Jack Soldano can’t fly or shoot webs out of his wrists. And despite his spot-on Batman impression, he doesn’t spend nights jumping off buildings fighting crime.
But this past summer, the 13-year-old North Country Road Middle School student was inspired by all the comic books he reads to do some saving of his own, and in the process, he earned the title of hero in his hometown of Miller Place.
Every week in July and August, Jack, who was 12 at the time, set up a table at Mount Sinai’s Heritage Park and sold 1,000 of his own comic books, as well as pins, magnets and bottle openers he made out of the vibrant panels in extra issues he had. The booming business he dubbed Comics for a Cause — a magnet for Marvel and DC comics lovers of all ages from the area — collected a total $1,220, but Jack didn’t keep a cent.
Instead, he gave it all to the Miller Place-Mount Sinai Historical Society to help the nonprofit fund roof repairs on its main headquarters, the nearly 300-year-old William Miller House at 75 North Country Road. The night Jack presented the check to historical society members, he sold a few more comic books and contributed an additional $10.
“I was bitten by a radioactive altruistic person,” Jack quipped when asked what made him want to aid in the nonprofit’s effort.
In actuality, Jack, currently in eighth grade, said that he felt compelled to help when he saw in The Village Beacon Record in May that the historical society was in desperate need to renovate the collapsing roof on the structure, the oldest existing house in Miller Place, built circa 1720. While he didn’t know any members of the nonprofit personally, Jack said he had a strong connection to the town landmark, as he and his family were regulars at its annual Postman Pete and Spooky Lantern Tour events.
“I figured, I like helping people, I have these comics — way too many of these comics — and people need help,” said Jack, who inherited the large collection from his grandfather, the former owner of a hobby shop in Port Washington. “And also, smiles are contagious, so it makes me happy that I can make others happy.”
When they heard what the young entrepreneur planned to do for them, members of the historical society, who rely heavily on the generosity of others to function, were stunned. With an initial goal of $18,300 to fix the roof, Jack’s contribution had brought the repair fund to $7,500. As of Dec. 20, the nonprofit had reached its goal to be able to start the project.
A brick in his honor — reading “Jack Soldano Our Comic Book Hero 2017” — was recently installed on the walkway around the historic house. Jack was also named an honorary member.
“That boy is a diamond in the rough,” said Miller Place-Mount Sinai Historical Society Vice President Antoinette Donato. “We sometimes have to send out an appeal to the public when we need to raise money, but we certainly did not expect a 12-year-old boy to respond to us the way he did.”
Donato said Jack is not just a role model to other young people but to adults too.
“I think he motivates everyone to think about giving back to the community — giving to a good cause and caring about the world around us,” she said. “He’s truly an inspiration.”
The historical society’s president, Peter Mott, was equally impressed with Jack, who he referred to as a friend.
“This young man displayed an uncommon and incredible sense of responsibility and concern for his local community,” Mott said. “We seasoned adults were in awe of his energy and spirit. Jack is, and we predict will continue to be, an amazing person who will benefit his local and larger community for many years to come.”
But for those who know Jack best, this generosity wasn’t anything out of the ordinary.
“He’s always doing stuff like this,” said his friend, Cory Gardner, 14, who helped out during the comic book sales. “The levels of things he did, and does, for the community blows my mind. If he’s not a hero, I don’t know who is.”
Cristin Mansfield, Jack’s mom, said her son often helps the elderly on their block by moving their newspaper from the edge of the driveway to where he or she can reach it, and shovels when it snows.
“Jack’s always been an enthusiastic helper, from a very early age,” Mansfield said. “I think he just really feels good helping people out and making them smile.”
A member of his school’s track and wrestling teams and National Junior Honor Society, Jack is a frequent volunteer at Parent-Teacher Association events, including a reading club where he once dressed as Cat in the Hat and read to kids.
“Whatever is put before him, he always jumps in with both feet and takes it to the next level,” said Matthew Clark, principal at North Country Road Middle School. “And the fruits of his labor have created a contagious environment here. He stands out in such a positive way.”
In the midst of the comic book project over the summer, Jack began volunteering at Great Strides Long Island’s Saddle Rock Ranch in Middle Island, helping developmentally disabled children ride horses and even set up his table at the organization’s annual Evening Under the Stars fundraiser. He made 25 customized magnets and bottle openers and raised $100 for the event that benefits community therapeutic riding and veterans programs.
Of his own accord, he also made special magnets for a “swab drive” Nov. 30 that sought to find a bone marrow donor for a Sound Beach resident diagnosed with AML leukemia, the father of one of his friends.
“Jack’s just one of those kids who’s always thinking of things like that to do for other people,” said Kim Daley, whose husband was the focus of that event and has known Jack since he was in preschool. “He’s always been the boy that goes out of his way to make sure no one sits alone at lunch, and confirms everyone gets a chance at an activity … He’s observant and sensitive to others. I could go on and on about Jack and what a big heart he has.”
Jack hopes he can inspire more people his age to get involved in any way they can.
“With a great ‘blank’ comes great responsibility,” he said, paraphrasing a quote from Spider-Man. “Go fill in the blank.”