CHEER plans gala 50th anniversary in July

DJ Sky Brady entertains the crowd during a prepandemic CHEER event. In 2021, CHEER Inc. is celebrating 50 years serving older adults in Sussex County. With hopes that restrictions under COVID-19 will be lifted, a gala formal event is planned for July 24. (Delaware State News file photo/Glenn Rolfe)

GEORGETOWN — CHEER Inc., a nonprofit agency that for five decades has served the needs of older adults in Sussex County, is celebrating its own golden anniversary in 2021.

Several special events and commemorative activities are planned to celebrate the 50-year milestone, highlighted by a high-end formal gala July 24.

Ken Bock

“We are going to have a 50th-anniversary gala,” said CHEER CEO Ken Bock. “Obviously, COVID is going to have an impact on this. We are hopeful that most of the restrictions will be lifted and (that) we are going to be able to do a nice gala.”

The celebration, set for the Warren L. & Charles C. Allen, Jr. CHEER Community Center on Sand Hill Road in Georgetown, has several purposes.

“In addition to us celebrating 50 years of service to the seniors of Sussex County first and foremost, we have set a goal to use it as a fundraising event for us, also, to help us continue for the next half a century of service to the seniors of Sussex County and those future generations,” said Mr. Bock.

It will be an opportunity for “sponsors and people that want to show their support for CHEER from the community and otherwise,” he added.

Planning is still in the works for the gala, which will feature outside catering and live entertainment.

In addition, throughout July or possibly the summer, CHEER will be looking for opportunities — again depending on the status of COVID-19 restrictions — to have parties for members and volunteers in each of its seven senior activity centers.

“We are making plans for things, but, and the big but is, what we will be allowed to do and how we may or may not have to scale back. We are hopeful that there will be return to whatever the future of normal will look like this summer,” Mr. Bock said.

The July 24 gala is scheduled 50 years and one day from the date CHEER was born.

The Rev. Dr. Milton Keene, a Methodist minister and administrator of the Methodist Manor House in Seaford, established CHEER on July 23, 1971.

Fifty years later, this in-home health service continues to meet its mission to promote and maintain the highest quality of life and independence by developing and providing services that meet the continuing needs of mature adults 50 and older.

CHEER ended its first 50 years with a period that provided some of the most challenging circumstances since its inception. The COVID-19 pandemic caused the agency to twice close its center doors to members, but it continued to serve them through creative thinking on how to ensure their physical and mental well-being.

Through the dedication and commitment of staff and volunteers, CHEER did not stop providing nutritious meals for the older adults, both at home and curbside.

Plus, through the marvels of modern technology, activities were offered over the internet to engage older individuals socially, intellectually and creatively, which helped fight the threat of depression during isolation.

“Pre-COVID — because COVID has obviously affected us — but pre-COVID, we were probably directly touching 4,500 separate individuals, seniors throughout Sussex County, whether it was through meals, congregate activities, transportation, day care or the home care. With the whole host of services, we were dealing with somewhere in the neighborhood of 4,500 people — directly contacting,” said Mr. Bock.

Several years after its beginning, CHEER expanded to include a meal program. With a paid staff of four, its first Christmas dinner was prepared in a leased kitchen behind the Diamond Motel on U.S. 13 in Laurel. They were able to send out 800 holiday meals.

Meal preparation moved to the Thurman Adams State Service Center in Georgetown in 1977, when a kitchen was added to the building for CHEER to handle its growing meal service.

Recently, construction began to expand the kitchen at the CHEER Community Center to meet the growing need for meals in Sussex County. The new 6,376-square-foot, $1.4 million kitchen is scheduled to be online in May, Mr. Bock said. It will have the capacity to produce 2,625 meals per day.

For many years, the Warren L. & Charles C. Allen, Jr. CHEER Community Center in Georgetown has served as a hub for CHEER events and other community activity. A formal gala is planned for July 24 in celebration of the agency’s 50th anniversary. (Submitted photo)

Other noteworthy CHEER milestones include:
• In March 1974, the Georgetown CHEER Center began meeting in the basement of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church on Pine Street and met there until moving to the Adams State Service Building.
• The Milton CHEER Center began in Slaughter Neck Church in 1974, and it remained there for several years until moving to the old Betts Feed Store on Reynolds Road.
• In 2011, CHEER opened the new 6,000-square-foot Milton Healthy Lifestyle Center on Broadkill Road.
• The Greenwood Center also began in 1974 in the basement of Greenwood United Methodist Church. In 1995, it moved to the Old Lettuce Bowl restaurant on U.S. 13. In 2007, a new 5,300-square-foot building was dedicated, which houses a large multipurpose room, a full kitchen, offices and a small conference room.
• In the late 1970s, CHEER began sharing the Edward W. Pyle State Service Center in Roxana. It also houses state health offices and a child care center.
• The Lewes CHEER Center was originally located in the annex of Huling Cove on Savannah Road. In 2002, it moved to a 3,600-square-foot center on Woods Edge Drive in the center of the Harbour Town Apartments complex. It was renamed the Harbour Lights Center.
• The Ocean View center opened in 1992 at Ocean View Church of Christ. In a few months, it outgrew the facility and moved into Town Hall, where it remained for five years. The next move was to the old Kwik Chek Restaurant in a renovated building loaned to CHEER by state Sen. Gerald Hocker, R-Ocean View. The group met there from 1998 to 2005. After a successful capital campaign, a new senior center was built in Ocean View next to a 55-and-over community and named the Coastal Leisure Center.
• In 2005, grand-opening ceremonies were held for the Long Neck Center in the Shoppes at Long Neck, after many years occupying the Methodist church in Oak Orchard.
• In 1983, the Delaware Transportation Authority selected CHEER to be the first recipient of buses to be purchased under a federal program for nonprofit agencies. The awarding of eight buses, coupled with state Department of Transportation operating funds, provided CHEER with the resources to start its own transportation program, which continues today.
• In March 1998, construction began on the Warren L. & Charles C. Allen, Jr. CHEER Community Center. It opened in 1999 with a large multipurpose room, day care center, fitness room, conference room and offices.

The demand for services for older adults in Sussex County is exploding with the growing senior population. One in every three Sussex Countians is 60 years of age or older.

Sussex County has a higher percentage of older adults than anywhere else in the state, as well as a higher percentage than the national average. As more and more people advance in years, CHEER continues to provide innovative programs designed to promote healthy physical, mental and emotional lifestyles for citizens 60-plus.

Check the CHEER website at cheerde.com to keep up to date on activities and services or call 515-3040 for more information.