Santo Grande: Dreaming Big and Advocating for Others

This column visits the faces of those who have benefited from the generous and tireless work of the nonprofits on the Mid Shore. Perhaps unknown to many of us, these individuals have had their lives transformed by the missions of these organizations and are giving back in unique ways to better our world. Amelia Blades Steward has been a freelance writer in our community for more than 20 years and offers a glimpse into the lives of residents on the Mid Shore whom she has met along the way.

When Santo “Sandy” Grande, Chief Executive Officer of Delmarva Community Services, Inc. (DCS), dreams, he dreams big.

This is certainly the case in DCS’s newly constructed Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Intergenerational Center in Cambridge for seniors, children, veterans, persons living with poverty, the medically frail, and individuals with disabilities.

The new 42,000 square foot center, located on the 30-acre property adjacent to DCS headquarters at 2450 Cambridge Beltway in Cambridge, plans to open this fall. It will provide space for activities, education, recreation, dining, and for the community to gather. The space will also consolidate programming for seniors and job placement and vocational services for people with disabilities while adding a children’s daycare.

Santo Grande, Chief Executive Officer of Delmarva Community Services, Inc. (DCS) stands in front of the organization’s new 42,000 square foot center, located on the 30-acre property adjacent to DCS headquarters at 2450 Cambridge Beltway in Cambridge.

A variety of rooms will also be available in the new state-of-the-art building for community organizations and the general public to use. A wellness center is being planned next door to the new facility that will provide therapy and fitness services and a therapeutic pool for the senior and disabled populations. In the future, DCS will be creating apartment housing for seniors and families, as well as assisted living units on the site.

This isn’t the first visionary project for Sandy who has worked at the agency since 1975 when there were only three employees and a $75,000 budget. The organization had a van and a station wagon to transport disabled individuals to the services they needed in the county. As DCS grew its services for the developmentally disabled, it expanded its day services to residential services in group homes across the Shore and added Respite Care for families with clients who are developmentally disabled, Medical Assistance Transportation, local senior centers and senior meal service, a Medical Adult Day Care, senior assisted housing, and a Community Action Agency serving individuals living with poverty.

Today, DCS has almost 400 employees and an $18 to $19 million budget, as well as 90 vehicles that provide transportation to the general public, as well as the disabled, across the Delmarva Peninsula. D.U.S.T. buses provide public transit to Dorchester County and the D.C.T. buses serve Caroline, Dorchester, Kent, and Talbot counties.

Inside the new facility, Sandy enjoys showing me the meditation room where he has plans to use a church pew he has held onto from a Methodist church in Hurlock where the organization got started.

“It’s fitting because we later acquired an elementary school in Hurlock with 20,000 square feet of space and consolidated our services there, which included a medical adult daycare, a vocational center, and the Headstart program, which has been there ever since. The children from Headstart would do their Christmas and Easter programs for the seniors in the building. That project is not unlike how we envision the interactions between our new daycare and senior centers,” he explains.

The idea for an intergenerational center, however, was fully planted for Sandy after he attended an Eisenhower Foundation Conference on Aging in China in 2005. At the conference, he met Sister Edna Lonergan from the St. Anne Center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, who operated one of the first intergeneration centers in the U.S. He and members of the DCS staff later visited the Milwaukee Center to learn about its operations.

“At the St. Anne Center, when they rang the bell, the seniors knew that there were babies in the daycare center who needed rocking. It’s about giving people purpose,” he recalls.

The new Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Intergenerational Center building plans to open this fall. Pictured is the open two-story courtyard inside.

“The community space is central to the new DCS building. This includes a central dining area with a fireplace and large windows which overlook the woods, a playground and fitness course, and even a Bocce court. We designed the space so that it fosters formal and casual interactions for the people here. This is to improve health outcomes, psychological outcomes, and the happiness quotients,” states Mary Handley, Senior Program Manager at DCS.

“We are gradually building integrated services which helps break down barriers between the populations we serve,” Sandy adds.

Sandy lived in an intergenerational family as a child with his grandmother an important part of the family unit. His father worked two jobs – one at the RCA Victor Company plant during the day and a second job sorting mail for the Reading Railroad.

“My dad worked and taught us the value of work. We saw that work could make you happier and live longer,” Sandy shares.

Sandy, who has become a rural transportation expert around the country and served on the Community Transportation Association of America, credits his mom with teaching him the value of public transportation in Philadelphia where they lived.

“My mom had friends in other parts of the city and the only way to get there was public transportation, so she’d have us all dressed up, and off we would go. After I got in high school, I had to take public transportation to school and, in my first job as a messenger, I would go out and pick up advertisements and I’d have to go all over the city,” he recalls.

Sandy shares five things that he learned in his life that have instilled his insatiable work ethic and success, “First, my parents allowed me to live a thoughtful/meaningful life. They gave me a work ethic and told me to learn from successful or happy people. The second thing is that truthfully, I knew I was smarter than the guys on the corner in my neighborhood, but I never thought I was better than the guys on the corner. My military service in the Vietnam War helped me learn to take advantage of the opportunities in my life and learn from them no matter what they were and move forward. Getting my bachelor’s degree at age 22 and having a mentor taught me that to be successful, one must have a mentor. Finally, I learned that you can’t rest on your laurels – I will never be finished.”

It’s not surprising that Sandy received the “William Donald Schaefer Helping People Award” in 2016 for leading DCS in helping seniors, children, and the medically frail to maintain their dignity and independent lifestyle within their community. Be sure to visit the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Intergenerational Center to see his latest labor of love.

For further information about the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Intergenerational Center, contact Mary Handley at 410-221-1900 or visit Naming opportunities for parts of the new center are still available.

At DCS, the staff believes all people should be treated with respect. The services they provide should always embrace the highest integrity and quality. As advocates for their consumers, they assist all individuals towards self-sufficiency and independence.

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