The Aug. 25 ribbon-cutting at the CHEER Coastal Leisure Center was bittersweet, as perhaps all important things are. The Mason-Dixon Post 7234 (Veterans of Foreign Wars) Color Guard hoisted the flag — the first time it had flown over the new center, on Cedar Neck Road, north of Ocean View.
Deputy Director John Clancy led the gathering in a prayer of thanksgiving, and a request for guidance in stewardship, and former Deputy Director Rich Harper remembered some of the long-time CHEER regulars who couldn’t be there.
He remembered Marge Casino and Jeannette McCreary, who’d been involved with the building committee early on, and George Johnson, who’d attended meetings and volunteered into his 90s — they passed on before the center’s completion.
However, Casino had been one of Center Director Sheree Stephens’ greatest success stories, Harper pointed out. He remembered how Stephens’ had managed to encourage Casino to get involved, and how that participation had turned her life around. “Marge used to come out back when we were meeting at town hall, in her late 80s, and she’d be dressed to kill,” he remembered. “Stephens made a big difference in her life.”
An emotional Building Fund Committee Chair Vickie York expressed her appreciation to colleagues, the community, the CHEER staff and local legislators. She noted great friendships forged while working to make the new center a reality, pausing more than once during her comments to regain her compose.
CHEER Director Arlene Littleton was upbeat, though, thanking everyone for yeoman’s work on the project — but reminding them there was still work to be done.
CHEER did need to borrow to finish the project, and as Deputy Director John Culp quipped, they hadn’t allowed the Building Fund Committee to disband just yet. The committee is looking to raise another $240,000 to retire the construction debt.
It had been a big effort for CHEER, Culp said.
State and county helped, and developers at the age-restricted Cedar Bay community (right next door) contributed the land. However, the majority of the funding for construction of the $1.1 million Coastal Leisure Center came via the Building Fund Committee, from private contributors.
While the center does provide a social service, with reasonably-priced lunches for folks on fixed incomes (not to mention all the clubs and activities), they did try to break even on operating expenses, Culp continued.
“We’re trying to mix the folks we’ve served for years and years, carefully and cautiously — and, I think, successfully — with younger people, like the baby boomers who are probably going to be knocking on our door before too long,” Culp pointed out.
The Coastal Leisure Center is open Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. — after that, it’s available for public use. CHEER hopes to defray at least a portion of expenses by renting the attractive new facility for special events (and they offer a catering option).
In addition, they charge modest fees for participation in many of the programs available to the over-50 crowd. Stand-alone fitness center memberships are also available.
But in large part, CHEER is just an open-door, fun place for people to come for pickup card games, Scrabble, dominoes or any of the spectrum of activities Stephens has scheduled.
“It felt good to see the place finally opening,” Building Fund Committee Member Gary Meredith pointed out. “It’s a great success, and something that’s been needed for a long time.”
As he reminded everyone, the Building Fund Committee would be at Ocean View’s Friday, Sept. 2 Concerts in the Park (featuring Junior Wilson’s musical styling). Free ice cream will once again be part of the festivities (courtesy of Vickie York), but the committee will also be selling hot dogs, chips and beverages, to benefit the Coastal Leisure Center.
The concert begins at 7 p.m.