CHEER’s feast served with ‘thanks’

GEORGETOWN — Several hundred Sussex County seniors congregated at the CHEER Community Center Tuesday for a pre-Thanksgiving feast and entertainment/awards program.
The embedded theme of the event was “thanks.”

And CHEER Executive Director Ken Bock was overflowing with thanks — to all the volunteers and staff who make it possible for CHEER to serve thousands of Sussex County’s senior citizens through home meal delivery, other programs and special holiday events.

Heart-felt appreciation was given to supporters of the Cooking for Sussex Seniors capital campaign, for a new kitchen at the CHEER community center that will replace an undersized/obsolete facility at the Thurman Adams State Service Center.

Instrumental in the campaign is the Sussex County legislative delegation in the Delaware General Assembly, which, spearheaded by State Sen. Brian Pettyjohn, helped bring the campaign within striking distance of the initial $1.6 million target goal

“It was an ambitious undertaking for us. Today, 18 months later we are entering the engineering/design phase,” said Mr. Bock. “We break ground on that kitchen next summer. We’ll be serving meals out of that kitchen in the spring of 2021.”

The capital campaign thus far has raised $1.5 million, which includes $600,000 in state funding allocated in several state budgets.
“It is an honor to be able to service the people of Sussex County. It is an honor and a privilege to do what I do every day for the people of the district, and the people of the state of Delaware.

“It’s not just one person. Many hands make light work,” said Sen. Pettyjohn, adding the delegation from Sussex puts Sussex County first.
“Every day we’re out there fighting for you and what is best for the seniors in Sussex county and all of us in Sussex county.”

At the CHEER event.

“When I think when CHEER first started many years ago … and now to see how it has grown and the services they provide to the community …,” Rep. Ruth Briggs King.
“We understand and appreciate what CHEER does, but more importantly we know how important CHEER is to you, and families.”

Also honored with special awards were U.S. Army Maj. (retired) Ben Jester, who is instructor with Sussex Tech High School’s Army JROTC program, and Sen. Dave Wilson.

State Rep. Steve Smyk and Sussex County Sheriff Robert T. Lee were also recognized, along with U.S. Sen. Thomas Carper.
Under Mr. Jester’s supervision, Sussex Tech’s JROTC has provided longstanding support for CHEER, including fundraising and volunteering at Beach Day.

Mr. Bock said Tech’s JROTC over the years has raised $95,000 in support of CHEER.
Mr. Jester said the JROTC’s involvement all started with a casual conversation with Carolyn O’Neal, who now works for CHEER and previously was in public relations at Sussex Tech.

“She asked me, ‘Have you ever heard about CHEER?’ She educated me on it,” said Mr. Jester.
“That (CHEER) stands for exactly the kind of thing that community service is about.”

Special recognition for Sen. Wilson was given in appreciation of his volunteer service, and dedication to help, even on holidays such as Christmas.
“Every time there is a special need, you call on him and know he is always there,” said Mr. Bock.
“We do these things, because that is what we are supposed to be doing. We’re elected officials,” said Sen. Wilson.

“I can honestly say that when I first got involved in politics in 1992, I didn’t really see the need for senior centers. But as this hairdo that I have now seems to change colors on me, I see more importance every day.”
For the pre-Thanksgiving feast event, CHEER’s seven center sites were closed, and members transported to the community center hub in Georgetown.

In addition to a hot dinner of turkey, ham, yams, stuffing and other traditional fixings, there was entertainment and plenty of 1940s, 50s and 60s music provided by Sky Brady.
Tom Jones, a 65-year-old member of the Georgetown CHEER Center, said the event has been his pre-holiday tradition for five years.
“I come to this every year. It’s a good get-together. You get to see people from the other centers,” said Mr. Jones.

“The food is pretty good. It’s a good time. And entertainment – Sky Brady, he is always good. He gets us on the deck, you might say.”
The program was punctuated by CHEER board vice president Walter Koopman’s remembrance of the Ellan Orkin, an Army nurse who with her sister served in some of World War II’s bloodiest battles, including Normandy and the Battle of the Bulge.

Ms. Orkin, of Milford, recently died at age 99. She attended several of CHEER’s military/veteran-oriented functions in recent years.
“A lot of these folks that came for Veterans Military Honor/Patriot day that we had here, they remember her,” said Mr. Koopman.
Mr. Bock again thanked those in attendance for their support.

“I can think of no better way than to start the holiday season out and gather with so many good friends here and enjoy a nice turkey dinner and all the trimmings,” said Mr. Bock.

“Without the support of so many dedicated volunteers, our elected officials, people from all walks of life, we would not be able to be the organization we are.

“We would not be able to the provide the services that we provide to so many people throughout Sussex County.”

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