Bay Hundred Senior Center’s New Leader: Ann DeMart

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.

Staff Shortage at Kent Center Blamed on Low Wages and Stress

As Maryland’s minimum wage rises to $15 by 2025 so do concerns that direct support staff serving Maryland’s developmentally disabled will make a career change to McDonald’s, where working the drive-thru pays almost the same.

“Support staff wear many hats” and the work is stressful, said Kent Center’s Executive Director Karine Ireland at a legislative breakfast on June 28 to commemorate nearly 50 years of serving clients in Kent County. “The staff needs increased training and increased pay.”

Kent Center President Randy Cooper takes a moment with a Kent Center client, June 28, 2019

Low wages continue to plague recruitment and retention, which caregiver organizations in Maryland have called a “crisis.” They say starting wages must exceed the minimum wage by a wider margin than currently exists to recruit and retain a workforce.

There are over 200 organizations in Maryland like Kent Center that serve 25,000 developmentally disabled; they rely almost exclusively on Medicaid and state dollars that flow through the Maryland Developmental Disabilities Administration to pay support staff.

A third of new DDA support staff in the state quit after six months and nearly half resign after one year. The attrition is the result of high stress and low wages, according to the Maryland Association of Community Services, a group that advocates for caregiver organizations. Courtney Williams, administration director for Kent Center, said their retention rate was close to the state average.

Ireland said all support staff require emergency medical training and certification to administer medications. They also undergo extensive training in conflict resolution and mentoring — in order to provide the job coaching and life skills clients need to integrate into the community.

The breakfast included a tour of the facility on Scheeler Road where job readiness and mentoring programs are run. There are currently 12 clients employed in the community with the help of the center’s Supported Employment Services.

Delegates. Jay Jacobs, R-Kent, and Steve Arentz, R-Queen Anne’s, attended the breakfast and blamed the rising minimum wage on the chronic staff shortages in DDA funded facilities.

“A $15 minimum wage actually hurt this place, it didn’t help it at all,” Jacobs said. “That $15 may sound good in the outside world but it actually harmed the workers in the pay scales.”

Arentz and Jacobs voted against the $15 wage hike that passed in Annapolis this year.

But caregiver organizations lobbied in Annapolis for “the fight for $15” and asked for a 7% bump in DDA’s budget. The legislature cut the request back to 3.5% for 2020 and 4% for years 2021-2026.

As the minimum wage rises, entry-level workers in 2025 will make about 60 cents more than new hires at McDonald’s, the difference could be even less if the burger chain is paying more than the minimum wage by then. See figure 1.

The average starting wage in DDA facilities is $10.50 to 11.00. The Kent Center’s starting wage is $10.66 — just 56 cents above the current minimum wage, a gap of just 5%.

The staff turnover over at the Kent Center is 22%, which is slightly lower than the state average of 25%. The center needs 50 more recruits by February to run programs at the facility and staff 14 full-time residences in the community. The center currently has 150 support staff for roughly 80 clients.

In 2006 the reimbursement rate was 69% above the state minimum wage; this year the gap has narrowed to 19%. But new employees are actually paid much closer to the minimum wage because providers, mostly community nonprofits, must reward employees with tenure at a higher wage to maintain retention.

Figure 1. Maryland Association of Community Services

The state tried to address the gap in the Minimum Wage Act of 2014 and tied the reimbursement rate to the minimum wage. The Act came with a mandate that set the reimbursement rate to a level above the state’s minimum wage in order to attract and maintain the workforce.

“The current rate is not enough when you can [start] at Giant earning $12.35,” said Laura Howell, executive director of Maryland Association of Community Services in brief phone interview. She said the vacancy rate was compromising the safety of staff and clients in facilities like the Kent Center.

Ireland spoke of one success story at the center where a client landed a better paying job than the support staff who trained him. Williams said there were other instances where staffers quit after learning they could earn more where their former clients had found work.

The workforce shortage has also raised concerns among aging parents whose children rely on the Kent Center.

“If I’m not there or my husband is not there, someone has to be,” said Linda Cades, whose 40-year-old son has relied on the Kent Center for 20 years. “We need to get good people to do this. We need to know that our kids are safe because they are extremely vulnerable.”

She said the center provided the socialization her son needed to know people with and without disabilities. Her son was also able to perform work, participating in the contract mailing and shredding services the center offers.

