Student entrepreneur uses talents to support social justice

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PAWTUCKET — After three months in lockdown, Athena Rodriquez and the rest of the Class of 2021 were finishing their junior year at Saint Raphael Academy learning remotely. With the abrupt end of in-person classes — and most other activities — due to the pandemic, Rodriquez was looking for something different to do.
The something new turned her into a young artistic entrepreneur selling her creations on Instagram. She is now paying that forward to bring awareness of social justice through the sale of custom-designed facemasks to support the activities of the newly formed Social Justice Club at the Academy.
It was Rodriquez’s mom who first saw a craft machine in a store circular and suggested her daughter get one. After doing some research on how to use it, she decided to go for it. She spent time practicing with the machine, creating designs on masks, t-shirts and other accessories until she had mastered the technique.
Rodriquez then decided to begin a small business, called AR Designs, and sell her creations from her Instagram account, @ardesigns.
“When I first announced that I was creating my own business, a lot of my friends and fellow students at Saints purchased from me. I am extremely grateful to have such supportive friends, classmates, and teachers. Sales were, and still are, great as well,” she said.
Athena wanted to give back, and it was a new club on campus that would be the beneficiary of her talents.
When school started again in the fall, not only was there a different feel in the air academically with a new hybrid mode of learning, but socially as well. Students had seen and participated in marches for social justice over the summer and were seeking additional ways to make sense of it all. From this need, the Social Justice Club was born.
“The club was student driven — 100 percent,” said Malaina Murphy, guidance director and one of the club’s advisers.
She explained it was mainly in response to events occurring over summer and that the students were wanting to look at many different forms of social justice. The club meets about twice a month, virtually, so that all students are able to participate. About 25 students have joined with three other advisers, Becky Nelson and Jack Norberg from the English department and Aniece Germain from the foreign language department.
After a few months of meetings, the club’s activities are just starting to get underway now and include club members carefully choosing quotes for morning announcements to recognize Black History Month and Women’s History Month, the development of a newsletter for the Saints community, and possibly showing a documentary film with a social justice theme.
As a full virtual student, Rodriquez decided the best way she could help support the club’s future endeavors was to create a fundraiser by making and selling masks.
“As a member of the Social Justice Club, I created a design that represented equality,” said Rodriquez.
The design features two black and white hands clasped together in friendship and the slogan “End Racism.”
After receiving approval of the design from the administration to make sure it fit within the Academy’s mask policy, she made a small order of 10 masks and enlisted the help of Murphy and Nelson to take orders from students and staff. After two weeks, she had sold the 10 and had orders for 20 more. Orders will continue to be accepted for the rest of the school year.
“To me, this club has given me an opportunity to not only share my creative talent but also educate others and elaborate on different social injustices going on in the world today,” said Rodriquez. “One of our goals is to be able to create a safe space in order for other students to talk about and/or learn about [those], as well as encouraging peace and equality.”