Looking over donations – Regina Andrews-Collette, Bellmawr School District’s social worker and president of the Bellmawr Education Association (BEA), looks through the donations at the clothing boutique in the school district’s Village Shoppe. The Village Shoppe will be featured on an upcoming segment of NJEA’s “Classroom Close-up.” photo credit Anne Forline
When Regina Andrews-Collette sees a problem, she is not one to ignore it or look the other way.
Instead, she will confront the situation head-on by asking, “How can we address it and how can we get it resolved?”
A high-energy woman with a compassionate heart, she has been the social worker for the Bellmawr School District for the past 22 years and currently serves as the president of the Bellmawr Education Association (BEA).
Last year, when some children came to school in clothes that were too small, too big or out of season, she remembered thinking,
“That is completely unacceptable. In order for children to learn, they need to be warm and comfortable. They can’t be coming to school wearing clothes that are too tight or not appropriate for the season.”
Then, she saw some of the children’s parents. When they came to attend the English Language (ELL) classes, they wore the same clothes week after week or they didn’t have a coat, even when it started to get cold outside.
“But they still kept coming to the classes. Those parents were so determined to learn, that they wouldn’t be deterred,” Andrews-Collette noted.
From that sympathetic observation, she put out an all-call within Bell Oaks School for anyone to bring in unneeded clothing items that would be shared with whomever needed them.
Word quickly spread that clothing was being collected and from that, many items rolled in.
Andrews-Collette remembered, “October, 2011 was when we officially opened our boutique within the Village Shoppe.”
She recalled the time a woman came into the boutique on a cold day wearing flip-flops. The woman saw a pair of mens shoes and immediately put them on and planned to walk home in them.
The woman explained that her husband had no shoes to wear for an upcoming job interview, Andrews-Collette said.
That day, not only was the woman able to find a suit for her husband to wear with the shoes for the job interview, she found clothing for herself.
We sent her home hauling a big shopping bag of items that day,” Andrews-Collette recollected.
Last spring, the Bellmawr-Runnemede-Glendora Rotary Club generously donated $2,500 to the Village Shoppe.
Because of that donation, two rooms inside of Bell Oaks were renovated. One space was converted into the Parent Learning Center where workshops, ELL classes and Family Support Center activities are held.
The boutique is located right next to the Parent Learning Center. Andrews-Collette pointed to the walls and said, “The maintenance people worked hard, painting and putting up all of the clothing rods, shelves and shoe racks. It looks like a real shop in here.”
Having all of the clothing and shoes organized on racks and shelves is much better seeing piles of stuff. People can come in and easily browse and see what we have, she added.
Keeping up with the donations is a priority at the boutique because of the steady supply of donated items coming in. Volunteers are used to keep everything neat and orderly.
“We don’t want a junk shop in here,” Andrews-Collette stated.
So parent volunteers, teachers and members of the National Honor Society sort and restock the boutique when they have free time, she said.
She said the boutique comprises only one-half of the Village Shoppe. The other half is the Parent Learning Center, which seeks to outreach to the Bellmawr community with workshops focusing on relevant and informative topics.
To get the community’s input, surveys were sent out to students’ families so workshops could be targeted to meet specific needs and interests. Past workshops dealt with homework help and the district’s reading and math programs.
The work of the Village Shoppe recently caught the attention of the New Jersey Education Association (NJEA) which dispatched a camera crew to the school to tape a segment for its “Classroom Close-Up” feature. The segment is scheduled to air on NJTV on Channel 23 on both Comcast and Verizon Fios on March 3, 6 and 9 and April 7, 10 and 13. The show will air on Sunday at 7:30 a.m., 12:30 and 7:30 p.m., Wednesday at 11:30 p.m. and Saturday at 5:30 a.m.
Because of their work at the Village Shoppe, four district employees were recognized with the 2011-2012 Camden County Human Rights Award for their continued commitment toward advancing the goal of human and civil rights.
Roseanne Yezzo, (Learning Disability Teacher Consultant), Donet Poteat (World Language Teacher) and Florencia Girman and Manuela La Ragione(ESL Teachers) were bestowed this prestigious award.
They qualified by providing a program that had never been offered and by reaching out to a group that needed services. They also took a beneficial risk while providing an ongoing service.
The Village Shoppe has produced all-around good results. Children are doing better in school and they are more attentive in class.
Because of the ELL classes, parents have gotten more involved and are less reluctant to come in for student conferences and there is better communication with the teachers, Andrews-Collette noted.
As for the boutique, volunteers are always welcome to help with sorting and restocking tasks. But more importantly, Andrews-Collette wants the community, not just Bellmawr, to know the doors are open for them. She understands that people may be displaced, in transitional housing or have fallen on hard times.
“We are here if anyone needs clothes or shoes and we wouldn’t turn anyone away. There’s no shame in having a need,” she said.
The 2013 schedule for Parent Learning Center topics is still being developed. In addition to the ELL classes that are held twice each month, the next scheduled workshop will take place on Thursday, January 24 from 3:30-5:00 p.m. and the topic will be on nutrition and couponing.
Money saving tips and nutritional information will be discussed and there will be healthy food to sample.
For information about the Village Shoppe, ELL Classes, or to register for the Nutrition and Couponing Workshop, call (856)931-6305.