Teen Angels grew big from Christmas shopping trip

By The Editorial Board

Teen Angels, the broad-based community nonprofit that helps Little River-North Myrtle Beach area students in middle and high school, started nine years ago after Renee Hembree learned that several homeless students likely would have a bleak Christmas.

Principal Trevor Strawderman, then in his first year at North Myrtle Beach High School, recalled that Hembree attended an advisory board meeting where he had reported on the number of homeless students. “She called me from the Walmart parking lot and said she felt compelled to do something.” Strawderman agreed and Hembree raised money for a shopping trip.

“I got Greg to help me make a flier, and I carried it around in my car to raise money to take kids Christmas shopping,” Hembree said. Greg is her husband, now a state senator representing northern Horry County.

From the shopping trip in 2008, Teen Angels has grown to provide a variety of help for students in need – clothes, food, payment of utility bills, yearbooks, graduation caps and gowns, medical and dental expenses. In some cases, Teen Angels has provided laptops for college students, or helped pay for books.

“Some of the first kids we helped are college graduates now,” Hembree said. And they are now helping Teen Angels in various ways.

Last school year, Teen Angels spent $82,825 on children in high school and middle school. Strawderman estimates that about 150 high school students received assistance of some kind; and North Middle Beach Middle School Principal James LaPier guesses perhaps 100 of his 1,200 students were helped in the first year Teen Angels was in the middle school. North Myrtle Beach Middle School is the largest in Horry County Schools.

Both principals said their students don’t verbalize problems in the way that younger children may tell teachers about situations at home. LaPier, in his second year as principal, said home problems may come to light as teachers and counselors build relationships with children. For example, a teacher might notice a student wearing the same sweatshirt. “What Teen Angels has done is let us help with things we wouldn’t normally be able to do.”

Examples of aid include purchasing clothes and food after a home fire, or help with payment of family utility bills. LaPier described Teen Angels as a bridge between the community and the school. For middle schoolers in need of help for Christmas, Teen Angels will provide a community connection, a seasonal adoption for students identified by guidance counselors.

For high school students, shopping trips will continue with two buses, for girls and boys. Last year, Teen Angels took 50 high school kids Christmas shopping.

An important aspect of Teen Angels is “our broad base of support from the community ... businesses, church groups, high school students, former students.”

Ryan Quigley, punter for the Minnesota Vikings, is a former student who believes in giving back, as his dad puts it. Joe Quigley, athletic director at North Myrtle Beach High School, said Ryan modestly might not like being credited in print.

Students’ support of Teen Angels is one of the major positive aspects in the growth of the charity. The Student Council runs a major fund drive every year and several student groups have food drives for the school’s emergency closet and other support. North Myrtle Beach High School requires community service.

“We believe in helping our community,” Strawderman said.

He is rightly proud of the consistent support of students’ support for their unidentified peers. Teen Angels continues to be careful about confidentiality regarding who receives help. Strawderman credits Teen Angels with helping raise the high school’s graduation rate to the highest rate (85.7 percent) of the nine HCS traditional high schools. “Teen Angels has helped impact that. Little things can make a difference in a student staying in school.”

Last year, Teen Angels itself was designated an “Angel” by the S.C. Secretary of State, for a high percentage of funds collected going directly to named beneficiaries. Renee Hembree is pleased by the award and having been nominated. “I never dreamed” the shopping trip nine years ago would grow the way it has. “It’s just gotten big.”

“It’s so organic; we’re in the right place at the right time. I love teenagers, giving them hope in finding their place in the world. You have to empower young people – they’re our future.”

Contact information

Financial contributions, checks payable to Teen Angels, may be mailed to:

North Myrtle Beach High School

3750 Sea Mountain Highway

Little River, SC 29566

For more information about Teen Angels, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, contact Jennifer Munday at North Myrtle Beach High School | 843-399-6171

Rachel Vaughn at North Myrtle Beach Middle School | 843-399-6136

Renee Hembree | 843-249-2513

On Facebook | Teen Angels North Myrtle Beach High School