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St. Mark’s senior finds inspiration, vocation in older sister

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WILMINGTON — One never knows where he or she will find the thing that motivates him or her, that sets the course of one’s life.

For St. Mark’s High School senior Michael Robinette, all the inspiration he needs is at his Hockessin home. His sister Christina, three years his senior, has cerebral palsy, and starting out trying to help her, he has found what he hopes will be his life’s path.

Robinette works at the Mary Campbell Center in Brandywine Hundred, a residence for people with disabilities that also offers a children’s program that offers after-school and summer activities. That is where he got his start.

Michael Robinette, a senior at St. Mark’s High School, was inspired to work with special-needs children by his sister, Christina, who has cerebral palsy. (The Dialog/Mike Lang)

“I needed service hours my freshman year. I was only supposed to go for two days, and then I ended up being there for the rest of the summer,” Robinette said recently at St. Mark’s. “It was only like two weeks at that point because school was coming up, but I was like, ‘Wow. I enjoyed this.’ I didn’t even really care about the hours. From there, I went on for the next few summers.”

During those summers, the children have field trips and other fun activities. He said the counselors also teach them to “be more interactive in a normal situation.”

When it came time to get a job, Robinette turned to Mary Campbell since he had been a great fit as a volunteer. He works mostly in the summer but sneaks in an occasional Saturday giving swimming lessons.

He also works at times with the Fusion Inclusion Racing Team, an organization that makes it possible for those with physical and cognitive disabilities to participate in local road races by giving them access to adaptive running chairs. Robinette, 17, runs cross country and track for the Spartans, so this was right up his alley.

The person in the chair is the driver, he said.

“You’re the pit crew. You’re just steering them around while they’re sitting enjoying themselves. A lot of them like getting out in the open,” he said.

He has been the driver for his sister, but she prefers Steve Sinko, one of the founders of Fusion Inclusion.

“She enjoys running with him a lot more than she enjoys running with me just because he’s a lot faster. But whenever I’m available, my mom signs us up,’ he said.

“For us, it’s kind of bonding time, and we enjoy racing together.”

Robinette, a graduate of Holy Angels School in Newark, is headed to the University of Delaware in the fall, and he wants to go into special education. He’s not sure where this will lead, but he said the chance to help special-needs children get an education is very appealing, as is the opportunity to let them be creative in their learning.

His parents are in banking, and they have encouraged him to keep doing what he wants. They’ve told him to avoid banking because “it’s really boring.”

Between his running, work and education, Robinette keeps plenty busy. When he does have free time, he likes to relax at home, watching movies or television shows, and to run.

He said choosing St. Mark’s was the right move for him. He had a cousin who had attended, and he found it to be exactly what she described.

It’s a nice, welcoming, fun place. There’s so many opportunities. I felt like I clicked here immediately,” he said.

Robinette is not sure his sister understands what she has done for him as they grew up, “but I think she enjoys having me around and doing these type things with her. It makes her feel more special than she already is. To her, it’s just a fun time.”