WAXHAW – Cheerleading is about more than cool moves, team spirit and winning competitions for the Sparkle Stars – it’s an opportunity to give back.
Members of the Sparkle Stars, a cheerleading squad that’s part of the Waxhaw Athletic Association, recently joined forces to make a difference in the lives of children facing serious illnesses during the holidays. The girls, ranging in age from 6 to 11, collected donations to purchase stuffed monkeys for patients at the Levine Children’s Hospital.
This was the first major service project the Sparkle Stars has completed. While they’ve hosted fundraisers in the past, they hadn’t previously taken on anything of this magnitude. The girls decided they wanted to do something hands-on to help others less fortunate during the holidays.
“We were talking about it as a whole, how blessed (the girls) are to be able to do cheer,” said Jeanette Balazs, the parent who organized the service project. “So many kids are not fortunate enough or couldn’t, and that’s what brought us to the hospital.”
Balazs said the girls learned how the hospitals do their best to send children home for Christmas, but some with more serious or chronic illnesses have to stay. Since those children wouldn’t be waking up at their own homes on Christmas morning, the Sparkle Stars wanted to do something to make their day a little brighter.
Some members of the squad went door to door in their neighborhoods and performed routines for organizations in the community, encouraging people to donate to their cause. The parents also had some success spreading the word via Facebook.
“Thankfully, we found it was hard for people to say, ‘No,’” Balazs said.
By the beginning of November – Balazs’s deadline to place the order for the monkeys – the girls had collected enough money to purchase 60 monkeys for Levine. Four team members – Rhiannon Balazs, Emma Schaeffer, Brianna Ward and Madeline Wolf – had the opportunity to deliver the monkeys to Levine the week before Christmas.
During their visit to the hospital, the girls learned how the stuffed animals are used when children have to undergo a procedure. Health care professionals will demonstrate a procedure, like having blood drawn, on the stuffed animal first, giving the children an idea of what’s about to happen and usually calming their nerves in the
Though the girls didn’t see the stuffed animals distributed in person, they did pass by some patients while they were at the hospital, which Balazs said really impacted her 9-year-old daughter,
“It really hit her how important it is to be able to give back when you can,” she said. “She was very humbled by the whole thing.”
Madeline, 8, also said she was moved by the experience.
“I bet you … the people who were here in the hospital, they were sad because they didn’t get to open their presents under the Christmas tree at home,” Madeline said. “I hope (the children) feel happy and excited that they got the monkeys.”
The Sparkle Stars participate in several competitions throughout the year, visit games and host various fundraisers throughout the season. Balazs said she wants to keep the girls involved in giving back and hopes to organize another service project in the spring.
“The small-town rec teams really have a lot of heart,” she said. “I hope to keep it going.”
Find more information about the Sparkle Stars at www.WAACheer.org.