Kane Waterbury wasn’t quite sure what to expect the first time he volunteered at James M. Brown Elementary School in Walhalla.

Kane Waterbury of Clemson Hope delivering gifts to James M. Brown Elementary School in Walhalla, S.C.

Kane Waterbury (right) and Clemson Hope, a student-led nonprofit, roll boxes full of presents to classromms for children at James M. Brown Elementary School in Walhalla, S.C., Dec. 8, 2017. Clemson Hope collected more than 1,100 gifts over the course of two months to give to local school children in Title 1 elementary schools.
Image Credit: Ken Scar

As he looks back on it, however, the term he most often associates with it is life-changing.

“When you go to a school and actually hear kids say, ‘I get to eat lunch today,’ it’s definitely eye-opening and emotionally changing,” said Waterbury, a sophomore marketing major at Clemson. “Personally, it’s been incredible to see how much happiness volunteers can bring to the children.”

Waterbury is a volunteer with Clemson Hope, a nonprofit student organization formed in the fall of 2016 by Price Crenshaw. She was a freshman enrolled in the Bridge to Clemson program.

Crenshaw drew the inspiration to start Clemson Hope after attending a speech by Emily Hoisington, the founder of Charleston Hope. She dreamed of creating her own chapter.

She began assembling a leadership team and — by sheer coincidence — met Waterbury through the Bridge program.

“It was my first semester in the Bridge program, and she was in one of my classes,” Waterbury said. “Charleston Hope began with eight schools and thousands of kids. We were both from that area, I went to Wando High School and she was from James Island. So that began a conversation. She wanted to start Clemson Hope, and I told her I wanted to be involved as much I could. After a few meetings, she named me vice president as a freshman.”

Together, the two went to work, and Clemson Hope took off. Its mission is to empower students and teachers in Title 1 schools through relationships, resources and opportunities. Title 1 schools are typically comprised by students from low-income families. So far, James M. Brown and Westminster Elementary — both about 30 minutes from Clemson’s main campus —have partnered with the student organization.

Waterbury works with local businesses to help solicit funds to provide classroom gifts for the two schools through the Adopt-a-Classroom program. This past Christmas, Clemson Hope provided 1,150 gifts. The organization now has over 300 volunteers, more than doubling its total during the 2017–18 academic year with Crenshaw and Waterbury fully enrolled at Clemson.

“Anyone can donate through our website,” Waterbury said. “We received a grant for $5,000 from Dabo Swinney’s All-In Foundation, which covered almost 60 classrooms. It has been a blessing.”

Gifts don’t always come in the form of wrapped items, either.

“One of my favorite things we’ve launched is Write for Hope,” he said. “It’s our pen-pal program where we pair a Clemson student with a student or classroom from one of our partner schools. It allows for further development of reading and writing skills, while building a relationship. At the end of the semester, we’ll have ‘Meet your Paw Pal’ days where volunteers get to meet who they’ve been writing.”

Waterbury said Clemson Hope has brought a sense of unity to his college experience. An intramural sports enthusiast and member of the wakeboarding club, he has also taken advantage of a simple introduction at Orientation to immerse himself into other student leadership initiatives.

Rusty Guill and Kane Waterbury at a Student Advisory Board meeting

Waterbury was asked to serve on the Student Advisory Board for the Division of Student Affairs by Rusty Guill (left).
Image Credit: Clemson University Relations

It was at Orientation where he first met Rusty Guill. Soon after, he joined the Student Advisory Board, which provides feedback to the Vice President for Student Affairs.

“When I met Kane, I was just really impressed with his story,” said Guill, who oversees the advisory board. “I told Almeda (Jacks, vice president for Student Affairs) immediately he would make a great addition to our board.”

And he’s been a great addition to Clemson Hope, helping mentor local elementary students and impact their lives for the better.

Waterbury said even though volunteers who help with Adopt-a-Classroom and one-on-one mentoring have to travel several miles to reach the two partner schools, there really is no end in sight toward fulfilling its mission.

“Our volunteers have a little bit of a trek, but there’s no stopping point,” he said. “We want to reach any direction in that 30-minute range.

“When you walk in a school and get a yellow tag as a volunteer, the kids all start screaming ‘Clemson Hope!’ It’s been amazing to see how these students have embraced us.”