“In our mind, it’s not a business. It will probably cost us money, ”said Omar’s father Sohail Masood. “But we want to create something that Omar can be proud of that also gives back to the community.”
The Masoods are actively involved in helping the disabled community of Massachusetts. They are honorary board members of the Massachusetts Down Syndrome Congress and helped fund its first office in Burlington seven years ago.
Since their son was a child, the Masoods have been thinking about the employment options he would have as an adult. The idea of opening a comic book store arose out of his love and awesome knowledge of superheroes.
“Omar isn’t just at the store for the sake of being there. People who come can see that he knows what he’s talking about, that he’s passionate and can help customers find what they need, ”said Sally Hoops, Store Manager.
The shelves are filled with comics, games and T-shirts. Soon video games will also be added.
By age 22, students with disabilities are aging outside of compulsory special education programs and services in schools. As newly independent adults, they often face job and housing insecurity without the support system that services once provided to them. The Masoods were able to avoid this for their son, but not everyone is so lucky.
“The Massachusetts Department of Developmental Services has a workload of tens of thousands and funds are limited,” said Joshua Komyerov, director of communications and operations at the Down’s Syndrome Congress. really need support, or they must hope they are lucky. It can be hit and miss when they haven’t had any opportunities or tools to be successful.
Omar’s World of Comics & Hobbies employs disabled students at the LABBB Educational Collaborative at Lexington High School, where he is also a student. The collaboration works in a dozen schools in Lexington, Arlington, Burlington, Bedford and Belmont to help students with special needs integrate into their school, social and professional life.
Three days a week, four LABBB students do internships at the store. Interns stack shelves, take inventory, greet customers and keep the area clean.
Kristin Dailey, Supervisor of the LABBB Transition Department, worked with the Masoods to find each intern a perfect fit at the store.
“The students who work at Omar are interested in comics, but they have the potential to work in retail stores in the future,” Dailey said.
Through their internships, LABBB students gain experience in traditional roles such as pricing, inventory, and customer service, but can also practice skills such as using iPads to process issues. credit card purchases. LABBB internships are also in place at other local stores including CVS, Whole Foods and Marshalls.
To assist them in their work, interns receive visual and aural instruction and are matched with employees for support where possible. That way, Dailey said, there is something anyone can do in every placement.
“It’s not just a huge victory for Omar, but for the entire Lexington community,” Komyerov said. “It’s beneficial that people walk into the store and see people with disabilities working and working hard. “
The Masoods are in the process of securing nonprofit status for the store. This will help them offset some of the operating costs by accepting donations, and will create a stronger relationship between the store and LABBB.
“From a training perspective, the store being a non-profit organization allows our students to volunteer, which provides more meaningful opportunities,” said Dailey. “In terms of community development, this is a great way to build and continue the personal relationships that people with disabilities sometimes lose in life after 22 years.”
Omar’s father said the family hopes to open several more stores in Massachusetts in the future. Sohail Masood is Managing Director of KabaFusion, which provides infusion therapy services nationwide.
For the store’s namesake, the best thing about the store is having the chance to share it with other LABBB students.
“This store is important because comics are my life. The store is my life, ”said Omar. “Now my friends also work here. “
Zipporah Osei can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org