Halloween is full of trick or treating, scaring and being scared, and escaping to a different reality. For two haunted houses in Florida and Indiana, in addition to scaring their customers, the mission is to help The Angelus, a residential home for people with Cerebral Palsy in Hudson, Florida.
The Haunted Angelus houses, the first in Hudson, Florida and the second in Indianapolis, Indiana, are two "of the few 100 percent wheelchair accessible haunted houses. It's a benefit for cerebral palsy group home called the Angelus and it's 120% terrifying," says Steve Surenkamp, the Indianapolis haunt organizer.
Started in 2006 by Surenkamp's brother, Don, The Haunted Angelus has two aspects that set it apart from other haunts. Not only is it completely wheelchair accessible but all the proceeds of the ticket sales go directly to The Angelus house in Florida.
The first Haunted Angelus was created within the grounds of The Angelus. Steve explains that, "It was important for us to put the first one actually on the group home property because it's a way for The Angelus to invite many people to come see them. They come out to get scared but something happens along the way. They see the great things that this organization is doing."
Not only did it bring an audience that was unaware of the great work done by The Angelus but it provided a place for the residents to enjoy Halloween just like everyone else did. Not only could the residents enjoy going around the haunt but they could participate in scaring the customers.
Steve says that in their Florida haunt, "since we're located on their property, on any given night we'll have six to eight residents working in the haunt. We have one girl ... that actually works the front door."
In the haunt in Indianapolis, some of the volunteers who take part in scaring the visitors are in wheelchairs or have Cerebral Palsy themselves, including greeter Dakota Gross. He enjoys "knowing that I'm giving back to somebody, helping them out, they're donating money. It also helps me out because of my people skills. I get to talk to people, jump around, basically be energetic."
For a child in a wheelchair to be able to dress up and scare a grown man makes them feel just like anybody else. "The best reward is after that person runs, you see that person just laugh and laugh and you go 'yeah, you got him. You may not be able to walk but you're just as good at this as anybody else'," says Steve.
In the six years since the Surenkamp brothers started their Haunted Angelus houses, they estimate that they've raised over sixty thousand dollars for The Angelus house. "Not directly," says Steve, "but between the exposure and then the ticket sales. Through the haunted house, I know he's donated over 20, 30 thousand."
The number of visitors has been steadily increasing each year. The Indianapolis haunt had over 12,000 people last year and their hope is to get over 20,000 this year.
While it is a fundraiser, "It's like most every other haunted house," says Steve. "The goal is to scare as many people as possible. When you come through our haunted house, other than the fact you'll notice our turns are a little bit wider than most ... you're going to get just as scared, you're going to be just as entertained if not more than your average haunted house because you will see people in here you've never seen before."
It was important to make the two Haunted Angelus houses wheelchair accessible so that those who were benefiting from the proceeds from ticket sales were also able to enjoy the haunt. "The Haunted Angelus is about including as many people as possible," says Steve.
Libby Neu who visited with her wheelchair-bound daughter says that, "I love the idea that they have it handicap accessible just because there's really not a whole lot for them to do out here and I think a lot of the people, especially people who are mentally able to come through, they're going to be able to come through, which most haunted houses they cannot."
The whole team involved with the Haunted Angelus houses clearly has a great time engineering a haunt that will scare people as much as possible. After all, the better the haunt, the more people will visit and donate to The Angelus.
Don and Steve Surenkamp's dedication to raising money for The Angelus is an example of how people can be inspired to help others simply because they can and feel that it is the right thing to do. Together, team of actors and volunteers does great work and, as Steve says, "They're here because they want to help raise money, they want to scare the crap out of people, and they want to have a lot of fun."