Ann DeMart wasn’t looking for a job. For the past few years, she had been freelancing while taking care of her mom, who had Alzheimer’s. Before that, in the corporate world, she specialized in healthcare marketing, writing, and program development both on the east and west coast. So, when a friend suggested she apply for the position of Manager of the Bay Hundred Senior Center, she thought why not?
Four days later, the job she hadn’t been looking for was hers’. “I hadn’t really expected to get a job, particularly one that I liked so much at this point in my life. But it was just the timing and kind of a combination of what I can do and what they were looking for,” says DeMart.
The Center, open on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Fridays, is located in the new Perkins Family YMCA in St. Michaels. It offers active seniors, age 60 and over, opportunities for socializing, learning, exercising, recreation, and community engagement. Giving seniors in the community more choices is high on the list of priorities for DeMart. “We’ve got a really diverse group of seniors in the Bay Hundred area. You know, we’ve got people who are born here, and watermen, and farmers, and we have retiring CEOs.” Her goal, she says, is to bring this diverse group together through programs ranging from basketball games to needlework and everything in between. The Center also serves lunches at noon on the days they are open, giving seniors another opportunity to interact with others.
DeMart did emphasize that they’re not taking away from the programs already locally established. Instead, their mission is to emulate the successful Brookletts Senior Center in Easton while enhancing the benefits and services currently offered through the community center and church groups in the Bay Hundred area.
It is the unique differences, however, that make the Senior Center a paradigm to the community, town, and possibly even the state. It started when two organizations joined forces to open one building instead of competing for funding dollars. The collaboration of Upper Shore Aging and the YMCA of the Chesapeake was innovative but took on a new character when the facility was built behind the St Michaels Middle High and Elementary Schools
Since they opened in early June 2019, the Y and the Senior Center have been working with the school system to arrange for projects that involve the students. This alliance is the first example of a multi-generational program in the state of Maryland, and a model for future programs.
“Starting in the fall we’re going to have interns who will come in and work with the seniors,” says DeMart. “One student has already offered to teach Spanish.” The school will also be able to reap the benefits of the partnership. “Take their theater performances: we can go on and watch the shows or dress rehearsals. We can help their history projects and science projects. Seniors can give them oral histories of their lives. I love that this is intergenerational, which I think benefits everybody.”
Undeniably, the school is a great asset, but another advantage of the alliance is that the ultra-modern and spacious Y facility has plenty of equipment and room for classes and programs. Already, the Center has attracted talented members of the community who volunteer to teach activity and courses in art and dancing. Then there are the musicians who come to entertain, drawing large and appreciative crowds.
Some of the volunteer interest from the community is thanks to DeMart herself. She’s a member of the Art League, on the Talbot County Arts Council, on the board and marketing chair of the Chesapeake Forum (formerly Academy for Lifelong Learning at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum). The welcome news that some Chesapeake Forum courses will be held at the Y is one DeMart helped to make happen. “There are a lot of people who aren’t able to exercise, she says, “but they’re still exercising their minds. I saw classes attended by people in their nineties, and they were sharp as can be. Intellectual curiosity doesn’t have to die.”
For now, DeMart’s emphasis is on growing the number of seniors enrolling in the Center. Membership is free to eligible individuals, and membership to the YMCA is not required to participate in the Bay Hundred Senior Center programs and activities. Members’ spouses who are under the age of 60 are also eligible. Since opening, over 200 people have already signed up, which seems to be an indication that the community is excited about all that the Center is offering.
Ann DeMart wasn’t looking for a job, but sometimes what you’re looking for comes when you’re not looking at all.
Val Cavalheri is a recent transplant to the Eastern Shore, having lived in Northern Virginia for the past 20 years. She’s been a writer, editor and professional photographer for various publications, including the Washington Post.