In their 70s, Cades said she and her husband worry about their son’s care after they pass on.

“I need to know that when I’m not here to run interference he’s going to be OK, in a place where people care about him,” she said. “Wages have been so low over the years that it extremely difficult to recruit, train and retain people.” She said the staff vacancies were putting greater burdens on the existing staff doing “very difficult work” for as low as $21,000 a year.

The Kent Center receives 99% of its revenue from DDA. Only 1% comes from private donations, said Kent Center Chairman Randy Cooper. He is also the founder of Radcliffe Corporate Services in Chestertown.

Cooper said a $500 donation earns a $250 tax credit on the Maryland tax return.

Easton named Maryland’s newest Arts & Entertainment District

Maryland Secretary of Commerce Kelly M. Schulz recently announced Easton as one of two new Arts and Entertainment Districts in Maryland. Easton will join 26 existing Districts in the state in offering marketing and tax-related incentives to help current and prospective artists, arts organizations, and other creative enterprises, incentives that are aimed at developing and promoting community involvement, tourism, and revitalization. 

“Maryland’s Arts and Entertainment Districts serve an important role in revitalizing communities across the state,” Secretary Schultz said. “This designation helps attract artists and creative businesses and gives counties and municipalities the ability to develop unique arts experiences that engage residents and attract visitors.”

Easton, Maryland, one of the State’s preeminent arts destinations, has long been known for its vibrant mix of fine art galleries, performance venues, museums and artists’ studios, as well as a burgeoning artisan scene. Now, the town hopes to build upon its already longstanding history with more opportunities for artists and arts organizations within the town’s borders. 

“I think the destination of Easton as an Arts and Entertainment District further adds to our reputation as a center for a variety of art projects,” Easton Mayor Robert Willey said. “I would hope that people will take advantage of the opportunities that the designation provides and help to build on an already familiar label.”

The Easton Arts District will encompass over 110 acres including Easton’s Historic District, East End Neighborhood, and outlying residential and commercial neighborhoods. Within this district, developers and arts organizations will benefit from a property tax abatement for artistic-related improvements to their structures, and qualified residing artists will receive an income tax subtraction from the State of Maryland for all art created and sold within an Arts and Entertainment District. 

In addition to the tax incentives, the newly-designated district will feature existing and new arts-related events, from the world-class Waterfowl Festival and Plein Air Easton, to the new Easton Arts District Culture Crossing, a monthly artisans market along the Easton Rails-to-Trails beginning July 13. 

Spearheaded by Discover Easton, the Easton Arts District has been discussed over the years as an integral part of growing the arts economy in and around downtown Easton.

“The Easton arts community is one of the most robust in Maryland, and becoming a designated Arts and Entertainment District will allow us to continue to promote growth in one of the most successful industries in Talbot County,” Discover Easton Executive Director Ross Benincasa said. “This collaborative effort among our office, the Town of Easton, Talbot County and the Talbot County Arts Council will ensure that the arts do not stagnate in Easton, but instead continue to flourish and expand with new offerings and events.”

To learn more about the Easton Arts District and arts-related events in Easton, head to www.artsineaston.com.

About Discover Easton: Discover Easton is a marketing, promotion and events 501(c)(3) non-profit organization operating as a member of the Mid-Shore Community Foundation.  The mission of Discover Easton is to enhance, promote and preserve the vitality of Easton’s business owners, residents and visitors; and to bring awareness to the Town’s historical roots and lifestyles.

For more information regarding Discover Easton and its events, please visit www.discovereaston.com or email welcome@discovereaston.com.

Image:  A Plein Air artist paints at the corner of Harrison and Dover Sts. in downtown Easton.
PDF: The newly-accredited Easton Arts District boundaries overlaid with the Historic District.

A Conversation with Easton Council Member (Ward 3) Ron Engle

As a result of feedback from Spy readers over the last few months, we began a series of interviews over the next year with Talbot County and town council presidents. By providing a platform to highlight particular issues and opportunities through these conversations, it is hoped this new format will encourage more civic engagement.

We continue our new series with a discussion with Ron Engle, a member of the Easton Town Council for Ward 3. In our conversation, Ron talks about recruitment for both police officers and volunteer firefighters for the Town of Easton. He also talks about the town’s infrastructure needs, including sidewalks on Route 50, and the importance of Smoke and Fire detectors for residents.

