Thomas J. Rubino Academy’s Mountain Shop a Strong Social-Emotional Support for the Community

 In Camelot Blog

When the COVID-19 pandemic fractured the nation, exacerbating economic hardship for many, Jihan Robinson, Thomas J. Rubino Academy’s student services coordinator, saw an opportunity to help. She launched the Mountain Shop, a tool for enhancing social-emotional education, and a way to support the school’s families and the community.

“The idea for this started last year because we know that a lot of the time, our parents can’t provide the uniform clothing for our students,” said Robinson, who came to Rubino Academy in 2016 as a behavior specialist.

The Mountain Shop, which officially launched Oct. 28, 2020, is one of the many ways Rubino Academy is a continual helping hand to families in need. Robinson quickly found that the initiative served those from beyond the school’s immediate community.

According to Robinson, the school started getting donations from staff members in the early part of 2020. Then the pandemic was upon us. Due to restrictions and business lockdowns, many parents were either working reduced hours or no longer working at all.

“We were helping provide clothing for uniforms in the beginning, but it quickly became much more than that,” said Robinson. “We realized we had to expand our efforts and in the ensuing months we started doing community outreach for clothing donations and the response was huge. We weren’t just getting clothing donations — we received clothes hangers, mirrors, accessories and all kinds of items. People understood that in critical times, we have to help each other.”

Item donations are available at no cost so that families can fill in the gaps during these critical times. This allows families to pick out clothing items in private to help clothe their loved ones, for free. The Mountain Shop is a judgment-free zone developed with love and goodwill.

“We have virtual days of operation to meet the needs of our students,” Robinson added. “This way they can schedule a date to look over the items on hand. The shop started off being open every other Wednesday, but we wanted to be flexible enough to work with our families. We share the items available on Facebook and Instagram. Essentially, it’s a thrift store, except everything is free,” she said of the Mountain Shop, where there is a five-item limit per family. “We have clothes, shoes, outerwear and seasonable clothing. We have everything.”

Robinson and available Academy staff members run the Mountain Shop with the help of two interns from Rutgers University, Juliana Franco and Tinesha Drysdale. Members of Rubino’s student government, known as the Rams, also pitch in from time to time.

“We did something similar at South Brunswick High School that we called the Viking Shop,” said Franco, who worked with Robinson to plan the Mountain Shop from the beginning. Franco is working toward a master’s in social work, coming to Rutgers from the College of New Jersey, where she attained a bachelor’s degree in education. “Efforts like this are necessary because we have to help each other if we’re going to make our society better. This might seem like something small and of little consequence, but it’s not to the families that benefit from it. The community response for donations has been tremendous.”

Rubino Academy is a school of choice for students attending one of the nine school districts in Mercer County, N.J. Rubino serves disconnected students who need an opportunity to re-engage in school. Rubino provides a comprehensive high school program for students in grades 9 through 12, including credit recovery and accelerated graduation.

Robinson, who worked as a medical assistant before moving on to Grand Canyon University said she came to Camelot and stays with Camelot because she sees herself in the students she serves.

“I was one of them,” she said. “I wanted to be a part of helping them understand that they have more choices and opportunities than what they see in their immediate environment,” she said. “I wanted to be their solid rock. Our youths are our future. Someone has to give them a voice. That’s what we do at Camelot Education and why our work is so very, very important.”

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