At the CHEER Center in Ocean View, the homey atmosphere is highlighted by the smiling faces of the CHEER members, ages 50 and older. Overseeing it all is CHEER Director Yolanda Gallego, who started working for the organization four years ago and coordinates recreational activities and entertainment for its members.
A native of the small town of Hinton, Va., in the Shenandoah Valley, Gallego moved to Ocean View seven years ago. She is a graduate of Bridgewater College, with a degree in health and physical education. She worked in rehabilitative therapy for five years, and she worked in an after-school program with children for 17 years prior to working with CHEER.
“It was time for a change,” she said.
The CHEER Center in Ocean View offers many services to members, such as the fitness center, Meals On Wheels, transportation, volunteer programs and classes, such as yoga and line dancing. When entertainment, such as music, is brought to CHEER, Gallego said members will get up and start dancing.
“I’ll be up dancing with them,” she added with a soft laugh.
Gallego said each day is a memorable experience, though one that stuck out for her was at a talent show held two years ago, when Flossie Vogel, now 72, tap-danced while sitting in a chair.
“It just blew you away,” she recalled.
Gallego said that after her brother passed from a rare disease, members at CHEER were very supportive of her. She added that she wanted to create a place where people could come and still have that support after they lose a loved one.
“It’s a home away from home,” she said.
Gallego said CHEER has two support groups for Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases. At the first meeting held for the Parkinson’s support group, 20 people attended, and it is in its second year.
“We want to meet a need in the community that someone else isn’t doing,” she added.
Gallego said they plan trips Thursdays and Fridays to places such as the mall, and two experiences that stood out to her mind were a kayaking trip and beach cleanup. During such trips, two 80-year-old women rode a kayak for the first time, and a gentleman saw his first horseshoe crab.
“I love seeing the wonder come out,” she said.
Gallego said she has traveled to Cuba twice and to Australia, where she stayed for a month.
“I almost cried because I didn’t want to leave,” she added.
Gallego is currently taking on an international theme at CHEER that’s inspired by her travels. She hosted an event at which members of CHEER could try Thai food that their new chef from Thailand made. Gallego said that the members truly enjoyed the food and even asked if the event will happen next year.
“The folks loved it. It was so yummy,” she said.
Gallego said that, in the future, she wants to continue meeting the needs and interest of the members at CHEER, add more support groups and educational classes, and spruce up the outside with new landscaping.
Gallego said CHEER’s programs wouldn’t be possible if it wasn’t for the “great group” of volunteers, including the drivers that help with transportation.
She said people should volunteer at CHEER because it’s a great way to give back. When it comes to CHEER, she said, they focus more on the community and their members, rather than themselves. Many drivers who volunteer help deliver meals to those 50 and older as part of the Meal On Wheels program. Not only do the people they deliver to get a meal, they also receive social interaction that may be the only contact with others they get that day.
“It’s more than just a meal,” she added.