Clemson undergrad discovers her calling bringing Christmas to children in local schools
CLEMSON — The kindness of Clemson University students was on full display last week as volunteers for Clemson Hope, a student-led nonprofit, wrapped more than 1,100 Christmas presents to deliver to two local Title I elementary schools. It was part of their Adopt-A-Classroom campaign to bring cheer to children who may not receive gifts this holiday season.
“Adopt-A-Classroom is our unique way of showing every student and teacher in our partnered schools that they matter and that their community is invested in them,” said Clemson sophomore and elementary education major Price Crenshaw, the founder and director of Clemson Hope.
“What I really like to emphasize is that Adopt-A-Classroom is not just about giving Christmas presents,” she said. “The presents serve as our opportunity to get into the classroom, gain the students’ trust and form relationships with them that we continue through our mentoring programs.”
Clemson Hope is just one of dozens of outreach projects initiated by Clemson students to aid the less fortunate, but it might be the only one conceived by divine intervention, according to Crenshaw.
Standing in the James M. Brown Elementary School in Walhalla as an army of Clemson Hope volunteers wearing red T-shirts arrive and make their ways to the classrooms, it’s easy to believe her. The chatter of excited children rises and echoes from each doorway, filling the hallways as they receive gifts.
Crenshaw, calmly overseeing the entire operation from the school library with a walkie-talkie and a smile, insists she doesn’t deserve any credit for it because creating Clemson Hope was God’s plan for her.
Crenshaw was raised in Charleston by her mother and grandfather, Robert McLoud, a 1966 Clemson alumnus. When he died in 2015 after a battle with pancreatic cancer, she lost direction, she said.
Then she attended a speech by the founder of Charleston Hope, Emily Hoisington. She was so moved that she had dreams about starting her own chapter of the program for weeks afterward.
“These were very vivid dreams that consisted of a layout and everything,” she said. “This kept happening every night for two weeks, so I decided to do something about it.”
She contacted Hoisington, who encouraged her to start a chapter at Clemson. At the time, Crenshaw was on the fence about attending college. The summer after her high school graduation had been transformative for her. After the loss of her grandfather, she began doing mission work and outreach in the streets of Charleston where, she says, she truly found her faith in God.
“I became obnoxiously on fire for the Lord,” she said. “The heart I had for the homeless made me lose sight of wanting to go to college. I just hated the thought of spending money, going into debt and pursuing a career for my own gains. But the Lord was not going to let me not go to college.”
It was at this point that Hoisington reached out to her and sent a replication plan for Clemson Hope. Crenshaw prayed about it and was filled with a sense that starting Clemson Hope is what God had called her to do. She was already planning to start the charity before she even stepped foot on campus.
She was accepted into the Clemson Bridge program, started courses in 2016, and immediately began laying the foundation for the school’s newest nonprofit, despite being a freshman who knew practically no one in the area.
Crenshaw threw herself into the project, managing her time so that she could be a part of every campus ministry possible — sometimes going to three different Churches every Sunday. Within two weeks she’d assembled a seven-person leadership team — six freshmen and one sophomore.
The next step was finding schools to support. After cold-calling several in the area and getting no response, she reached out to James M. Brown Elementary.
“I called the school hoping to speak to the principal, and wouldn’t you believe it. On my first try Ashley Robertson, the principal, answered the phone!” said Crenshaw. “I was kind of in shock and didn’t really know what to say because I wasn’t expecting an answer. But the words quickly came out of my mouth and Ashley and I met that following Friday. I shared with her my dream, my passion, my heart for Clemson Hope and for serving her school. We agreed on the partnership.”
Crenshaw called Hoisington to tell her she had partnered with a school.
“How many classrooms?” asked Hoisington.
“Oh! How many students?”
“Six hundred and twenty.”
Crenshaw laughs when she remembers Hoisington’s response: “She said, ‘Price! What have you done?!’”
Crenshaw hadn’t realized the drastic change in school size from Charleston to Clemson. In Charleston, schools are 200 to 300 students. Crenshaw had agreed to provide gifts and mentoring for three times that number of students in Clemson Hope’s first year.
“The only thing I have to say is the Lord made what was an impossible task possible,” said Crenshaw. “I spent every waking hour that I wasn’t in school walking up and down the streets going to businesses and speaking at sororities, churches and Rotary clubs. We got all 35 classrooms adopted and were able to provide all 620 students with a wrapped Christmas present and a holiday snack. We had over 70 community members help us wrap all the presents at our wrapping night and finished in an hour and a half!”
This year, each gift collected in the weeks before the event was lovingly wrapped by more than 100 volunteers — mostly Clemson students — during a boisterous gathering full of laughter, singing and pizza at the Clemson United Methodist Church on Monday, Dec. 7. Three days later, an even larger number of volunteers delivered the gifts to Westminster Elementary and to James M. Brown Elementary the next day. They spent time with every child during recess and lunch before giving them presents.
Robertson described how much the event means to her students.
“For many of my students this will be the only Christmas present that they open this year,” she said. “We have a tremendous need. We currently have 630 kids and about 80 percent are on free and reduced lunches. The excitement and sheer joy of this day is like no others. The smiles, the crying — it’s wonderful.”
Like Crenshaw, Robertson likes to point out that the gift day is only a small part of the Clemson Hope program.
“This is just one day of this entire mentoring process,” she said. “It’s special and awesome to see a college student organizing this. What she’s done is absolutely amazing.”
“That’s nice of her to say,” said Crenshaw. “But what’s truly amazing is the power of love and faith. With these two things no matter how old or young you are… we can all make a difference. It’s what Christmas is all about.”