LAWRENCEVILLE - Reality TV starlet Cindy "Rodeo" Steedle considers herself a friend to Justin Gaines, the missing Snellville teen whose smiling visage adorns billboards and posters across Gwinnett.
To her, Gaines was the charming kid with big muscles who worked the register at QuikTrip. She dropped him fitness tips once in a while. He typically smiled.
"He's warm, exciting, energetic - a good spirit about himself," said Steedle, a Newnan native who lives in south Gwinnett. "He used to watch me jog on Five Forks (Trickum Road).
"My goal is to be a huge part of finding him."
Steedle teamed Thursday night with owners of the Urban Flats restaurant - a hip new eatery in Lawrenceville's The Avenue Webb Ginn - in raising funds to fuel the search for Gaines.
Gaines, a Brookwood High grad, was last seen Nov. 2 at Wild Bill's nightclub in Duluth. Police have found no evidence of foul play in his disappearance but have few leads to work with. Grassroots efforts to find the 18-year-old college student continue weekly.
The Gaines family has established a $50,000 reward for information leading to their son.
Organizers dubbed the Thursday occasion Justin Gaines Awareness Day. All money spent at Urban Flats - coupled with proceeds from a raffle and Steedle's autograph signings - went to the Gaines family.
By 6 p.m., the teeming restaurant was near capacity.
"It's been steady all day," said Bob Rodgers, an Urban Flats managing partner. "It's exciting."
Rodgers couldn't estimate Thursday how much money the event might bring in. A majority of diners were on hand to support the Gaines' family, he said.
Steedle - star of VH1's hit reality show "Rock of Love" - has lost a child during pregnancy and survived cancer, she said. She donned a studded cowboy hat, a black dress and a button with Gaines' smiling face.
"My heart goes out to anyone whose child has come up missing," Steedle said. "That's what I want to be known for - helping people."