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Clemson University students mentor elementary school kids through nonprofit work

USA TODAY logo USA TODAY 11/29/2019 Zoe Nicholson, The Greenville News
a woman standing in front of a window posing for the camera: Price Crenshaw, the founder and former executive director, and Annamaria Tormey, the Clemson Hope Adopt a Classroom director, pose for a portrait in a storage unit Tuesday, November 12, 2019, with boxes of toys to be gifted to title 1 elementary school students. © MATT BURKHARTT/Staff Price Crenshaw, the founder and former executive director, and Annamaria Tormey, the Clemson Hope Adopt a Classroom director, pose for a portrait in a storage unit Tuesday, November 12, 2019, with boxes of toys to be gifted to title 1 elementary school students.

Microsoft News For Good is proud to honor Clemson Hope as November's Local Hero of the Month. This small, student-led organization makes an enormous impact on younger children from low-income households in their community by providing mentoring and guidance. As our Local Heroes, we are holding a fundraiser for Clemson Hope's annual holiday Adopt a Classroom initiative. Please make a donation to help them reach their goal

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When Price Crenshaw was a high schooler in Charleston, she had a recurring dream. 

Crenshaw, now a senior at Clemson University, said the dream was calling her to start a nonprofit similar to Charleston Hope, a service-based organization that mentors and provides gifts for Title I elementary schools. 

"I am very much a follow-the-crowd-type rather than, like, stand up and lead the crowd. But I just really felt like the Lord was telling me to start Clemson Hope," Crenshaw said. 

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So, a few weeks into her freshman year at Clemson, Crenshaw did just that.

Clemson Hope, a student organization and a 501(c)3 nonprofit, serves three Oconee County elementary schools – James M Brown, Westminster and Orchard Park. 

The organization serves more than 1,000 students at the three Title I schools. A Title I classification is reserved for schools who serve a large percentage of students from low-income households. 

Clemson Hope has many year-round mentoring programs, including English as Second Language tutoring, a pen pal program and recreational mentorship. Crenshaw said about 300 Clemson students participate as mentors for these programs. 

Crenshaw said the mentor programs, specifically the ESL mentorship, came out of being in the schools and seeing a need for English tutors. 

"There's a huge language barrier. So, being able to bring in Spanish-speaking volunteers into the schools to mentor the students ... whatever the need of that student may be," Crenshaw said. 

James M Brown Elementary School, where 23% of the student body is from a Spanish-speaking household, has partnered with Clemson Hope since its inception in 2016. 

James M Brown Principal Ashley Robertson said the mentoring programs have the biggest impact on her students, many  from low-income households. She said Clemson Hope's ESL tutoring is vital for her Hispanic students, who can often feel isolated or scared in their new surroundings.

a woman standing in front of a building: Annamaria Tormey, the Clemson Hope Adopt a Classroom director, and Price Crenshaw, the founder and former executive director, pose for a portrait in a storage unit Tuesday, November 12, 2019, with boxes of toys to be gifted to title 1 elementary school students. © MATT BURKHARTT/Staff Annamaria Tormey, the Clemson Hope Adopt a Classroom director, and Price Crenshaw, the founder and former executive director, pose for a portrait in a storage unit Tuesday, November 12, 2019, with boxes of toys to be gifted to title 1 elementary school students.

"When you think about these kids who have come from another country and don't know a thing and are sitting in a desk scared to death because they don't know what's going on around them because it's not that way their country," she said. 

"But to have someone who can speak their language and can assure them that everything's okay ... that's huge."

Crenshaw said the Clemson students who tutor Spanish-speaking students get the chance to brush up on their language skills, usually by asking the student for help with their Spanish. 

"Some of the mentors are learning Spanish from the kids because they're speaking poorly, and the kids are correcting them. So then it becomes an empowerment program as well," Crenshaw said. 

Robertson said the biggest impact of the mentor programs is consistency, especially for students who may come from homes where a parent, grandparent or guardian is not always engaged in their upbringing. 

"We are trying to provide them with consistency. That is one thing that they definitely preach ... you need to ensure that you're going there consistently. This is very important for our children that they see that consistency and know that someone's coming for them."

Adopt a Classroom brings holiday joy

During the Holiday season, Clemson Hope has its Adopt a Classroom initiative. Every class in their three schools are adopted by community members, students, service organizations and whoever else wants to get involved. 

Annamaria Tormey, a Clemson senior, is the Director of Adopt a Classroom for Clemson Hope. She said well over 1,000 volunteers donated presents and participated in delivery day last year. 

Tormey said Adopt a Classroom is important because it gives students who may not be able to write letters to Santa or have a living room full of presents on Christmas morning a joyful holiday experience. 

Crenshaw said it's a jubilant affair for everyone involved. 

"The first year was just ... it was really, really humbling. Joy was just flying out of the room," Crenshaw said. 

Robertson estimates about 1,800 Oconee County elementary students will be gifted presents from the Adopt a Classroom program this year. 

At 7:00 p.m. on Dec. 3 at Clemson United Methodist Church, hundreds of volunteers will gather in Christmas sweaters to wrap all of the presents.

It's an evening Robertson encourages everyone to attend. 

Click here to donate to Clemson Hope's Adopt a Classroom holiday fundraiser

Zoe covers Clemson for The Greenville News and Independent Mail. Reach her at znicholson@gannett.com or Twitter @zoenicholson_

This article originally appeared on The Greenville News: Clemson University students mentor elementary school kids through nonprofit work

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