One morning last week, Ed Bolando shared a few of his superhero characters with a group of elementary school children.
There was Tyler Thomas, who always felt alone because of his physical disabilities. But the mysterious Gentleman saw Tyler’s mind was special, giving him the Essence Stone of Intellect to become the superhero engineer Techno.
There was Wang Wei, who had trouble making friends in school but formed a strong bond with nature. The Gentlemen noticed and gave Wang the Essence Stone of Water, making him the superhero Stormsurge, protector of the environment.
There was Benny Barios, the school bully, but after meeting the Gentleman and receiving the Essence Stone of Fire, he learned to control his anger.
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Bolando spoke to the children at Miami Lighthouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired to show them his new line of comic books and toys, HeroBoys, which he co-founded with his wife, Crissi, last year.
The comic books and figurines feature six HeroBoys, each of whom have a difficulty they overcome — be it physically, socially or behaviorally. They are helped in their journey by the mysterious Gentleman, who shows each HeroBoy exactly why they are a hero.
Bolando and his wife thought of the HeroBoys line because they noticed that many action figures geared toward young boys today lack meaningful messages. They modeled their characters after the American Girl doll line, which encourages constructive lessons for young girls.
“We [were] definitely inspired by the American Girl, and the appeal of the thoughtful content that they produce for girls. But there was really nothing we saw for boys,” Bolando said. “…Superhero content that was for younger children tended to [show] no effort to say, ‘Let’s take this opportunity to try to teach kids a lesson or moral.’ It was … just cool superheroes doing action stuff and that was it.”
After reading the first issue of the comics to the kids, Bolando passed around a few dolls for the children to play with. Life-size and flexible, the HeroBoys and their capes and masks elicited a few giggles and heroic poses from the children. They even shouted out the hero’s name.
“Our blind children need to have the same experiences as sighted children,” said Virginia Jacko, president and CEO of the Lighthouse. “They might do things a little differently [and] they may have never seen [their] superhero, but putting on a costume, by touching what the superhero looks like … they see it a little differently.”
The Lighthouse works with many children, teaching them braille literacy, practical skills, and providing life experiences.
“I remember one time José Feliciano came here,” Jacko said. “And he said, ‘Virginia, I am so glad that you let these kids go ice-skating. They should climb a tree. You know, a sighted kid falls out of a tree, what’s wrong with a blind kid falling out of a tree?’ They need to experience life — of course in a safe environment. We really don’t want them falling out of a tree, but it happens.”