“Volunteering is the ultimate exercise in democracy. You vote in elections once a year, but when you volunteer, you vote every day about the kind of community you want to live in.” ~ Marjorie Moore

Over 360 Cheat Fest volunteers exchange four hours of their time for free entry, free parking, free camping, and access to food and beer in the hospitality cafe. For four hours they work and for the remainder of the fest they kick back and celebrate. I want to get to know each and every one of these volunteers, and if they continue to volunteer year after year, I eventually will. There is a sense of connection that lasts forever when we all work together to make such a beautiful celebration come to fruition. There is a community that exists worldwide united by this river – arms open with the belief that a friend of the Cheat is a friend of mine. I’ve met veteran Cheat Fest volunteers in Chile, Colorado, and British Columbia. As I have gotten involved in my  watershed, I have watched my family grow from tributaries to oceans.

The lead volunteers make up another level of volunteerism within Cheat Fest. Some give more than 40 hours of their time and skill before the festival and some of them also work during the festival. These volunteers are selflessly working for the betterment of the world. They inspire me every day to do good, without expecting compensation. Everyday, I celebrate these volunt-heros of our little corner of the World. They plant what they have: time and skill. The harvest that FOC reaps from their actions eventually becomes a treatment system removing pollutants from the river, river access sites hosting fishermen and boaters, or a rail-trail connecting communities. I’ve learned from these lead volunteers when you don’t possess the skills or the funds to build a rail-trail, a treatment system, a river access, a movement, a campaign, or a community; then find an organization that is doing this and give them what you can – time.

The following are volunt-heros that deserve a quiet day on the river with an umbrella in their drink, an awkwardly long hug from me, and much, much more.

Gail AndersonGail2

Gail designed the Art Market and organized it until last year. Gail’s super powers are unhindered attention to detail, a community of artists, and pride in her work. She delivered a high quality experience for fest goers for years. Gail had to move away from Preston County last year and has passed her knowledge to her friend Lydia Darrow.

Lydia Darrow

Lydia stepped up in 2017 to take on coordination of the Cheat-River-Festival-2016-Albright-WV-472Art Market. Lydia has the spirit of the river and shares her contagious joy through music and boating. So basically, she lives Cheat Fest. She grew up on the river and watched FOC flow and grow. Lydia is an amazing Friend of the Cheat with roots in Preston County. We are so lucky that she invested in her community to share her knack for getting people together, keeping folks smiling, and sharing art with the world.

Bill PenningtonBill

If you ask Bill Pennington to do something, he probably already did it. Bill is an ultra efficient person who knows how to go with the flow – a lawyer by trade and a river rat by heart. Bill grew up near the headwaters of the Cheat on the Shavers Fork. FOC is so lucky that Bill always has space in his heart and his Shredder for us. If I could hand Bill a quiet day on the river with his fly rod wrapped in a bow, I would.

Jamie SaundersJamie

As Bill P. decided to bow out of the 5K Coordinator position, Jamie stepped up to lead the race. Jamie has organized a 5K before for the WVU Organic Farm. She is a WVU student, a committed West Virginian, a patient leader, a dog lover, and a friend of plants. Jamie dreams of planting love in our ground and harvesting resilience.

Camp Dawson Crew: Rick Chaney, Mike Plevich, Ryan Snyder


These volunt-heros from the Camp Dawson Army Training Site Environmental Office donate their time to Friends of the Cheat to do a lot of heavy lifting. With their large equipment and their shining attitudes, they help Friends of the Cheat prepare the site with roads, earth grading, and tree and limb removal. We would be in deep…mud…without them. Last year, in addition to managing all of the festival waste as Trash Czars, they swept in after the festival to regrade and reseed the site. Rick, Mike, and Ryan balance families, award winning work at Camp Dawson, and volunteering.

If you would like to take a slice off of their overflowing plate, you could wear the Trash Czar crown.

