Dinner At Hixon House By James Patterson Of The Valley News

Cherkee Boley

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Cherkee Boley was born and raised near Roanoke, Virginia. He had a large extended family, and was raised in relative wealth and comfort. He served in the US Army both stateside and in Europe from 1969 to 1979. When he returned, Cherkee settled in Moneta, Virginia, a community bordering Smith Mountain Lake, one of the largest reservoirs in Virginia.

Smith Mountain Lake became more developed as a tourist destination in the ‘80s and ‘90s. Many people from areas such as Vermont and upstate New York came to visit and develop lakefront properties. With the boom in development came more efforts to conserve the lake’s ecosystem, most notably its population of striped bass. Cherkee was a part of this as a founding father of the Smith Mountain Striper Club (SMSC). The SMSC is a nonprofit dedicated to building responsible stewardship of the striped bass population in Smith Mountain Lake through environmental management, education, and community building. In his years there, Cherkee served as a member of the board and worked with the Fish and Game commission to monitor and preserve the fishery. An expert fisherman, he also enjoyed working as a host and guide to visitors in his years at SMSC.

During the years he lived in Moneta, Cherkee had one daughter, got married and then divorced. Following the divorce, his wife and child returned to Vermont and Cherkee lost contact. Gradually, he became more and more distanced from the people in his life, and many of his relatives in the Roanoke region passed away. Following his divorce, Cherkee was jobless, bankrupt, and homeless. His health started to deteriorate, and he suffered from anxiety, depression and a series of heart attacks.

Then, after seeing a doctor and getting a handle on his mental health, his daughter reached out to him and invited him to live with her in Bellows Falls, VT. But this living situation did not work out, and he soon ended up at the VA in White River Junction. Then, three years ago the VA sent Cherkee to the Haven.

At the Haven Cherkee worked with his Case Manager, Caroline Swaney, to form a plan that would allow him to stay in the Upper Valley; close to both his daughter and the VA. Since moving from the Haven Cherkee has been building a life for himself in the Upper Valley. He continues weekly visits to the VA to receive care for his heart issues, anxiety and depression. He has started to repair his relationship with his daughter and grandson, and, under the guidance of Renee Weeks, the Director of Shelter and Clinical Services, works as a volunteer and mentor at the Haven.

He has also forged contacts with a number of contractors in the region, and, based on these contacts, has created an extensive donor network of living, housing and building supplies for veterans in the Upper Valley. Each week, contractors and other generous individuals deliver goods to Cherkee’s residence in Claremont where they are stored in the garage. Many of the contractors provide goods from foreclosed homes, and such donations include everything from woolen blankets and gas stoves to fishing gear and tackle. With the help of the VA and the Haven, Cherkee distributes these goods to needy veterans. In addition to managing the veterans’ donations, Cherkee enjoys mentoring young people at the Haven and getting to know members of the Haven and VA community.

When Cherkee reflects on his struggles and successes in the past ten years or so, he thinks that much of his recovery has to do with the joy he finds in helping and mentoring others, as well as the difficult task of confronting facing his troubles head on. He writes:
The lesson I learned at the Haven was when I didn’t think I could take one more step, I forced myself to face the world, smile, and put myself last and other people first…but the first step in anyone’s life is face your woes in life. Go with the kindness you would want from other people and with that in mind doors will open.

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