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'A hero always does what's right' | 21-year-old with autism uses comics to spread kindness

Jacob Collins is an author, movie theater employee and undercover superhero. His goal is to spread kindness and inclusion by doing what's right at all times.

SEVIER COUNTY, Tenn. — An employee at the Forge Cinemas in Sevier County gives his kindness away for free, but his talents go beyond the silver screen. Through a super alter-ego, he saves the day with smiles.

Jacob Collins loves his job at the movie theater. Tearing tickets and greeting guests are his favorite roles. Cleaning cup holders probably rank last on his list.

Jacob is the checkpoint from the concession stand to the movie theater. 

He gladly rips tickets and points people in the right direction for their feature presentation. He even gives patrons a heads up if a movie has a surprise at the end they need to stick around to see.

The employees at the movie theater love Jacob too.

"He makes everybody smile here, and I love him," said Diane Schettini, a manager at the theater. "He has never had a sad day in him, you know?"

The Forge is the perfect fit for a movie buff like this.

"Well, according to myself, I like everything that I see," Jacob said.

His dad, Michael Collins, knew Jacob's life would make an impact from an early age. In Jacob's 21 years of life, he has made a lasting impact on everyone around him.

"Ultimately, he was diagnosed at about two-and-a-half with autism," Michael said. "It's really just monumental, the change and the differences he made in our lives."

Michael even changed career paths because of his son's diagnosis. He now works as the CFO with Sertoma of Knoxville and is also a member of the Autism Council for the State of Tennessee.

It's apparent to Michael, that Jacob's light shines wherever he goes.

"In Sevier County, living with Jacob is much like being a bodyguard fighting off the paparazzi," Michael said.

After graduating from Sevier County High School in 2020, getting a job was the natural next step for Jacob.

"Work is getting paid to have money to buy food and lots of other stuff," Jacob said.

Kimberly Boyle with Heartland Services in Sevier County helped him do that.

"Our goal as employment specialists is to find jobs for people with a disability," Boyle said. "We look at the individual, not the disability."

Boyle has just over a dozen people she helped place in jobs. Heartland Services gets referrals for people wanting to work who may have various disabilities. They do a meet and greet and an assessment of their interests.

During Jacob's assessment, she learned quickly about his love for movies. That's how she was able to help get him employed at The Forge.

After employees are placed, the staff at Heartland Services checks in on them to make sure everything is going smoothly.

There are plenty of people who need those employment opportunities.

"There are thousands of people statewide that are interested in having a job and having a career," Michael said. "They can bring skills that might be different but still beneficial to any employer."

Connecting people with workplaces is about moving forward, not backward.

"We're all capable of doing whatever we aspire to do," Boyle said.

That's why, by day, Jacob may tear tickets. But in his off time, he's Super Jacob.

He's a crime-fighting superhero with a strong moral compass.

"Super Jacob, he learns he's glad to be himself," Jacob said. "The way God made him."

Plus, his wardrobe is super cool too. Super Jacob wears a karate uniform and cape. He came up with Super Jacob while in high school. It started as a play. You can watch the full thing here from 2019.

Super Jacob is now a comic book too. The first edition is "Super Jacob Saves a Rose."

Hidden in the pages is a deeper message.

"The hero isn't the fastest, or the strongest, or the best, or the best looking, or the smartest," Jacob said. "A hero is the one who, no matter how hard, does what they know is right."

He saves the day with kindness.

"Even though it's hard," Jacob said. "I know it's the right thing to do. I know it's the best way, but not always easy."

He still keeps his day job, because, without him, life would be a lot dimmer.

"It would still run, but not as happy as it is now," Schettini said. "We're always laughing when he's around."

An author, employee, and superhero, all wrapped into one.

You can buy his comic book online through Comixology.

If you would like to meet Jacob he will be working the free kid movie days at The Forge from June 7 through August. The feature presentations start at 10 a.m.