Karen Koehnlein

Karen has been creating the volunteer cafe (aka the hospitality cafe) for over 20 years. She is an original river rat who sat at the Cheat Fest brainstorming meetings in the formative years and made her own river gear. Her commitment and workload grew from feeding under 100 volunteers to serving over 500 VIPs, volunteers, sponsors, and musicians. KarKarenen secures donations from over 20 local restaurants, organizes the delivery of the food, and keeps it hot all day. AftIMG_0192er giving her heart and her time to Cheat Fest for so long, Karen wants to come enjoy Cheat Fest as a guest. This year we are recreating the volunteer cafe, and searching for a new Cafe Queen or King. This royal office comes with as much responsibility as you want. We know that it is likely that no one can commit as much as Queen Karen.

Jimi SnyderJimi

Jimi, puts the roof on the stage, hangs the lights over your heads, and offers wisdom and support to festival coordinators. He has been handling this huge part of the festival for years with skill, reliability, and contagious enthusiasm. If you see him at Cheat Fest, give him a high five. If you can’t find him at the fest, check under water at the Alley…

Chip MeffordChip Mefford

Love that Russ’ Ribs, those lil’ fried donuts, that fiddle lick, or the bulbs that light your path? Then, thank Chip. He drives a long way to show up before the fest and set up the electricity. After many years of committed volunteering, Chip has passed his knowledge of the electricity at the site to our staff.

Sarah HinnantIMG_0125

Sarah (and her amazing family) organize the VIP party. Somehow Sarah balances Working at WVU medicine, mothering two amazing little boys, sitting on the FOC board and volunteering to throw a fancy party for FOC’s major donors, sponsors, musicians, and volunteers on Friday of Cheat Fest. Sarah brings her hostess skills in full force with ethical food and doily detail.

Kelli GesweinKelli

Kelli and Karen worked together to build out volunteer family. Kelli coordinates the volunteers before the fest, assigning them to duties and tapping into her widespread community to recruit. Kelli answers hundreds of emails to make sure that those who want to give their time to Cheat Fest are honored. Friends of the Cheat is lucky to have Kelli, a master of organization, on our team.

John Victor

John Victor

John Victor designs the famous Cheat Fest art. With a passion for nature and a background in design, John saw an opportunity to help FOC. John researches the ecology of the Cheat every year to make accurate art and works with us to communicate important details from FOC’s year in the piece.  If you are lucky you will see John around the campfire with his harmonica, on the river with his friends, or in the forest with his paint brush.

Henry Cerbone

Henry grew up next to the Fest Site. Henry has been the official Right Hand Man for the Fest IMG_0217Coordinator for four years. Henry always shines, but he is particularly bright when he is volunteering or leading his community. His leadership skills are insurmountable and his positive attitude is contagious. He has an ability to support over 300 volunteers of all ages, empowering them to solve problems on their own and teaching everyone (including the festival coordinator).

Rachel GriffithRachel

When Jen Short stepped down to bring her own kids to Cheat Fest, and Moriah Peddicord stepped down to pursue her own mobile boutique at Cheat Fest, Rachel stepped up! Rachel collects reusable materials for crafts all year, preps the crafts, and leads the activities on the day of the fest. The Kids Tent is a huge part of the fest and Rachel delivers a high quality memorable experience for the future of FOC.

Adam Payne Adam

Adam Payne is a master of his craft. He gives his time, his connections, and his expertise. Adam helps FOC to connect with bands before the fest, facilitates the sponsorship relationship between FOC and 123 Pleasant Street, and runs. the. show. the day of the fest. The music goes off seamlessly with the help of Adam, a true professional. Adam lives and breathes music and supplies West Virginia with high quality acts. He is making West Virginia a better place to live one show at a time.

Jim MeckleyJim

Jim Meckley does it all. In addition to helping with water monitoring year round, he helps to prep the site for the fest, man the gate in the week before the fest, clean signs, fix the stage floor, and much more. Jim is always there to help, even if you just need a cup of coffee or serenade.

Lisa Maraffa lisa

Lisa has volunteered this year to oversee the silent auction. Lisa is working to collect auction items, organize them, deliver the auction on the day of the fest, and carry out the proper thank yous. Lisa’s amazing attention to detail is her super power. An environmental scientist and a dog lover, Lisa fits right into the team here at FOC.


We love our volunteers. If you would like to be part of our team, email me at cheatfest@cheat.org. Let’s chat to see how you can make a part of the fest your own.

With endless gratitude,

Ellie Bell