteers. "Nobody takes a cent."
For Ripple, the charity's goal is not to guilt people into donating money. Such endeavors can be rewarding in more ways than one.
"I'm just looking to provide as much assistance as I can to the people who need it," Ripple said. "And we try to have a little fun while we do it."
Birkenmeyer can be reached by phone at 757-790-3029.
Want to go?
Scares That Care Weekend runs Friday through Sunday at the DoubleTree by Hilton Williamsburg, 50 Kingsmill Road. Special free activities Thursday. Tickets are $40 for a weekend pass and $25 for a day pass. For a complete schedule and to buy tickets, visit scaresthatcareweekend.com.
Those who can't attend but still want to donate can text SCARES to 91999 or visit scaresthatcare.org.