Alli Womac is the Co-Founder & Chief Operating Officer of WEEN DREAM, the all-volunteer 501(c)(3) nonprofit that gives free Halloween costumes to children in need across America. She has costume expertise that stems from her over 25 years of dance and performance experience, including 10 years as a professional international magician’s assistant. She now owns and operates a digital marketing firm, Scott & Soda. Alli and her husband, Danny, live in New Orleans with their dogs, Dublin (AKA “Dubs”) and Cooper. Alli does anything and everything ‘WEEN DREAM may need any given day, and she is the director in charge of their Costume Headquarters.
We asked her a few questions about Ween Dream and her thoughts on Halloween.
1. What is the story behind ‘Ween Dream? What was the catalyst for you creating the nonprofit?
‘WEEN DREAM was founded in spring of 2014 by Kelsey Meeks and Alli Womac. The story of how the organization began is sort of that right place, right time scenario. Kelsey, who had been hosting a costume drive for a local children’s group post-Katrina, was a fitness client of mine and approached me with the idea to start a national nonprofit. She assumed I had a passion for costumes since I was a former dancer. She was astounded that there was nothing like ‘WEEN DREAM on a national level and was ready to make it happen. I enthusiastically agreed, of course! Kelsey recruited a few other acquaintances to join our board and we began our work on our first Halloween with 60 gently-used costume out of her living room.
Since then, we have costumed over 10,000 ‘WEENSTERS in 38 states! We’ve helped to serve children living in poverty; those living with (or have parents with) medical conditions or mental and/or physical disabilities; children living in foster care or homeless shelters; and children who have been affected by natural disasters, such as fires, floods, tornadoes, or hurricanes. We even costume the siblings!
Today, our all-volunteer board consists of 2 lawyers, a local weatherman, a banker, a CPA, an active-duty military personnel, and a professional marketer. We accept costumes year-round, collect applications from groups and families in August, match costumes in September, ship costumes by mid-October, enjoy our Halloween days, and start prepping for the next year!
2. What are your fondest memories of Halloween as both a child and an adult?
Growing up there were dozens of kids in my neighborhood and trick-or-treat night was always something I looked forward to. Aside from the occasional Ohio cold – which forced layers under or over your costume! – it was my favorite night of the year.
As an adult, and without kids of my own yet, I couldn’t wait to take my niece and nephew (ages 3 and 5) for the first time last year. Dressed as superheroes, those kids only made it to 5 houses before they were overwhelmed at how much candy they had received! By the time we made it home, they had already started talking about next year’s trick-or-treat trip with Aunt Alli. Have to say, that was an honor!
3. What Halloween traditions did your family have when you were younger?
In my childhood home, we had a huge 8’ privacy fence around our front yard – tons of trees, vines, bushes. For every Halloween, my dad would play one of those spooky sounds cassette tapes from the front bedroom window and set up his life-sized remote controlled robot at the end of the porch. When kids (well IF kids) would come to the front door and scream “trick or treat!” he would send the robot towards the unsuspecting kids. More often than not, they’d go running form the yard never to return again! As I grew older, I stopped trick-or-treating in the neighborhood and would hang with him just to experience the reactions!
4. What is your all-time favorite Halloween costume?
As a child, it would have to be the homemade Belle costume that my mom made me. I must have worn that things until it was bursting at the seams! As an adult, I still make all of my costumes. Most are centered around a pun for a current event or a celebrity of sorts. Living in New Orleans gives me the opportunity to dress up several times throughout the year – Mardi Gras, festivals, Halloween – so it’s hard to pick a favorite!
5. Do you go overboard like we do decorating for Halloween each year?
Kelsey does! She has the fog machines, the blow up pumpkins, the lights, skeletons, you name it! During the off-season, Kelsey would store her decorations in our costume headquarters. One was a 6’ tall zombie that we would strategically place in a dark hall or corner just to scare people! We even have a real-life gurney that we use to move costume donations from the front door to our area of the building. It has rust stains from the, um, treatments, and everything!
6. If you could change one thing about Halloween currently, what would it be?
All the petitions to change the date!!!! In all seriousness, I want more children to be able to experience Halloween as it is intended — a fun, care-free evening where you can dress up as whatever you want and enjoy being a kid! Imagination is important. All of the kids we serve are facing a difficult childhood. We hope that the costumes they receive give them the ability to just be kids for that day at school or that night to trick or treat.
What people don’t realize is that the costume may mean more than candy. We had a girl with a serious medical condition request to be Wonder Woman. We assumed it was because of the popularity of the movie. Months after Halloween, her mom sent us a picture of her sitting in the emergency room, IV in her arm, big smile on her face. Mom shared that her daughter would not leave for the hospital until she was wearing her costume. To her, that costume had actual powers that helped her face her adversity well beyond October 31.
7. Do you have plans of expanding ‘Ween Dream into other states?
We actually tried in our second year. It’s hard when you have an all-volunteer operation run by only a handful of people. Instead of regional chapters, we encourage people who inquire to connect with organizations in need in their own area – the way Kelsey did before ‘WEEN DREAM started.
8. Is there anything else you would like people to know about ‘Ween Dream?
Our fundraising efforts are minimal throughout the year since our biggest cost is shipping costumes to our families in October. We typically do a big fundraising push in September so keep an eye out!