Dear friends, family, and community members,
This is Nicole Bowns-Yepez, the President of Cheer DC, writing to you to share that come July 20, 2019 (TOMORROW!!), I will no longer be holding this title within the organization. Before I get to that, I want to share about my journey that led to this decision as well as some of the adventures that lie ahead!
For the past three years, I have held the title of President of Cheer DC. I am often addressed as the founder of this organization, but this only scrapes the surface of the story of Cheer DC.
We are part of Pride Cheerleading Association (PCA), a family of charitable cheerleading teams. This family started with CHEER San Francisco, which was founded over 35 years ago. In the late 1990’s, Robert York established DC Cheer to join in the philanthropic mission of this cheerleading family. Although DC Cheer dissolved, Robert’s dream continued. Next up, Greg O’Brien and Marc Brooks joined an iteration of Cheer DC in the early 2000s during another start-up phase. Although the team held the same name as the current team, it never fully formalized into a nonprofit and it, too, sadly, eventually folded. However, Robert, Greg, and Marc’s shared dream persisted.
Fast forward to Summer of 2016 where a big dream turned into an AMAZING reality: I moved to DC from Washington state where I had been part of CHEER Seattle. I had joined that team in 2015 after thinking I would never cheer again in my adult life. It was at Cheer Seattle where I found my new love and appreciation not just for the sport itself, but also for the joy that philanthropic work brings me through this platform. I moved from Seattle knowing that Cheer DC had to become a reality, and then set out to make my dream come true.
I worked tirelessly to find individuals who were interested in participating in the organization, and learned about the second iteration of Cheer DC. I was able to connect with Greg who was pivotal in setting up our initial social media presence and in recruiting prospective members: he reached out to Marc, who agreed to come on as our coach.
Through a series of connections with cheerleaders from other teams in PCA, I was introduced to Carrie DeLone and Harriet Dao, former collegiate cheerleaders. I persistently reached out and finally persuaded them to meet me for a glass of wine. At our first meeting, I asked them to take on a “small” role in the organization. Amazingly, they agreed to support this crazy dream, and their “small roles” transformed into Board positions.
Then, I was serendipitously introduced to Brandi Arnett, who immediately brought in her two best friends and former WVU cheerleading teammates, Luke Jackson and Andy Jackson. As you can tell by where this is going, they, too. were immediately hooked, and suddenly we had a “dream team” of founding members who eventually became our Board and coaching staff.
These people who agreed to take a leap of faith with me will forever have my deepest gratitude.
Within a short time, we made tremendous progress: at our first tryout, we laughed at the fact that likely no one would arrive, and that our inaugural team would be comprised of everyone who happened to be hosting the tryout process. Within an hour, 40 people came and tried out. We were floored.
Our growth also accelerated on an organizational front: Cheer DC was established in 2017 as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization and also joined PCA as a member team that same year. What initially started as a project I was floating out of my own pocket (much to the concern of my then-fiancée, Nayely), has now become a sustaining organization that has been able to give back to our community. In 2018, we donated $5000 to SMYAL, and in 2019 we donated $10,000 to the Wanda Alston Foundation, two nonprofit organizations that provide education, housing, and resources to LGBT youth in the DC area.
This team has made me believe in serendipity. This was cemented to me when we were cheering at a community event, and Robert York himself approached us and asked to speak with the leader! He shared to me that more than 20 years earlier he had started DC Cheer. I was overcome with emotion. I am overjoyed to share that he is now a performing member of our team, and will be one of our co-captains for the 2019-2020 season, AKA Season 4.
Last year, I went on a walk through Balboa Park in San Diego. I met a woman with whom I walked, and she passed down a few words of wisdom that she had been taught. She said that she had attended a class where the entire philosophy was, “To build something, allow it to become great, and then hand over the reigns two years later.” I thought to myself, “What a wonderful thing to do someday!”. I then realized, I actually COULD do that with Cheer DC and felt this nervous pang in my stomach.
I knew that my first term would be up in the Summer of 2019 but had instinctively assumed I would run for re-election. I spent the next several months asking myself if it needed to be that way or if my time to step back was soon approaching. Then, I started to recognize that my nervousness had nothing to do with the changes that may come within the organization. My nervousness was actually tied to my own perceived loss - my role with Cheer DC has become a focal point of my identity!
When I reflect on all that we have accomplished, I feel an immense sense of pride. Three years back, I was terrified as I took on the title of President. I did not have the organizational background in the nonprofit sector that I felt was needed. I was so worried that we would be building something incredible, and as quickly as it was coming to life, that I would fail to take this organization past its infancy.
However, my co-founders encouraged me to take on this position, and it is something that has changed my life for the better. I have been challenged, and can say that I TRULY have shed blood, sweat, and tears for this organization. I have made life-long friendships and experienced an indescribable joy in knowing that this organization has brought together individuals who would have otherwise never met. When seeing these relationships blossom, when we have taken on younger team members who are in the LGBT community and are able to feel that they have a safe space to perform and grow, when we volunteer in our community and people light up as they realize that the cheerleaders are there to cheer for THEM, I know that something beautiful has happened.
I have experienced tremendous personal and professional growth and have been humbled beyond belief. What was a dream to bring a charitable cheerleading team to DC as an addition to a busy move across the country while planning a wedding, starting a new position at work, and trying to build a life here, became all consuming, in the best of ways. This work has been my passion project, and has truly felt like my “baby”… So why am I writing a letter saying that I am stepping back?
There are new identities I hope to take on! I have been taught by a dear friend that you do not need to hold a title or position of power to influence positive change and lead others. Beyond that, in the coming year, my wife and I are delighted to be pursuing foster parenting as well as aspiring to start a biological family. Thus, although Cheer DC may arguably be my baby, we may soon have a baby (or teen!) of our own to care for.
With that, nervousness is being replaced with joy for what the future holds as I share that I will not be seeking re-election as President or for any other leadership position within Cheer DC for the next season. To be able to start such an incredible organization that has brought happiness to countless others is something that I will forever cherish. Over the last three years, I have poured my heart and soul into Cheer DC, and I hope that I have made you all proud.
To my team members: I am so grateful to have such an incredible group of athletes and philanthropists surrounding me. I am so excited to see this organization grow under the leadership of our 2019-2020 Board and coaching staff and I am celebrating this transition in my life.
To the DC community who has lovingly embraced us: thank you for ALL of your support and for embracing us.