Expanding Bay Center has new program specialist 

by Judy Thomson

Bay Center board of directors president John Dutton addressed participants at a recent “Meet and Greet” event.

A retired couple is in the midst of planning some long-deferred travel. Without warning, the wife suffers a critical heath incident and the husband suddenly finds himself a widower.

A wife has been the sole caregiver for her husband, who has Alzheimer’s disease, for two years. She never thought it would be such exhausting work, physically and emotionally. She feels as if she cannot go on, but also knows that she must.   

An older man who lives by himself is healthy enough, had a fulfilling work career, and has no financial concerns. But he is so lonely. His life feels so empty. Who is there to talk to?

Karen Asaro serves as program specialist for the Bay Center.

A woman is troubled by the existence of racism in the community, but doesn’t know how to educate herself about the problem and, frankly, is a bit uneasy about stepping out of her comfort zone. What first step could she take?

Helping people grow

It is people in situations like these—challenging and disorienting life events and experiences—for whom the Bay Center strives to offer help. The Center also seeks to offer resources to people wishing to enrich their lives mentally, physically and spiritually.

“Simply put, the Bay Center cares about the people in the community,” said board of directors president John Dutton. “Our goal is to reach out to them, teach them, respond to their hurts, and help them grow.” 

Over the past few years, the Bay Center has experienced strong and steady numerical growth in all of these areas: programs, facilitators, course participants, volunteers and community connections. The variety of its programs, as well as the number of locations at which programs are offered, also have increased.

A listing of programs currently offered by the Bay Center includes mindfulness and wellness workshops, caretaker support groups, “Helpers and Healers” recognition event, “Pledge to End Racism” training, “Loved Ones Remembered” annual memorial service, movement and mindfulness workshops, meditation classes, “Staging Our Aging” workshop, Jungian Psychology workshop, and various presentations related to spirituality.

Program specialist

With such growth and expansion, it became clear to the board of directors that, in order to continue the expansion, and maintain and meet community members’ needs with quality offerings, they needed to find someone to manage it all. So, in early 2023, the board created the staff position of program specialist. In April, Karen Asaro of Heathsville was hired for the position. It will be Asaro’s job to develop, launch and oversee new and existing programs offered by the Center.

“The Bay Center is its programs,” said Dutton. “We are delighted to have Karen join us to guide and enhance what we have been doing well for almost 25 years.”

Asaro worked most recently as an alternative dispute resolution advisor for the Federal Emergency Management Association. She has extensive training in mediation, and for 10 years was an adjunct professor at Christopher Newport University, teaching mediation courses in the social work and political sciences departments.

She has served on numerous mediation councils and committees, and won awards for her work. She is a Virginia Supreme Court certified mediator, trainer and mentor and was appointed by then-Gov. Tim Kaine to the Virginia Interagency Dispute Resolution Advisory Council.    

“When I heard about this position at the Bay Center, I was drawn to the idea that this is an organization making valuable contributions to our community,” said Asaro. “Now that I have been on the job for a while, I find myself frequently thinking of Anne Frank’s words: ‘How wonderful it is that nobody needs to wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.’” 

Originally called the Bay Center for Spiritual Development, the Bay Center was created in 2000 by White Stone resident Carol Burke. She headed the organization until retiring in 2019. The Bay Center’s mission today is “to support our community through programs that inspire personal growth, healing, and well-being.”

Showcasing its success

“The passion behind the Bay Center is evident,” said vice president Mary Arthur. To help get the Bay Center’s story out, Arthur organized a “Meet and Greet” event on June 26. The gathering offered the center an opportunity to showcase its successes to new and current members of the board of directors, new staff, community leaders and other stakeholders.

Interestingly, the increase in activity has taken place at a time when the Bay Center does not have a permanent, physical location. Rather, Bay Center staff, board members and volunteers go out to the Northern Neck, bringing programs to community centers, libraries, churches and the River Counties Community Foundation building in White Stone.

At the “Meet and Greet” event, Arthur shared some statistics with those gathered. She noted that, at the Bay Center in the past four years, the number of grief support groups offered doubled, the number of grief group facilitators increased by 450%, and participation in the groups grew by 50%.

She also quoted statistics that underscore the need for the types of programs the Center offers, such as: one in four adults serves as a caregiver for a family member or friend; on the Northern Neck, about one in three persons is a caregiver; and, overall in the U.S., more than one in five adults struggles with mental wellness. 

“There is a great need for support for the people who—not as a profession—take care of other people,” Arthur said. With Lancaster and Northumberland counties ranking near the top of the list of “oldest” counties in Virginia, there is a large number of caregivers here. As a result, beginning in the fall, the Bay Center will begin offering caregiver support groups at various locations around the Northern Neck. 

Other members of the Bay Center board of directors are president treasurer Tom Coye, Cheri Bennett, Claiborne Dingledine and Dan Sisson. Information on workshops, programs and presentations may be found at www.baycenter.org, 436-6362 or connect@thebaycenter.org.