Dragon Con Superhero works her 22nd volunteer shift

Carolyn Shipman serves at the Atlanta Community Food Bank Feb. 25 with the Dragon Con Superheroes, a community outreach program she's been involved with since 2014. Courtesy of Greg Euston

Credit: Courtesy of Greg Euston

Credit: Courtesy of Greg Euston

Carolyn Shipman serves at the Atlanta Community Food Bank Feb. 25 with the Dragon Con Superheroes, a community outreach program she's been involved with since 2014. Courtesy of Greg Euston

Carolyn Shipman’s love of Star Trek led her to Dragon Con in the ‘90s. Her love of people led her to become a Dragon Con Superhero.

Dragon Con is an annual convention, hosted in Atlanta over Labor Day weekend, that focuses on science fiction and fantasy, gaming, comics, literature, art, music, and film. Seventy thousand attendees from across the world attended in 2023.

“It’s the most interesting, fabulous event,” said Shipman, 67, of Douglasville. “There’s something for people of all ages, there’s so much to do, and interesting people are everywhere.”

Carolyn Shipman has been involved with the Dragon Con Superheroes since 2014. Courtesy of Greg Euston

Credit: Courtesy of Greg Euston

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Credit: Courtesy of Greg Euston

In 2009, while standing in line to attend a panel, Shipman’s curiosity got the best of her when she saw people with badges hustling and working.

“I asked what they were doing. They said they were volunteers, and I could be one, too,” said Shipman. “I attended a meeting and have volunteered ever since as a member of the technical operations crew.”

Shipman worked as a cargo agent for 50 years in the global supply chain business. She loves challenging jobs.

“I don’t like sitting at home, that’s not my thing,” said Shipman, who is going to attend Georgia Southern online this summer to earn her master’s degree in logistics and supply chain management. “I like to be busy. I had a lot of corporate volunteer experience already, so becoming a Dragon Con volunteer sounded perfect.”

Beyond the joy of being immersed in the sci-fi world as she works behind the scenes, setting up shows with her crew, Shipman loves being surrounded by friends and meeting new people.

“We’re a family, but we welcome in so many new faces each year,” said Shipman. “I’ve met interesting people from all over the world, all walks of life. Lawyers, ice cream truck drivers, a lady who designed rocket engines for NASA — they volunteer, and they all fascinate me. I like to be around people and I enjoy the cultural enrichment.”

In 2013, the leadership of Dragon Con decided on two ways to give back to the community. While a percentage of revenues from the event has always been donated to a charity, they began matching funds raised at the event, dollar for dollar. In 2023, Dragon Con gave $272,850 to CURE Childhood Cancer.

The following spring, Dragon Con launched the Superheroes program, comprised of a team of members, volunteers and staff, who help various non-profits with their missions. Since 2014, Dragon Con Superheroes have contributed more than 4,300 hours to Atlanta area non-profits.

Projects have included packing and sorting items for the Atlanta Community Food Bank, maintaining trails at Sweetwater Creek State Park, working the Walk to End Lupus Now event, cleaning and spreading mulch in Piedmont Park, and giving a women’s shelter a top-to-bottom cleaning for Partnership Against Domestic Violence. Shipman has been a Superhero since the program began. Because she has served at over 20 volunteer events, Shipman is now considered a Superhero Superstar. She marked her 22nd volunteer project on Feb. 25 at the ACFB, sorting and boxing food.

“Helping out, it’s just what you do,” said Shipman, who dons a T-shirt with the words “climate justice.” “You have to make life better for people and the world. Maybe that sounds Pollyanna, but it’s true. You can’t be selfish, that’s not how it works. I’m just an old hippie who wants to make the world a better place and leave it better than I found it.”

Shipman missed Dragon Con for the first time in decades after being diagnosed with Guillain-Barre syndrome in the summer of 2022.

“I went from being normal, healthy, and happy to being in a hospital bed unable to walk,” said Shipman, who was hospitalized for 5.5 weeks. “I had no feeling in my feet. I was very fortunate because if it goes untreated you can become paralyzed and die.”

Shipman left the hospital in a wheelchair and promptly began physical therapy. Following instructions to the letter, she worked hard to get back to the things she loves.

“I had to get better,” said Shipman. “Sitting in a chair is not who I am or how I want to live my life if I don’t have to. I still have some issues, but I attend the senior center twice a week for fitness classes, and I’m out in the community as Superhero.”

Shipman has no intention of slowing down in any way.

“I have curiosity and that leads to opportunities and adventures,” said Shipman. “You’ve got to keep experiencing life. If you don’t open yourself to experiences, then what’ve you got? I personally want to go out and see who and what are out in the world and see how I can contribute. Why sit still?”

To learn more about the Dragon Con Superheroes program, visit dragoncon.org.