Local kids get free backpacks, school supplies

By Nicole Daughhetee
Staff Reporter

EASLEY — The Dream Center continues to connect community organizations together in order to bring hope and healing to those children and families in Pickens County who are so desperately in need.
West End Elementary was the location last Saturday for a huge Back-to-School Backpack Party sponsored by Heather Owens, owner and director of Upstate Carolina Dance Center (UCDC), located on Highway 81 in the Powdersville area.

Owens, who has spent the last 20 years teaching dance, decided several years ago that she wanted to take advantage of the volume of students enrolled in her dance studio and give back to the community.
“The community has always been so supportive of our business and our dancers; they have been so good to us,” said Owens. “I wanted to come up with a way that we could give back to our community.”
UCDC’s 175 competitive boy and girl dancers have been divided into 20 teams. Each team is required to complete two community service projects.

“We have over 550 kids enrolled in classes at UCDC. Instead of everything always being about competition and us, I feel passionate about giving back to others” said Owens. “Our theme for this year is ‘Shine On.’ The back-to-school backpack party seemed like the perfect way to kick off our ‘let your light shine for the entire world to see’ community service theme.”
Owens called Chris Wilson hoping the Dream Center would be able to help her and her dancers connect with a community group in need.
“Heather wasn’t sure what she wanted to do,” said Wilson. “She wanted some way for all 175 of her competition dancers to participate in a project that would help the community. And she wanted to put the money into sponsoring the event.”

After this phone call, The Dream Center was able to connect the UCDC dancers with Cory Odom and R.E.A.C.H. (Reaching Everyone As Christ Hoped) Ministries.

Odom, founder of R.E.A.C.H. — a non-profit community outreach ministry in Easley that facilitates a Bible study for children and adults living at the Creekside Apartment complex — was connected with Owens, and the result was a spectacularly successful back-to-school party for kids in the Easley community.

“We invited all the families from both Westgate and Creekside Apartments to come to Saturday’s event,” said Wilson. “The Creekside kids were able to walk, but The Dream Center organized getting transportation for the families at Westgate.”

Each UCDC dance student sponsored a child in need by providing a backpack filled with the school supplies that particular child needed.
“Working with UCDC and the Dream Center, we connected communities and built a lot of friendships along the way,” said Odom. “The impact for the community was huge. We gave out over 160 backpacks filled with school supplies.”

In families where there might be five children, the cost of school supplies adds up exponentially.

“We were able to provide multiple families with supplies and backpacks enough for all of their kids,” said Odom. “The kids all had a great time.”
“All the UCDC kids were out there dancing and the other kids danced with them. It was the coolest thing,” said Wilson.

“The event started out as a DJ Dance party,” said Odom. “Once Heather got involved, it turned into an amazing fair.”

“We had inflatables. We had swings, mechanical rides, tea-cups,” said Chris Wilson. “We had a DJ, pizza, food, snow cones — every bit of it was free to the children and their families.”

Owens was thrilled with the success of the Back-to-School Backpack Party.
“Our parents and kids were so excited, and I can’t wait to figure out what we are going to do next,” said Owens. “All of our teams are looking for ideas and ways they can support and give back to the community.”

UCDC welcomes any ideas regarding community outreach service projects. Ideas and information can be sent to Owens at or by calling 220-0684.

Chris Wilson, along with her husband Jim and other dedicated volunteers, continue to move forward building and shaping the Dream Center so it has a very real presence in Pickens County.

“It is like a ripple effect. Once the Dream Center is able to facilitate and help with an event like this, we get phone calls from people and groups who want to do something to help,” said Chris Wilson. “It really is the coolest thing ever.”

The Dream Center is always in need of community members and organizations who are interested in donating their time, talents or tangible items. To help or to share information about areas of need, contact Chris Wilson via email at