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Spreading some Christmas Cheer for kids

JaJuan Stewart, 4, sits with Santa after winning a bicycle at the Cheer For Children event at the Rock Hill High School gym on Saturday. Below, volunteer Devon Braden hands out gifts.
JaJuan Stewart, 4, sits with Santa after winning a bicycle at the Cheer For Children event at the Rock Hill High School gym on Saturday. Below, volunteer Devon Braden hands out gifts.

Teens mentored children, giving of their time. The older youth laughed and danced, giving of their spirit.

Five-year-old JaJuan Stewart won a shiny new bike. So did 9-year-old Raven Simpson and three others. Other children, their faces stunned, proudly wore backpacks stuffed with school supplies or clutched teddy bears.

Somewhere up in the bleachers, Santa Claus stopped and talked to a child before moving on to the next.

"Merry Christmas," Winslow Schock called out Saturday to more than 2,000 people gathered in the gym at Rock Hill High School.

For 16 years, the Rock Hill chiropractor has nurtured a dream that became Cheer for Children, an annual Christmas program for area children. It started as a toy giveaway, because Schock saw the need.

Now it's much more than doling out toys. It's about reaching back and touching the lives of young people. The idea is simple: No one is to be excluded.

"It's all about diversity and inclusion," Schock said. "It was a long time ago, but I know what it's like not to be included. I was excluded. Then I was included.

"When you're included, you find that you're connected to something bigger than yourself," Schock added. "That's what Cheer for Children does -- make children feel included."

Schock spends most of the year collecting toys and other donated items to give to the children. High school students volunteer to spend time with the children and encourage them during the Cheer for Children party.

As the child of a single parent, Schock stuck out among other kids, who had two parents. He found mentors and father figures in older classmates who played sports and their coaches and teachers. They helped shape him into a man.

So on Saturday, Schock taught high school students how they could give the gift of hope that has been implanted in them to children. He called his concept "pay it forward" -- meaning, invest in someone else, and invest in yourself.

Behind him, basketball players, cheerleaders and other youth danced with children to the sound of old-school music and popular rhythm and blues.

"We want to give all the high school kids the opportunity to give back the hope, opportunity and support that they received," Schock said.

Brad Lessmeister, whose father, the late Eric Lessmeister, was a principal, assistant principal and basketball coach at Rock Hill High, said planting seeds in youth ensures the future.

"If you show children that they are important, it will rub off," Lessmeister said. "They will start to believe."

Schock honored Eric Lessmeister's legacy. The crowd sang "Happy Birthday" to Schock's mother, Caroline, who celebrated her 84th on Saturday.

Later, Schock stole a glance around the gym, took in the happy faces and smiled.

Said Brad Lessmeister: "If it wasn't for him starting it, it wouldn't have happened. It takes a big heart."

Santa walked by.

"It's a beautiful thing," said the jolly man in red.

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