From right: Brianna Young, Kaylynn Wells and Ryan Cass at Sanders-Clyde School
Doing the math made the whole thing a little unnerving. It was 19 classrooms at a total of four schools and 20 children per class which meant 380 presents. The group of cadets from The Citadel Student Alumni Association, called Water Tower, needed to raise enough money to buy 380 nice presents for students in the 19 classrooms they adopted for Christmas at elementary and middle schools.
They were working through an organization called Charleston Hope which was founded by a College of Charleston student several years ago. Supporters adopt a classroom (or 19 of them) and provide Christmas gifts for each student in that class to make sure everyone receives a gift during the holiday season. The schools are all in the Charleston County School District and are identified as Title 1, meaning they serve many economically challenged families.
Water Tower Cadet Brianna Young was leading the team. She and the others decided they needed a larger group if they were going to reach their goal for their assigned school, Sanders-Clyde Elementary/Middle School. “At first I wanted to demonstrate the generosity of our company, Mike Company, but then it got a lot bigger and we figured we could truly make an impact if we got more of the Corps involved,” Young said. They reached out to their classmates and more than 100 cadets came forward.
Charleston Hope organizers were excited the cadets were helping. Chandler Bridges, a cofounder of Charleston Hope, said, “I was overwhelmed when The Citadel emailed us and wanted to donate to 19 classrooms – almost a whole school. It was such a huge blessing for the Corps of Cadets to get involved.”
Part of Water Tower’s mission is community service. Their president, Cadet Ryan Cass, said, “I got involved with Water Tower my sophomore year because I wanted to do something extra on campus, but I wanted it to be meaningful. This Christmas project for school children is a perfect example of why I joined.”
Cass, Young and the other cadets held bake sales and t-shirt sales to earn money. They managed to raise $3,400. Young took on the shopping during Thanksgiving break in her hometown of Land O Lakes, Fla. She had a long list.
“It was really fun. We bought basketballs, board games, dolls, earrings, footballs, jewelry-making kits, journals, Legos, lip gloss, racecars, and skateboards. It was like playing Santa,” said Young. She transported the gifts back to The Citadel. There was a wrapping party and then the big day.
Young and Cass were among the cadets who went to Sanders-Clyde before Christmas to distribute presents, spending most of their time with eighth graders.
Waring Jordan, who works with the district’s drop-out prevention program, helped organize the event at Sanders-Clyde. “This is our 2nd year working with Charleston Hope. It’s a wonderful experience. It’s great especially for the middle school kids because a lot of gift-giving programs are focused on younger children, so a lot of the time the older kids are left out,” Waring said.
The impact of the Charleston Hope project at Sanders-Clyde extended beyond the joy of receiving presents according to one teacher. “The students were extremely grateful. They also really enjoyed asking the cadets questions about college. It was like two gifts in one—they opened presents and interacted with college students in a really positive way,” said Elena Jaret, who teaches eighth grade math.
The younger students weren’t the only ones who gained something from the project. Cass said it all added up to one memorable experience. “It made us feel fortunate for everything we have. It was wonderful to be able to meet the students in person and give something back to our community.”
Megan Campbell is a graduate assistant in the office of communications and marketing at The Citadel. She is currently working toward her master’s degree in secondary education with a concentration in English.