Reflecting On REEL Kids

Reflecting on the history of HTC REEL KidsGrowing up is easy, said no one ever.  While our childhoods all look different, ask anyone and they’ll say there were times it seemed impossible that adulthood was possible.  So, what if there was a way to cheer on kids who are thriving despite the difficulties and the challenges they face?

Enter REEL Kids.

REEL stands for Recognizing Extraordinary Examples of Leadership.  A REEL Kid is one who has proven him/herself through scholastic, athletic and community achievements in the face of obstacles or extenuating circumstances.   

 The Origins

The HTC REEL Kids program began in the fall of 2000 and its origins lie with the HTC marketing team, who wanted to create a program that awards students who excel in school despite obstacles and challenges. The idea came to them when they learned of a Loris student, Meaghan Conner.  Meagan was 14 when she was diagnosed with cancer in her left leg.  Learning about her determination to overcome her battle with cancer, the team set out to not only recognize Meaghan but to also recognize one student per school in Horry County and, with the help of area school guidance counselors, students meeting the qualifications were nominated.

The Early Years

In the beginning, 42 Horry County students were the first class of inductees to the REEL Kids Hall of Fame. Each child along with his/her teacher, principal or guidance counselor was interviewed for an HTC REEL Kids segment that was shown on the local program “RiverTalk.”  Their inspiring stories of overcoming adversity were shared during the interview.  The first ceremony was held May 24, 2001, as part of an intimate celebration which was held at the Coastal Carolina University Dining Room Café.  Meaghan was one of the first recipients, and was an inspiration to all who attended.  While she fought hard to overcome the cancer, her leg was amputated in April, one more before the REEL Kids Celebration. Sadly, she lost her battle and passed away on September 28, 2001.

While Meaghan was gone, the spark that gave purpose to the REEL Kids program inspired the team and as the years went by, the REEL Kids celebration grew. In 2019, the event was held at the Marriott Resort & Spa, with 52 honorees.  It looked like the 2020 ceremony would be honoring REEL Kids from all Horry County schools.  Then, COVID happened.  The 2020 and 2021 celebrations were relegated to interviews on RiverTalk and an awards program on HTC’s Channel 4.

 The New Look of REEL Kids

As we were coming out of COVID, it was time for HTC to take another look at the REEL Kids program. So, with the 2022 version came big changes. First, instead of an awards banquet, the ceremony was moved to Ripley’s Aquarium. For the kids, it was more like a field trip than a banquet.  Second, in addition to Horry County, nominations were now being accepted from the Georgetown and Marion County schools. 

Instead of interviews that aired on Channel 4, each students’ story was documented in a spotlight video, shared on social media, the HTC website and on HTC’s YouTube channel. In total, 56 students were nominated and all that attended the ceremony were thrilled for their special day at the Aquarium.

In 2023, the number of recipients rose to 70. For the first time, a school nominated four students, all living under the same roof, brought together under tragic circumstances.  And sadly, not for the first time, a REEL Kid nominee passed away prior to the ceremony.   

The REEL Kids Class of 2024 will be celebrated once again at Ripley’s Aquarium on April 18, although it may be a tight squeeze. This year, all 84 schools in the tri-county area sent in nominations.  That means 84 students will be recognized!

 The Next Chapter

HTC is proud of the legacy that is REEL Kids. As a local connection to the community, the program honors students who may otherwise be overlooked. More than 1,100 students have been recognized to date, each one unique, each one inspiring.  We encourage you to take time and learn more about the REEL Kids program.

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