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Boys turn into comic book characters

Isaiah Barton, 11, the son of Jessica and Joe Barton of Sarver, wears a Hulk costume for his calendar appearance.

Two boys lived out their superhero dreams as part of a fundraiser by the nonprofit Superheroes Believe in Miracles of Natrona Heights.

Isaiah Barton, 11, the son of Jessica and Joe Barton of Sarver, was dressed as the Hulk and Marco Mangieri, 7, the son of Mike and Katie Mangieri of Gibsonia, was dressed as Spider-Man when they had their pictures taken in the summer for a calendar.

Recently, they each had their own red carpet moment celebrating their inclusion in the calendar.

The calendar featuring 12 child superheroes is used as a fundraiser for the group, according to its founder, Amy Faltot.

The group was started by Faltot in 2013 following an eye-opening visit to the hospital.

“My youngest was a baby. He was in a hospital for three months,” she said. “He was pretty sick, but I saw kids battling the biggest battles, smiling and happy.

“They had courage that most adults don't have. They are the real-life superheroes,” Faltot said.

Her group sends out birthday packages to children with illnesses or disabilities.

“For the birthday packages, we get their age and what they like,” Faltot said. “We try to send out what they like to them. There are four to five different things in the package.”

She estimated she and her volunteers send out 180 packages a month.

During the holiday season, Faltot's group creates a calendar to spotlight the local superheroes.

Faltot said her group puts out a call for young would-be superheroes to pose for the calendar on the group's website and Facebook page.

“The idea is to really highlight these kids and make them feel super special,” Faltot said.

The selection process isn't that exacting.

“We take the first 12. We don't make them go through any rigorous process or anything,” she said.

The only criteria is that they are able to come to a local park or studio for the photography session.

“They pick their heroes on a first-come, first-served basis. They have to pick a first and second choice in case two people want to be the same hero. We haven't had any knock-down fights yet,” Faltot said.

Isaiah is a big fan of the Incredible Hulk, said his mother, Jessica Barton. “He's a big fan of wrestling. The bigger the guy, the more Isaiah likes him.”

Isaiah has juvenile arthritis; nystagmus, a condition that causes his eyes to move back and forth; and Graves' disease, an autoimmune disorder.

Marco chose Spider-Man for his photo session in August, said his mother, Katie Mangieri. She remembers the date, Aug. 13, very well because it marked one year since he finished treatments for acute lymphoblastic leukemia.

“He loves all the superheroes. We used them to explain his sickness,” Mangieri said. “We didn't want to call it cancer. We said bad guys were in his blood and we had to fight the bad guys.”

Faltot said local photographers volunteer to shoot the young crime fighters and O Creations, a Pittsburgh marketing firm, puts the calendar together.

Before COVID-19, there would have been a red-carpet event to unveil the new calendar.

But circumstances forced Faltot to bring the red-carpet ceremony to each superhero.

“I had a roving red carpet and I go to each kid individually,” she said. “I bring the red carpet to them and try to make it as special as possible.”

Faltot, accompanied by another volunteer, would roll out the carpet, take photographs and make it a special moment.

“It's the first time they see the calendar and they get a poster and a 'star' on the walk of fame,” she said.

Marco's turn on the red carpet was Dec. 12.

“He hadn't seen his picture,” said Katie Mangieri. “He didn't know what to expect. He was in his Spider-Man costume.

“When he opened the door, he was taken aback. It was literally like Christmas morning to see the excitement in his eyes,” his mother said.

Barton said of Isaiah, “He loves to tell everyone he has his own calendar.”

Superheroes Believe in Miracles sells the calendars to raise money. They are advertised on the group's website and Facebook page.

It's also how Superheroes Believe in Miracles finds its clients.

“They can fill out information on the website or send me a message on Facebook,” Faltot said.

“It's anyone with a disability or an illness; it could be an emotional disability. We don't make them go through a big process or anything,” she said.

Word of mouth brings the group its clients in some cases.

“Another girl on the calendar, her mom and I used to work together,” Mangieri said. “She reached out.”

Barton said, “My kids used to go to school with Amy's kids, so we've been following the superhero program.”

Faltot said she is currently home-schooling two children and she works on the nonprofit in her spare time.

“It's something I'm doing at night when everyone's asleep,” she said.

Not that she's going to stop sending out the birthday packages, the calendars or the red-carpet visits. “It's a day to celebrate them and make them feel super special,” Faltot said. “Marco and Isaiah have been through a lot in their young lives; they deserve the celebration.”

Marco Mangieri, 7, the son of Mike and Katie Mangieri of Gibsonia, dresses as Spider-Man for his calendar slot.SUBMITTED PHOTOs