What started as a holiday party to get gifts, school supplies - and hope - to a few underprivileged children has evolved into a year-long effort to reach Rock Hill's neediest families.
This year's work culminates Saturday when several hundred people are expected to fill South Pointe High School's gym for Cheer for Children's two-hour celebration of dancing, music, giveaways and encouragement.
In recent months, volunteers from the nonprofit have sent needy students books, warm clothes and invitations to the 19th Believe You Are a Star Extravaganza.
Organizers expect the turnout to be bigger than ever and the effort more effective than before.
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Cheer founder Winslow Schock, a Rock Hill chiropractor, credits Rock Hill schools for that.
A 2008 survey of teachers, nurses and guidance counselors asking about problems that keep students from learning found that more than 1,100 children, or one in 17, left school on Friday and didn't eat another full meal until they returned on Monday.
After 15 years of wondering whether donations were going to the children who most needed them, Schock was reinvigorated.
"Our problem has always been reaching this targeted group of kids," he said. "It was so much guess work."
The school district launched Back the Pack, a program that gives backpacks full of food to about 700 of those students on Fridays.
Schock partnered with the schools to get more donations to those students in kindergarten through eighth grade.
"I thought, 'If they don't have anything to eat, maybe they don't have anything to read,'" he said. "'And they probably don't have much to wear.'"
Volunteers have been taking books and Cheer for Children sweatshirts to campuses across the city.
At Saturday's celebration, those students will get a sack of school supplies, books and a gift. Last year children chose between a football or a basketball decorated with one of Rock Hill's three high schools' mascots and colors.
There also will be a drawing for about a dozen bicycles donated for the event.
Key to the annual bash are teenagers who volunteer to mentor a child for the day.
"Each year it gets better and better," said Keasha Currence, a South Pointe senior who has volunteered with Cheer for Children each of the last three years.
The day can make a big impact on children, Currence said, adding that she and her friends get a lot out of it, too.
"It's taught me no matter where you go, there's someone in need and you should always help," she said.
'Something every month'
Cheer for Children started 19 years ago. Schock, then a newcomer, wanted to help the city's neediest children.
At the first holiday party, 50 kids each got a toy and warm clothes.
It has grown significantly, and each year brings tweaks.
Last year, for example, children competed in dribbling, hula hoops, racing and dancing contests.
But things got too competitive, Schock said.
This year's bash will feature entertainers, a local "celebrity" basketball game and a dancing free-for-all.
S.C. Secretary of State Mark Hammond last year named the nonprofit among his list of "angels" - charities that spend nearly all of their donations on their mission, rather than on overhead.
Cheer for Children spends 98.2 percent of donations on its mission to "provide an opportunity for students and athletes to reach out to excluded children and youth. Giving hope and courage to all."
In January, the group plans to get more school supplies to students in time for the second semester.
Schock's goal is "to have something every month for kids." Now it's about every other month, he said.
"It's a 12-month thing here," Schock said. "When the party's over, within 72 hours we're having conversations about how to make it better."