Go For It

Tabby Shelton ’99 and Nelljean Rice

Got For It - Tabby Shelton '99 and Nelljean Rice

Leading by Example: Nelljean Rice (left) visits her former student Tabby Shelton ’99 at Fostering Hope, a resource center for foster children in downtown Conway. 

‌When Tabby Shelton got back her first paper in English 101, it had more red ink on it than black. She was worried.

“I had no confidence,” she recalls of her first days at Coastal Carolina University. “I didn’t have a good experience in high school, and I had convinced myself I wouldn’t succeed in college.” Her first paper confirmed her misgivings. 

Shelton believes her pessimistic prophesy might have come true if her first English professor had not been Nelljean Rice. Staying after class to discuss her concerns, Shelton found in Rice a sympathetic and encouraging presence who would eventually become a vital mentor and a devoted friend. 

Rice, who retired in June after 30 years as a CCU professor and the first dean of University College, says that she saw Shelton’s potential right away. “She was one of those students who always sits in the front row with eyes locked on you, captivated.”

That early interaction between the student and teacher began a relationship that Shelton credits with nurturing her development as a student and community leader.

Shelton, the founding director of Fostering Hope, a resource center in Conway for foster children, is originally from South Palm Beach, Fla. She met her husband, Rob Shelton ’97, in an art class when they were 6 and 7 years old, respectively, although they didn’t become friends until they were both working in a pet store in their late teens. They married in 1994.

“We may be the only couple who ever traveled to Conway for a honeymoon,” says Shelton. One of the couple’s good friends was unable to attend the wedding and invited them to visit him at his home in Conway. During the visit, Rob struck up a conversation with CCU politics professor Richard Collin, who was working on his sailboat at the Conway Marina. Collin pitched Coastal and offered to take the young newlyweds on a campus tour that afternoon.

“Rob came back wearing a Coastal sweatshirt,”Tabby laughs. The couple moved to Conway, and Rob enrolled in Fall 1994, earned a political science degree in three years, went on to law school and now practices in Myrtle Beach. He has been active in alumni affairs, serving as president of CCU’s Alumni Association.

Tabby started at CCU in 1997 as an undeclared major. After her fortuitous first encounter with Rice, she began to change her attitude about college and was soon participating in extracurricular activities. She decided to major in interdisciplinary studies and got involved in student media. While she was working as the editor of The Chanticleer student newspaper, she got the idea and led the campaign to start a student features magazine. When Shelton asked Rice for advice, she said “Go for it!” and agreed to be the faculty adviser.

The magazine, Tempo, was launched in the spring of 1999 and is still going strong. (Shelton says the name of the publication was chosen because she and two other student collaborators on the project—Brophy Ringdall and Kisha Grate—all drove Ford Tempos!) Rice served as Tempo adviser for many years, and has maintained friendships with many of the publication’s subsequent editors and staffers. 

Shelton says that she has asked Rice for advice on every major decision in her life. When the Sheltons were looking for a church home, Rice invited them to hers, St. Paul’s Episcopal in Conway, where they are now members. When Rice taught one of CCU’s first courses in women’s studies, Shelton took the class. Nelljean’s husband, the late CCU professor Paul Rice, became a mentor figure to Rob Shelton.

After graduating from CCU in 1999, Tabby worked for the City of Conway for a while and then for Horry County in emergency management. But in July 2004 she heard a sermon that challenged her.

“I had felt for a long time that I needed to be doing more,” she said. “The sermon was about the importance of helping others and not being consumed with your own desires and finances. I decided, ‘OK, this is the time. I’m going to do it.’”

She asked Rice’s advice about starting an agency to provide basic necessities for children in crisis situations. 

“Go for it!”

Learning to Give: CCU student groups donated hundreds of backpacks filled with school supplies to Fostering Hope, the agency founded by Tabby Shelton.

Learning to Give: CCU student groups donated hundreds of backpacks filled with school supplies to Fostering Hope, the agency founded by Tabby Shelton.

By October, the organization had a building in downtown Conway, and by December, Fostering Hope had served its first clients. Rice helped Shelton write brochures promoting the agency. She has also led her University 110 honors classes in knitting lessons to make winter clothing for Fostering Hope clients. 

Shelton’s focus on service has enriched her life in many ways. Fostering Hope serves 150 to 200 children a month who are in foster care or who are referred by the American Red Cross and other local organizations. These children have often suffered some form of physical, mental, or emotional abuse or neglect. Fostering Hope provides basic necessities such as clothing, shoes and hygiene items, as well as toys, books, school supplies, homemade quilts and more. The organization provided 652 Christmas gifts last year, including 260 bicycles—many donated through charity drives led by CCU student organizations.

The Sheltons have adopted four children—Hayley, 24, twins Shane and Stewart, 19, and Rani, 12. Tabby volunteers for a local animal rescue, and one spring she found herself bottle-feeding 39 foster kittens. She is also an avid equestrian, having started horseback riding at age 3.

Before Rice retired in June, she organized a board of visitors for CCU’s University College, and Shelton was the first to join it. Rice intends to be active in retirement, teaching classes at CCU and making it a priority to volunteer for Fostering Hope.

Shelton believes that the key to a full life is getting involved, and she encourages Coastal Carolina University students to explore new opportunities. 

“The University is not an island or a bubble,” she said. “Don’t stay in your room and play video games; get out and become a part of the larger arena. Life is not a dress rehearsal. There’s no way to discover where life is leading you if you don’t try.” It has made all the difference to Shelton, and on each step of her journey Rice has been there, advising her to “Go for it!”