When Lindsay Miller, a former NCAA Division I cheerleader, found CHEER Seattle a couple of years back, the organization quickly became an integral part of her life. “I’m a real person with a real life, but CHEER became a major contributor to my happiness and my sense of self,” she says. The same went for fellow organization members, some of whom had never cheered before joining. Miller couldn’t imagine giving up her community when she moved to Denver from the Pacific Northwest, so she’s launching a chapter in the Mile High City: CHEER Colorado will debut at the PrideFest Parade this Sunday.
CHEER Colorado is part of the Pride Cheerleading Association, a group of volunteer adult cheerleaders spread across several cities that raises money for local LGBTQI organizations. The cheerleaders pick a new organization each year, and they spend months collecting funds via public and private appearances. “There are a couple of different ways that we work with organizations for appearances,” says Miller. “First, we work with other organizations that have the same missions that we do, which generally means supporting individuals facing life-challenging conditions. For example, we might work with the American Lung Association of Colorado and cheer at the Fight for Air climb. And then we work with private businesses or individuals. Maybe they’re throwing a birthday party and they want to hire some entertainment or staff. We’ve done everything from serving concessions at Century Link Field to surprise birthday parties to Uber events. And we donate the performance fee.”
The year culminates in an appearance at the local chapter’s home Pride Parade, where the cheerleaders collect bucket donations as they perform, and then CHEER makes its donation. “We choose a primary beneficiary that is always a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, always local, and always LGBT in focus, or focused on inclusion and diversity,” says Miller. Those groups often fall into one of three buckets — HIV and AIDS, youth and homelessness — though Miller says they occasionally fall outside of those realms. “They could be more celebratory,” she notes.
In Seattle, where CHEER launched three years ago, the group raised $5,200 in its first year, and $10,000 in its second. Miller estimates that the San Francisco chapter, which launched in 1980, raises much more. “These organizations have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars and made truly significant contributions to LGBT organizations and their cities and communities,” she says.
The Denver fundraising season won’t officially begin until after this year’s Pride Parade, but Miller and members from the CHEER Seattle and CHEER Salt Lake chapters will still perform and collect bucket donations during the parade, giving anything they receive to the GLBT Community Center of Colorado (aka the Center), an LGBT resource center that has been operating since 1976.
After the parade, Miller will establish CHEER Colorado in earnest (and with its own uniform), inviting anyone who’s interested to come get involved. “Denver has all the things that make a team successful,” she says. “There are energetic, community-engaged people willing to do something a little bit different for fitness and a good cause and a diverse and inclusive community, in which an organization like ours can thrive and in which organizations we support can thrive.”
Cheerleaders of all skill levels are welcome, and the only age requirement is that participants must be eighteen or older. Miller says the organization’s most tenured member is fifty, and she would be happy to welcome older participants. “These teams are as diverse and inclusive as the community that we hope to represent,” she says. “We have doctors, lawyers, CFOs, consultants, students, people who aren’t working, cocktail servers — there’s a very wide range of what people choose to do in their normal lives, and how they find their way to cheerleading.”
About half of the members are former cheerleaders, says Miller, though most of their cheerleading experience is about a decade in the past at this point. An additional quarter have dance or gymnastics experience. But neither is a requirement, and she says the chapters always spend the first part of the year learning safety and technique before moving on to choreography. “We take safety really seriously. A lot of what we do happens on concrete,” she says.
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Ultimately, volunteers should expect a time commitment of about one event per month and one three-hour practice per week. Interested volunteers should check out the group’s Facebook page.
Miller’s greatest hope for CHEER Colorado is to ignite in others the same passion she feels. “It’s so special to find this weird little thing where you can introduce a certain amount of ridiculousness into your life and do this silly thing that you never thought you’d do or never thought you’d do again and then be able to point to a real impact on real people’s lives in your community. That’s something I didn’t appreciate when I signed up, but now, as I look back on that decision, it’s something I didn’t know was missing until I found it, and I can’t wait to participate in that same discovery for other people.”