For a few minutes on Wednesday afternoon, the cozy Long Beach Comic Shop was jam-packed after a bus pulled up outside, and the kids of Camp Able made their way in.
Owner William Carpenter had prepared a table of free comics for the 15 kids — titles with such comic book heroes as Dr. Who, Underdog and the DC Superhero Girls.
The kids — who have intellectual disabilities ranging from “high-functioning” to “profound” — took copies of the comics, browsed boxes of bagged archives, and sifted through toy bins.
Camp Able is a summer program hosted by Episcopal churches in several Southern states. The kids at the comic shop Wednesday were being hosted by St. Peter’s by-the-Sea in Gulfport. The priest there, the Rev. Patrick Sanders, accompanied the group.
“We’re going to buy a bunch of comics,” Sanders said soon after his group entered the shop.
Sanders said the program, which started in Florida, was aimed at empowering children who often are constrained by disabilities.
“The idea was just to have a special-needs ministry that was unique and driven by dignity,” he said.
One of the themes of this year’s Camp Able is superheroes. Sanders said comic book superheroes often start out when they are struck by a disabling event — a tragedy or accident or a radioactive spider bite, as in the case of Spider-Man.
Carpenter, whose favorite superhero is Spider-Man, has been disabled from birth. He has a rare condition called arthrogryposis that limits movement. He felt like a comic shop was something the area would appreciate, and opened the small shop in 2015 in the back of a building his family has owned since 1959.
“That was always his dream since he was a baby,” said Lori Carpenter, William Carpenter’s mother. “I said, ‘Why not.’”
Lori Carpenter runs a barber shop on the other side of the building.
After picking out comics and toys, the kids of Camp Able moved to the comic shop’s parking lot, where an employee of Coast Roast Coffee met them with trays of free vanilla milkshakes.
The kids of Camp Able are a range of ages, and have different disabilities such as Down syndrome, autism and cerebral palsy.
Jamie Estis, one of the kids taking part in Camp Able, adopted her own superhero persona recently: “Hype-Woman.” Estis’ role at the camp is to encourage her peers and drum up excitement during games.
“I love being a superhero,” she said.