This video is approximately nine minutes in length. For more information on the Easton Town Council please go here

Mid-Shore Culture: Celebrating Motors, Cars and Design at the Classic Motor Museum

While the Eastern Shore is well known as a maritime mecca of sorts, led by the venerable Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum, a not particularly well-kept secret is that the region’s love for cars is almost equal in size to those that love their boats.

On virtually any back road on any given weekend, one can easily spot vintage and performance cars with one very happy driver in command. And in many cases, those happy drivers have quite a number of those remarkable machines.

One cultural institution has recently established itself to celebrates those kinds of cars. In the last few years, the Classic Motor Museum in St. Michaels has opened their barn door (literally) to car and truck collectors generously willing to loan the museum some of their most priceless autos for exhibition.

The Spy down with Anita Hulo Schneider, the new executive director of the Classic Motor Museum to get a better sense of the museum’s mission.

This video is approximately three minutes in length. For more information about the Classic Motor Museum, please go here

Catching Up on St. Michaels Plans with Commissioner Bill Boos: Summer 2019

In our ongoing interviews with Talbot County leaders at the county and local municipality level, we continue with a catch-up session for William (Bill) Boos who will be serving as the president of the Town of St. Michaels Commission unto 2020.

In this check-in session, the Spy gets an update on the town’s plans for street improvements, a new town commissioner, the status of the St. Michaels new town hall plans, and finally a discussion of transparency with Town of St. Michaels government and elected officials.

This video is approximately six minutes in length.

Eastern Shore Advocate and MD House Speaker Clayton Mitchell Dies at 83

The Baltimore Sun reports this morning that one of the Eastern Shore’s most powerful advocates has passed away at his home in Kennedyville, Maryland.

Read the full story here

A Community Unites to Remember John Cassidy

Over 500 residents of the Mid-Shore gathered in front of the Easton YMCA Sunday night for a candlelight vigil in honor of John Joseph Cassidy who is the victim of a horrific crime that took place at the Peachblossom Road branch last Thursday morning.

The service, led by Rabbi Peter Hyman from Temple B’nai Israel, and joined by Talbot County Council President Corey Pack, Father Nash of Saints Peter and Paul, the Rev. Dr. William T. Wallace of Union United Methodist Church in St. Michaels, and Pastor Craig Fadel of the Bay Area Community Church in Easton, all spoke of the common need for the greater YMCA family to honor John Cassidy’s life, and to begin the painful but necessary process of healing.

With a moving rendition of Amazing Grace by the Bay Area Community Church members Sarah Weidlewalt & Rachel Pletts, those in attendance wept, hugged, and lit candles to grieve alongside the Cassidy family and take comfort. 

The Spy was there to share some of those moments with our readers.

This video is approximately eight minutes in length

Easton Family YMCA to Host Community Candlelight Vigil

In the wake of the tragic events on Thursday June 6 at the Easton Family YMCA, our leadership team has elected to remain closed through the weekend as members of our staff, volunteers and community continue to grieve the loss of one of our beloved Y members Mr. John Cassidy. The Easton Family YMCA will open with regular hours on Monday June 10th at 4:45am. YMCA members are encouraged to utilize the Y @ Washington in Easton (8:00am – 6:00pm Saturday and Sunday) or the new Perkins Family YMCA in St. Michael’s (7:00am – 6:00pm Saturday, 11:00am – 6:00pm Sunday). The George Murphy Pool and Bay Hundred Community Pool will be open to Y members free of charge this weekend.

The YMCA will host a community candlelight vigil in honor of John Cassidy and the Cassidy family on the front steps of the Easton Family YMCA on Sunday, June 9th at 7:30 pm. The vigil will be held in the gymnasium in the event of inclement weather. Presiding over the vigil will be Rabbi Peter Hyman from Temple B’nai Israel, Rev. William T. Wallace from Union United Methodist Church and Father James Nash from Saints Peter and Paul Parish. All community members are invited to attend.

One Man Dead, Suspect Charged after YMCA Stabbing

The Star-Democrat reported on June 6 that one person is dead and another injured in a June 6 assault at the Easton Family YMCA at Peachblossom, and the facility is closed as police investigate.

Read the full  story here.

 

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