Fundraiser Puts Feet to Fire for CARES Center

By JENNIFER STEWART, St Petersburg Times
ST PETERSBURG, FLORIDA — August 7, 2005

For the past three years, local figures have endured being “roasted” to raise money for the CARES Hudson/Bayonet Point Enrichment Center.

State Sen. Mike Fasano, retired St. Petersburg Times columnist Jan Glidewell, and Sheriff Bob White all have been the brunt of jokes before a crowd at the Knights of Columbus Council 5869 hall for the center’s major yearly fundraiser.

But this year, the roast was instead a toast to honor U.S. Rep. Michael Bilirakis. The toasters were Ken Misemer, state Rep. Gus Bilirakis, Tom Dobies, and Dr. Emmanuel Bilirakis. Fasano and White were among those in attendance.

The roast is fun, “but also it creates the problem of unexpected outcomes,” said Dr. Rao Musunuru, the event’s honorary chairman and master of ceremonies.

Musunuru announced at Tuesday night’s roast that nearly $78,000 was raised for the CARES center, “which makes it the most successful fundraiser in CARES history,” said president and chief executive officer Bill Aycrigg.

CARES, or Community Aging and Retirement Services Inc., is a nonprofit organization that offers aging and retirement programs and services in west-central Florida.

Nestled in the Beacon Woods neighborhood, the 14,000-square-foot Bayonet Point center is a bustling place with a popular cafe and classes ranging from computer skills and art to yoga and tai chi.

“I like to have a nice balance of things. That’s so important to me,” said the center’s director, Pat Babinetz.

Proceeds from the toast will go toward daily operational expenses, buying needed equipment and reducing the center’s mortgage, which now is around $422,000.

The benefit was coordinated by Dave Williams and Michael B. Osadchey with the help of a 20-person committee and others.

And the beneficiaries will be the 22,000-plus seniors who visit the Bayonet Point center each year to develop friendships and participate in activities such as dancing. “I love to see 70- to 85-year-olds line dancing,” Babinetz said.

Many also go to eat.

The We Care Cafe is known for the quiches, soups and $4.65 daily specials like pot roast and meatloaf that are served up for lunch. The homemade desserts include peanut butter and key lime pie. The cafe also serves breakfast.

Food service manager Gary McElfresh, a former sous chef for the Billy Graham Evangelical Association, has seen the cafe’s business increase significantly since it opened in January 2003. “We’ve grown, customerwise, at least 100 percent,” McElfresh said. “They’ve just heard how good our food is.”

And the setting isn’t bad, either.

The cafe is a lovely space with a small gift shop and great big windows, many with artwork painted on them, that look out on the delicate landscaping volunteers have done.

And inside the cafe, people are incredibly friendly. Volunteer server Maureen Demonda said she had a customer once tell her that she had met more people in the cafe on a particular day than she had in her own neighborhood during the past six months. On Thursday, the cafe provided lunch for the Hudson Rotary, which now meets weekly at the center, and Babinetz is thrilled. “It’s a way to bring awareness of the center to the business community, and it’s just an honor to be the home of a Rotary.”

The New Port Richey Rotary has also contributed to the center, Babinetz said, “Because they like what they hear, and they like what they see.”

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The We Care Cafe is open weekdays. Breakfast is served from 8 to 11 a.m. and lunch from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Carryout and catering services are also available. Call (727) 992-5104.

Also, the Hudson/Bayonet Point center needs volunteers to wait tables and work the cash register in the cafe, teach computer classes, help with landscaping and work in the office. Call (727) 863-6868.

Jennifer Stewart writes about social events and personalities in Pasco County. She can be reached in west Pasco at 869-6231. Her e-mail address is jstewart@sptimes.com

[Last modified August 7, 2005, 01:30:25]