A Life Worth Living: Connecting People with Disabilities to Their Communities

For Mitzi Bernard, Executive Director of Bay Community Support Services, it’s fair to say meaningfulness is at an all-time high. Mitzi has been with the local non-profit for more than 27 years, and counting. “Hearing a parent say we saved their daughter’s life is the best part of my job,” she says. “Every day I feel good about what I do. We play a very important part in the community; we really do change people’s lives and really do make a difference in the world.”

Finding one’s calling in life can be a never-ending task. While it comes naturally to some, the Center for Disease Control reports nearly 40 percent of Americans have not discovered a satisfying life purpose. The study, Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength, discovered participants derived meaning from giving a part of themselves away to others. Lead researcher, Roy Baumeister said, “Partly what we do as human beings is to take care of others and contribute to others. This makes life meaningful.”

For Mitzi Bernard, Executive Director of Bay Community Support Services, it’s fair to say meaningfulness is at an all-time high. Mitzi has been with the local non-profit for more than 27 years, and counting. “Hearing a parent say we saved their daughter’s life is the best part of my job,” she says. “Every day I feel good about what I do. We play a very important part in the community; we really do change people’s lives and really do make a difference in the world.”

Bay Community Support Services (Bay-CSS) is a local non-profit that provides assistance and opportunities to people with different levels of intellectual and physical disabilities. Located in both central and southern Maryland, the organization offers a wide range of care, from residential and group home programs to job coaching, medical attention, transportation, education, and involvement in day activities and volunteer work.

“We want folks to be able to participate in their communities in whatever way they can; to be productive members of society,” says Mitzi. “It depends on the person and their skills, abilities, and interests, but our plan is to support [individuals with disabilities] to have valuable lives however they choose.”

Independent Support Services

One of their day activity centers takes place at Greenwell State Park, a 600-acre property located along the lower Patuxent River in Hollywood, Maryland (St. Mary’s County). The southern Maryland estate stems back to the Greenwell Foundation founded by John Phillip Greenwell, Jr., in 1966. Mr. Greenwell envisioned a place where people with disabilities could come and experience the beauty of nature and the joy of outdoor recreation, prompting him to donate his property to the state of Maryland.

While the location opened to the public in the mid-1990s, Bay-CSS’s relationship with Greenwell State Park began two years ago. Through the park, participants have access to their therapeutic horseback riding program, hiking, canoeing, kayaking, and various accessible trails and piers to fish or crab.

“It is an incredible park for people with disabilities to be able to experience the outdoors. A lot of times they don’t get that opportunity to be outside like other people do, so we are very lucky.”

Though having the means to enjoy the outdoors is a highlight of their program, the daytime activity centers are only a fraction of the non-profit’s mission – that is, to assist individuals with disabilities in having a fulfilling, productive, and meaningful life at all times, just like anyone else.

Each individual who participates in their program is assigned caregivers who are trained to meet the individualized needs of each person. “We have nurses as well as direct care staff who are certified in medication administration. Everyone has enormous training for the person they’re working with.”

As a part of the program, Bay-CSS caregivers are there to drive participants to medical appointments or work and teach them life skills, like how to cook or do laundry. In addition, they help individuals understand social security and how to get food stamps.

Conjointly, the non-profit supports the families of participants. Through attended care and assistance in running errands, Bay-CSS changes the lives of all involved. “Our help supports the family, and that’s our goal.”

The group homes are also highly family-oriented. Bay-CSS has six residential group homes throughout southern Maryland, with three in Charles County and three in St. Mary’s County. The homes are located within the communities and meant to look just like everyone’s house on the block, only with a little more accessibility.

“It stems from the belief that folks with disabilities have a right to live and work in their communities,” says Mitzi. “Staff works there 24/7 – we take them to their jobsite or activities and they have chores and responsibilities.”

Brandy Blackstone, Communications Manager at Bay-CSS, says there are about three to four people in each home. “What’s wonderful is they form friendships and become like families with the people they live with, celebrating special occasions and holidays.”

Meaningfulness That Comes Full Circle

One of the most rewarding aspects of Bay-CSS is that their work betters the lives of both the caregiver and those receiving the care. While it gives great pleasure to Mitzi and others to help those in need, she’s in turn witnessed a number of success stories throughout the years, including some individuals who have gone off to college and to live independent, meaningful lives of their own.

Mitzi remembers one man in particular with an intellectual disability and cerebral palsy. “He was living at home and wanted to find a job, so we worked with him and found him work,” she said. “He’s now been with Giant Foods for more than 25 years; they absolutely love him. He has his own apartment, a girlfriend, and he even participates in our annual golf tournament. He’s very independent and happy now.”

Funding Change

Since mostly all services are free for the individuals of Bay-CSS, the non-profit’s biggest challenge is funding. As a charity, most of their backing comes from the state of Maryland through the Developmental Disability Administration. Another big chunk comes through fundraising and gathering donations.

“Unfortunately, what we do is not a huge priority to the world,” says Mitzi. Whether you’re personally connected to the cause or not, there are tons of ways for everyone to get involved with Bay-CSS and learn more about their significance and impact on our community.

“Volunteering is a great way to get to know who we are and the people that we serve,” says Mitzi. “We have a lot of ways people can volunteer – within our group homes, through yard care and maintenance in the home, or simply taking care of agency vehicles.”

To the eyes of the individuals it serves, Bay-CSS runs like it’s own mini community and therefore looks for volunteers who are willing to offer their time and expertise in whatever that may be – from cooking and cleaning to handy-man skills or marketing.

Moreover, the non-profit is always looking for professionals who may be interested in joining their board of directors or civic organizations or to partner with or  champion their organization.

Volunteers are needed for events, too. Every September, Bay-CSS has their 12th annual Golf Tournament as well as their fifth annual 10k/5k Rock, Run and Roll event coming up this April. The 10k/5k race is a family-friendly event hosted at Greenwell State Park.

“We have families that come out with strollers, roller blades, their pets – it’s all inclusive,” Brandy says. “We’ve been very fortunate to be supported by the community. Local stores donate and we have great giveaways. It’s also great to see the young athletes out there. It’s a timed event and there are prizes.”

Most of all, though, it’s geared as a fun event for those of all fitness levels located in a truly beautiful area of St. Mary’s County. The most humbling part? “It’s really fun to be able to run next to someone in a wheelchair,” Brandy says.

5th Annual Bay-CSS10k/5k Walk, Run & Roll

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Event 9 a.m. / Registration 8 a.m.

$20 per person, free for children under 12

www.baycss.org/walk.html – Sign up online today!


Volunteering at Bay-CSS

Volunteers are needed and always appreciated! Individuals can fill out a volunteer form on their website to apply. Call Brandy Blackstone at 301-863-8870, ext. 322 to inquire about volunteer opportunities.

  • Transportation
  • Cleaning
  • Home and yard maintenance
  • Special event assistance
  • Committee participation /membership

 Stay Connected www.Baycss.org

Social Media Facebook.com/BAYCSS.org

Rachel Lytle
Rachel Lytle is a digital marketing coordinator for MedStar Health and contributing writer to WOMAN Magazines. Rachel has a degree in Journalism from the Pennsylvania State University, but grew up in Southern Maryland. She has a passion for digital communications and has previous experience working for advertising agencies, college publications and as a writer for MedStar St. Mary’s Hospital’s Marketing and Public Relations Department. Rachel likes to play tennis, travel, and spend her spare time with family and friends.