Renee Hembree of Little River has become a great enabler – in positive ways – for dozens of North Myrtle Beach High School students. Five years ago, she wondered at Christmastime about the several homeless students at the school. Learning they were likely not to have any gifts, she raised money in the community and took the students shopping.
From that holiday shopping trip, Teen Angel was born and the list of things provided to students totals more than 30 – including Christmas gifts, yearbooks, graduation caps and gowns, medical and dental appointments, senior photos, clothing, even travel to mock trial competition.
While Teen Angel started to help specifically to help homeless students – there are many in Horry County Schools – the nonprofit helps “kids who are in poverty” with clothing and other things such as yearbooks that they simply cannot afford. If it’s a choice of eating or paying $80 for a yearbook, the student will go without the yearbook, but Hembree and many dedicated supporters strongly feel students’ financial situations should not prevent them from staying in high school and having yearbooks, going to prom and other experiences most students have.
At North Myrtle Beach High School, the number of homeless students ranges from 17 to 25, principal Trevor Strawderman says. Homeless students are defined by the federal McKinney-Vento Act. Homeless students may be sharing housing of relatives or friends or living in temporary housing or in substandard housing. Strawderman estimates Teen Angel has assisted 100 to 150 students over five years. “We helped dozens this year.”
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Special education teacher Rachel Vaughn is an adviser to the Student Council which raised $1,000 for Teen Angel. Vaughn set up a “prom closet” that provides clothes. Several students have donated prom dresses to the closet.
“We’re under the radar,” Hembree says of the discretion used in providing help. She recalled a boy who was wearing a dress shirt several inches too long in the sleeves. He cut off the cuffs and rolled them up. “I go get the boy, discreetly take him to J.C. Penney.”
“It’s a spiritual thing for me,” she says of Teen Angel. “It was like God took me by the shoulders and shook me.”
Financial support has come from a variety of individuals and organizations, including six churches in North Myrtle Beach and LiIttle River. “It’s amazing,” Hembree says. One supporter asked if she had a particular need and she said a young woman needed a suit for job interviews. On the spot, he gave her cash to pay for the suit.
Phyllis Fessman of the Barefoot Community has championed the cause with thousands of dollars in gift cards.
“This woman is on fire to help Teen Angel,” Hembree says. Fessman says she learned of the needs of homeless teens from a guidance counselor in a school supply drive she does. “She pulled my heart strings. I find things at my front door. Now people are prepared ... it has really touched the soul of so many.”
Recalling the expression “It takes a village to raise a child,” Principal Strawderman says Teen Angel is a good example of a community coming together to help its children. “And Renee’s the angel in Teen Angel.”