Close friends of Rock Hill native Chris Hope like to call him “C-Hope.”
“As if my name needs to be any shorter,” Hope said with a smile.
Through his iCHOPE Charitable Fund, the former National Football League safety has plenty of reasons to “see hope” in the next crop of kids rising up from Rock Hill’s elementary schools.
Hope provided 60 Rock Hill kids with the shopping spree of a lifetime, giving them all the chance to spend $200 each in Walmart for any Christmas gift they could dream up.
Hope said he can still remember his elementary school days when he played football at Sylvia Circle. Hope, a former star from Rock Hill High, went on to Florida State University before helping to lead the Pittsburgh Steelers to victory in the 2006 Super Bowl.
Hope, 37, said it feels gratifying to see young kids succeed. After 12 seasons with four teams in the NFL, he hung up his cleats for the last time in 2013.
“It shows how important it is, education, from the very beginning,” he said, after signing autographs and handing out Chick-fil-A dinners to each of the kids and their grateful parents. “The kids are excited to be getting toys, but I think the most significant thing is leaving an impact.”
The kids? They were thrilled to meet an NFL star.
One child said it was “very fun” to meet Hope after watching him play on TV. The child, who plays as a running back for Belleview Elementary, said his cousin told him he could be like Hope one day.
Another child, who plays baseball for Mount Holly Elementary, said he was looking forward to buying new Nike shoes.
Hope has hosted several of these holiday shopping rushes with local children in the past, especially during his time with the Tennessee Titans and the Pittsburgh Steelers. He’s had to take a little time away from his charity to help take care of his own children, 4-year-old Crislyn and 2-year-old C.J. Chris and his wife, Linda, will celebrate Crislyn’s birthday on Saturday.
But now that he’s giving back once again, Hope said he always wants the most impact to be closest to home: Rock Hill.
“After having kids, some people don’t realize how much it takes to raise them,” he said. “But the kids are always watching, they’re always aware of what you do. It’s important to set a good example.”
Mike Phillips, who works at the Chick-fil-A on Dave Lyle Boulevard, said he’s met plenty of NFL stars in his time as a football fan. None of them, he said, are as humble and caring as Hope.
He presented Hope with at least six NFL trading cards to sign. Hope was more than happy to oblige.
“He’s a top-notch guy,” Phillips said. “He preaches what he is. Just a very good guy that I love with all my heart.”
Fellow Rock Hill native Gerald Dixon, Hope’s cousin, said Hope is the type of man who wants to give back to his community.
“He never forgets where he came from,” Dixon said. “It’s important to be visual to the kids, a hometown person from Rock Hill. You can touch him, you can talk to him. That makes these dreams so much closer to them.”