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Hello! Garrett Stroup here. If you have attended any of our events with the Northeast Florida branch of CWC, you have likely seen me roaming with a couple cameras in-hand, capturing the impact our group has on the community, or dressed as the star-spangled man with a plan. I have served with CWC in an official capacity since 2019 as an Event Photographer, Character Performer, Event Leader, and now Website/Email Administrator.

What many do not realize about me is that I have always felt torn balancing my Engineering career with an existential drive to express myself in a creative manner. I founded a photography business in 2017 to try and scratch that itch, but I still felt like something was missing. When I found CWC, my passion met the incredible sense of purpose that our organization offers, and my life has never been the same!

In addition to photography and volunteering, I enjoy attempting to be fit, the casual video game, singing, spending time with my wife and our pets, traveling, trying new restaurants, and last but not least, building my custom Iron Man suit. The latter has proven to be a dense black hole of never-ending learning, and has allowed me to tinker with 3D printing, circuit design, electronics, painting, mechanical linkages, programming, and much more. I am not sure I would have ever found the drive to initiate that project without CWC. Ironically, I also battle a lifelong blood disorder called Hemochromatosis, in which the body produces and stores too much iron – I AM Iron Man!

Every time I set up an event for CWC and that character roster starts filling up, I am reminded that I volunteer with the greatest people in the world. You are all my heroes, and have earned my deepest respect. I am looking forward to doing all I can for the organization and our cause!

How did you first get involved with Costumers with a Cause, and what has been your favorite or most memorable event so far and what made it memorable?

Truth be told, my wife [Jennifer] learned about CWC from a casual downtown Jacksonville photoshoot with our friendly neighborhood Spiderman. Jennifer reached out to Jack Hill of CWC Northeast Florida, and we attended the 2018 St. Augustine Christmas Parade together for our first event.

The most memorable CWC event for me so far was setting up a character visit for a 9-year-old boy named Liam, who was fighting a brain tumor. I was made aware of Liam by a neighbor of ours who was friend of their family, and I knew CWC would be an amazing feature of this special day. We assembled a rock star ensemble of characters, and met Liam’s bus driver at his neighborhood amenity center to start our walk to his house.

When we turned the corner on Liam’s street, I will never forget the sight of every single family out in their driveway, in #Liamstrong shirts with Captain America shields on the front, all cheering on our characters and Liam’s school bus. Liam was overwhelmed with the group we assembled, but quickly warmed up. Liam mostly pal’d around with Captain America, but Flash was challenging the culdesac children to footraces, Deadpool was giving fencing lessons, and everybody loved the rest of our heroes, too.

CWC went on to support a #Liamstrong Lifesouth Blood Drive at Good News Church World Golf Village, with many of the same characters also making an appearance.

Our members put on many faces in CWC.  What is your favorite character you represent and what is it that you like about that character?

The only character I have ready to go at the moment is Captain America. I have enjoyed making many of my own upgrades, including magnetizing my vibranium shield so it stays on my back in costume, and crafting my own harness and utility belt with my own custom leatherwork. I have a Green Arrow costume as well, but that is in drastic need of alterations at the moment. I am currently building an Iron Man Mark 7 suit, but it is a teensie weensie little bit of work! I think I am most drawn to performing as any of these characters because they all understand sacrifice, and all do what has to be done to protect others.

Based on your experiences with us, how would you describe what we do to someone who knows absolutely nothing about us or who we are?

I would say that CWC is an organization comprised of kind cosplayers who volunteer their time, energy, skills, and money, to bring joy to the children of our community, as well as aid to other charitable organizations. Through attending local charity events as a feature, performing hospital visits, setting up fundraising tables at local conventions or community events, or any of the other incredible things our organization performs, CWC strives to make a difference in the community.

What do you feel are your best assets, talents, gifts, etc., are, and how did you acquire them?

As far as it comes to my interactions with/on behalf of CWC, I think people enjoy that I am personable, humble, sometimes funny, and can take a decent picture every now and then. No matter what is going on in life, my personal mantra is that being a decent human being costs nothing. Photography was a skill acquired over years of taking pictures of my wife, purchasing educational courses, involvement with photography communities via forums and social media, and mentoring junior artists.

It seems that lately we are hearing about more and more children who are being bullied or have self-esteem issues, body issues, etc. If a child came to you with any one of the many issues you are aware of, what advice would you give them?

My story. I have struggled through issues with weight (body dysmorphia and borderline anorexia), feelings of inadequacy and worthlessness, and we all deal with some sort of bullying in life. Generally, I would tell that child that they alone can decide who they want to be, and how much they want to let the words of others impact their life. It is also good to realize that those that strive to put down others are usually projecting their own insecurities, fears, and doubts.

Imagine: You are on a deserted island. There is absolutely no way off this island. You are totally alone, with the exception of a magic genie who wants to grant you 3 wishes. Getting off the island isn’t one of them. What would your 3 wishes be and why?

Unfortunately, I am way too materialistic to give a realistic answer to this question and cannot imagine my life without my friends and family. LOL

Many of our members tell us stories of special situations or circumstances in their own personal lives which causes them to have a special place in their heart for charity organizations. Is there any charity or organization that holds a special place in your heart?

Being a survivor of WPW, the American Heart Association always feels close to home. During one of my internships in college, I was approached by a company officer in charge of soliciting pledges for charities. That particular moment in time, they happened to be gathering pledges for the American Heart Association. Being a college intern when gas was $4/gallon, and having to commute to both work and school every day, I was flat broke. Half-joking, the officer pressed me on why I felt like I need not donate to the charity. I told them “because I am a survivor!” The officer apologized profusely after the room erupted in shocked laughter and everybody asked me my story.

What is your favorite amusement park, and what is your favorite ride within that park?

Locally, my favorite amusement park would have to be Epcot – I just love the convenience of the park, and the fact that there are always food-centric festivals going on. My favorite ride in Epcot has to be either Soarin’, or Cosmic Rewind!

However, if it was more convenient to get to, I much prefer Disneyland to Walt Disney World. I get emotional and sometimes the chills when I walk into Avengers Campus. It feels like home!

Secret time: What is one thing about you that you think would surprise someone who thinks they know you pretty well.

I have had heart surgery and I probably should not be alive right now.

Who is someone you really admire? They can be real or fictional, alive or passed on. What is it about them that you admire and why?

I generally look for the good in people. Doing that, you realize pretty quickly that everybody is admirable in one way or another. However, I would have to say somebody I deeply respect in this world is my mom. Raising my brother and I as mostly a single mother, and hearing her struggles now as an adult, it is incredible how she made it through and instilled us with the values she did. From stories of getting through weeks with $5 to her name, to climbing the corporate ladder despite not having a college degree, and now achieving a lifestyle that most can only dream of through her sheer fortitude and perseverance, she truly is extraordinary.