The first time he saw the white decrepit house in the Blackmon Road community near Rock Hill, young Bryson Byrnes didn't understand that 16 members of Hope Whitlock's family lived there.
Or that they had no running water. Or a bathroom - but had to go outside to use a Porta-John.
What did register with the 6-year-old boy from Fort MIll is that the children had no toys.
"They need toys, Mommy," he told his mother, Karen Byrnes. "What do they play with if they don't have toys?"
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Last Wednesday, all the children of Blackmon Road, a dirt-road community of about 100 residents that is one of the Carolinas' poorest, got toys at a Christmas party. They got school supplies, too, and socks and gloves, all packed into their own backpack and handed to them by Santa.
Watching the children make crafts and eat cupcakes, Blackmon resident Cliff Gullatt stood to the side in wonderment.
"This is so amazing to see so many of these kids come together and to see them smile," said Gullatt, an electrician who grew up in the neighborhood. "These are smart kids. They know what's going on."
The Blackmon Road community could be somewhere in Appalachia or Haiti. It begins where the pavement ends. Longtimers used to call it "Trashpile Road," and some still come here to dump trash and construction debris. Over the years, there's been talk about helping the community, but little has been done to bring enduring change.
Volunteers began showing up at Hope Whitlock's house a year ago. Whitlock is 86 now and the community's matriarch. She's lived in her house since 1963 and now shares it with four generations of her family.
Until just a few weeks ago, they'd gone all those years without plumbing, so there was no place to shower, or wash dishes. There was no toilet.
Then the students and parents of Walnut Grove Christian School in Mecklenburg's Steele Creek community adopted Whitlock's house.
They dug a well, and built a bathroom on back. They put up kitchen cabinets, and replaced windows that were broken and let the cold air in.
And now they're hanging new sheetrock.
That is how Karen Byrnes was introduced to Blackmon Road. She went there with a group of parents to nail new siding to the house and winterize it.
"On the first work day, I was trying to take all this in and understand it," she recalled. "I turned to a friend who had done mission work in Haiti and said: 'Wow, do you see stuff like this in Haiti?' He said: 'You know, Haiti is this bad. But you expect it, it's Haiti. You don't expect to see this in Rock Hill, S.C.'"
A couple of times, she brought Bryson along.
For years, she'd wanted a project that would teach her son that not all children grow up in a comfortable world he is familiar with in Fort Mill.
"I wanted him to understand how some people live," said Byrnes, who with husband Steve works in the NASCAR industry. "I wanted a project that my son could have ownership in. So when Bryson saw the children had so little on Blackmon Road, it came to us that we ought to do something for them."
They went home and sent e-mails to Bryson's friends at school and church, inviting them to donate to a Christmas party - and to come.
"The party came together real easy," she said. "Office Depot donated the backpacks and school supplies. We had so many people respond with, 'I'll buy gloves' and 'I'll buy socks.' "
Bryson Byrnes seemed thrilled with his party's success. Many of his friends were there. They know the party is not for them, but for the Blackmon Road children.
They all fill A Place for Hope, a community center opened by a nonprofit group in 2001 for the children, and a neighborhood gathering spot. The center is named for Hope Whitlock, but it gives all residents hope. Winthrop University students tutor the children there, and center officials say their test scores, school attendance and love for learning have sharply risen.
At the party, Ladaysha Sheet, a 7-year-old Blackmon Road resident, beams with appreciation.
"It's nice that these people have come here to do this for us," she said. "It gives us a feeling that there are people who care about us."
A few feet away, Bryson takes a breather from games.
"I feel good doing this for these children," he said. "They don't have any running water. Or potty. They don't have any toys. This party is the Christmas spirit."
That is the lesson Karen Byrnes hopes her son embraces.
"My dream is that he understands that it is his responsibility to give back," she said. "It's not something that you should do, or could do. It's something you gotta do. I hope that long after I depart this Earth that he is still doing work down here and still hosting a Christmas party for the kids of Blackmon Road."