Each luminary placed on the steps of the State House represents a student served by the Communities In Schools program. Photos by Michaela Catoe

Over 1,000 luminaries placed by volunteers illuminated the steps of the State House Sunday for the inaugural “Illuminate the Power of One” event to kick off National Education Week.

Communities in Schools of South Carolina, an organization committed to serving students who struggle in school, helps them overcome personal challenges preventing them from succeeding. 

On Jan. 1, Communities in Schools came together as a state organization after previously operating as regional entities in the Upstate, Midlands and Low-country. 

The organization aims to light a total of 20,000 luminaries to recognize every case-managed, underserved student involved in their program. 

Board Chair Terry Schmoyer said the 41 site coordinators in the public schools meet with the students to identify what their needs are.

“What you will find is, it’s different issues and not necessarily educational, that are holding that child back from being successful,” Schmoyer said. “Once you resolve that social issue, then you’re removing some of those barriers for them to then embrace education a little bit more.”

In addition to being active in public schools, CIS has worked with the Department of Juvenile Justice for over 20 years. 

Latasha Taste, regional director of development for the organization, said reaching those students in the independent school district of the S.C. DJJ is at the top of what they do.  

They are at really high risk of dropping out,” Taste said. “If we can have the opportunity to reach those students, we feel that we can reach any student across South Carolina.” 

Sponsored by Dominion Energy and Colonial Life, the first annual event brought out about 50 people, including Rep. Annie McDaniel, D-Fairfield.

“Anything with children is near and dear to my heart,” McDaniel said. “Services are great, but when this organization comes in, it’s even greater.”

When the organization first started, they catered to mostly high school students. Now that they have changed to assist the gamut of K-12, Schmoyer said the goal of the organization is to plant the seeds of good attendance and graduation rates early. 

“We determined if we went down that feeder pattern of that high school and get into the elementary school and the middle school and provide our services, we’re able to see a greater success rate as they are growing,” said Schmoyer.

Latasha Taste, regional director of development for Communities In Schools of South Carolina, thanks the University of South Carolina volunteers, CIS interns, and the UofSC Departments of education and social work for their help in making the event possible.

“It takes all of us together to work to have these kids graduate from High School,” said Terry Schmoyer, Communities in Schools of South Carolina board chair.

At the event, the organization asked community members to support by sponsoring one student with a donation of $10.