Raised with financial and academic privilege, nurtured by a supportive family, Christopher Cherney was “on top of the world.” And yet, the young man felt empty.
“There was a chasm in my soul, and I yearned to fill it,” says Christopher. Searching for answers, he delved into Eastern and Western philosophies and traveled to Nepal and other far-flung destinations, eventually coming home to an integrated East-West spirituality, including the Roman Catholic faith of his upbringing, and a legacy that has inspired both his life’s work and his philanthropy.
“While exploring the spirituality of death and dying, I became a hospice volunteer and, as part of my training, I was placed in a nursing home. There I experienced in my heart and being the power of connecting with an elder. I knew immediately, after an 11-year search, that I had found my calling,” says Christopher.
In 1997, he began his career as a licensed nursing home administrator. Since 2013, he has been a university lecturer on healthcare administration and policy. A passionate advocate for the elderly, Christopher has also served as a litigation consultant specializing in elder long-term care abuse, with 270 medical legal cases in 17 states and expert testimony in about three dozen depositions and arbitrations, plus one jury trial. Currently, he consults to five state attorneys general regarding long-term care administration and is the court-appointed monitor of three California nursing homes.
The example set by his late father, a self-made businessman who raised over $25M for charity, inspired Christopher to support causes that he cares about, including On Lok’s programs for older adults. “My work has been very rewarding, and I am delighted to share its benefits with On Lok. Giving to causes that are important to me aligns with the values of my faith and enlivens my heart. It not only fills me spiritually, but it reinforces the abundance in my life—the more I give, the better I do,” says Christopher.
With three decades of experience in the long-term care system, including a master’s degree in gerontology from San Francisco State in 2012, Christopher has learned a lot about the care of older adults, and he strongly believes it should not be motivated primarily by profit. That’s why he is happy to support On Lok’s non-profit, community-based, patient-centered programs. “What On Lok is doing is right in my wheelhouse. I trust On Lok because of its history, its mission, and its motives. I have reviewed many healthcare delivery systems and On Lok has created a stellar model for high-quality long-term care for older adults. PACE is effective and proven. On Lok also understands the politics of nonprofit care and excels at it. PACE was the first program of its kind and Congress even wrote a new law for it. Today it has national import and keeps growing.”
For Christopher, once you develop a strong connection to an organization because of your experience and shared values, the deciding factor for a donor is the strength of the organization’s governance. “On Lok has demonstrated leadership, and a team of professionals with great heart, like my colleague Nathan McKenzie, a director at On Lok PACE, whom I had the pleasure to mentor academically and professionally, earlier in his career. On Lok has enlightened leaders, convictions of heart and mind, a politically savvy and stellar governance, an innovative and workable model; plus, it is right in my backyard.
“Where do I send the check?”