Shannon Wright was in search of a full-blown mentoring program partnership for her school, Orchard Park Elementary in nearby Westminster, South Carolina. The school’s guidance counselor, Wright began conversations with Clemson Hope — a nonprofit student organization aimed at empowering Title I schools in the area through relationships, resources and opportunities.
Each year the leadership team turns over at Clemson Hope, and the newest crop of leaders were initially hesitant when first approached about the idea of partnering with a third school in Oconee County.
“We were still figuring out how to effectively lead with our two partner schools, let alone adding a third school,” admitted Natalie Schramm, a senior accounting major and president of Clemson Hope. “We talked it through with others on our leadership team and after lengthy research by our financial director, Sierra Gilley, we determined it would be feasible to provide gifts for an additional 400 students if we ramped up our fundraising efforts with donors and marketing to solicit more volunteers.”
Clemson Hope began in 2016 behind the vision of Price Crenshaw, a former Bridge student and now a senior who has seen her dream of serving local, underprivileged students grow to reaching 1,500 children during the span of her undergraduate career.
Orchard Park joined Westminster Elementary and James M. Brown Elementary this fall as partners through Clemson Hope’s Adopt a Classroom program. Every student from each of the schools is provided a wrapped toy or gift — all purchased from funds raised by a host of volunteers.
Josh Wittrock, principal at Orchard Park Elementary, was awestruck by the operation that saw gobs of volunteers descend on his school Dec. 6 with boxes of gifts and immeasurable amounts of holiday cheer.
“What’s amazing is that these (Clemson Hope volunteers) are still kids,” he said. “They already have that orientation toward community service. From an employer’s point of view, these are the types of kids we want to hire out of college. They’ve shown an ability to collaborate, communicate and solve problems.”
Annamaria Tormey serves as the organization’s Adopt a Classroom director and was on site Dec. 6 as volunteers worked to deliver presents to the newest partner. The addition of Orchard Park led to a swelling of volunteers, as a record 500 students and community members pitched in by either wrapping the presents at Clemson United Methodist Church on Dec. 3 or by participating in the classrooms.
Tormey said the organization’s ultimate goal is to adopt every Title I classroom in Oconee County.
“This is our foot in the door with Orchard Park, and in the next year we will begin a formal mentoring program with them,” she said. “We have gotten to know some of the teachers and staff and through Adopt a Classroom we were able to let the kids know we’re here for them. We want to help in any way we can.”
Schramm began her time as a volunteer as a freshman through Write for Hope, a pen-pal style program. She fell in love with the organization and felt a calling to help try and make an impact in the lives of young students.
Schramm applied for the position of president as a junior after Clemson Hope announced it would be accepting applications for leadership positions.
“I felt a tug on my heart and felt extremely passionate about the organization and the vision I saw for it,” she said. “We honestly hope this is just the beginning! I have a vision for the future of Clemson Hope that includes more partner schools and helping spread the joy of Christmas to our local community.”
That vision has trickled down to volunteers at every level. Michael Jakab is a junior from Houston, Texas and took part in this year’s gift delivery as a second-year volunteer. He spent time alongside another junior, Matt Shiffer, helping distribute and unwrap gifts for enthusiastic first-graders in Mrs. Christi Nix’s classroom last week.
Jakab, who first learned of Clemson Hope over a mass email distribution, said the desire to serve came from his family’s mindset back home. And that’s exactly the mindset Shannon Wright was hoping to establish when she first contacted Clemson Hope about a potential partnership.
“A lot of times, I feel like I live in a bubble in Clemson,” Jakab said. “It’s interesting to see the bigger area and learn how people live. It’s a great time, and I love hanging out with the kids.”
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