Empowering residents to improve their lives

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Benjamin Edwards at his Silver Spring home. Photo by Michael Ventura

About 20 years ago, Benjamin Edwards was diagnosed with diabetes, which led to numbness and pain in his hands and feet. Edwards, 62, who lives in Silver Spring, no longer drives and can’t walk well enough to take public transportation. After his wife died 12 years ago, he quit his home improvement contracting job to care for his daughter Stephanie, 32, who has lupus and uses a wheelchair.

About three years ago, a spike in Edwards’ blood sugar level landed him in the hospital. While there, he learned about the Long Branch Healthy Food Access Program, which would deliver healthy fresh food—especially tailored to help him manage his diabetes—to his home.

CHEER (Community Health and Empowerment through Education and Research) operates the program for local residents with diabetes who struggle to make ends meet and don’t have reliable access to food. The Silver Spring-based nonprofit partners with health clinics, hospitals and food providers to deliver a weekly box of groceries for 12 weeks. It also connects individuals with a community health worker for expert advice and offers healthy eating classes.

With a regular supply of fresh vegetables and fruit, Edwards’ blood sugar levels dropped significantly over the course of the program. CHEER then referred him to a program that has provided a monthly diabetic food box from Manna Food Center that covers about a third of his grocery needs.

“[The CHEER program] really improved my health,” says Edwards, a musician who plays piano and drums regularly at church and local jazz clubs. “It made me pay attention to the right things to eat, like more leafy vegetables.”

The food program, which has served about 250 residents, is one of many initiatives coordinated by CHEER. The organization was co-founded in 2010 by Bruce Baker of Takoma Park and Andrew Kleine of Silver Spring to help empower residents to improve their lives. CHEER operates a free summer enrichment program for low-income kids, helps residents with health care enrollment, supports new immigrants settling in the area, and organizes neighborhood advocacy events. CHEER, which has about 16 part-time employees, uses grants, private donations and government contracts to design innovative strategies to address a variety of needs in Montgomery County.

“We take a holistic approach. We try to connect people to whatever resources they need. …It’s a completely different approach to community,” says Baker, CHEER’s executive director. “Typically, an organization takes one function and specializes. Our theory of change is that you can do more by building strong relationships with people and using that synergy to address whatever issues the community faces.”



Community Health and Empowerment through Education and Research (CHEER) ( partners with local organizations to address the needs of low-income neighbors who are at risk or suffering from diabetes, hypertension and other health challenges. CHEER’s staff and volunteers provide weekly food distributions and coach individuals on targeted interventions that can improve their health. CHEER also assists in health care enrollment, operates a free summer enrichment program for low-income students, and facilitates community organizing events to help neighbors make their community thrive.

Headquartered: Silver Spring

Serves: Montgomery County

What a donation buys:

  • $250 provides boxes of fresh food and delivery to 15 residents.
  • $500 provides three months of support to five low-income residents with diabetes.
  • $10,000 provides six weeks of Lunch and Learn to 20 children who would otherwise have no summer enrichment opportunities.

Volunteer opportunities:

  • Weekly/monthly: Serve as a translator or interpreter.
  • Student Service Learning
  • Internships