HUDSON — Twenty-eight years ago, Bill Aycrigg got a job at CARES, a nonprofit organization that provides services and promotes independence for aging adults in Pasco County.
He started the gig with a goal to make an impact in Pasco.
"I wanted to lead and design services and programs that helped the local community," he said.
And, for nearly three decades, he did. It ended last week when Aycrigg retired as the organization's president and CEO.
"This is bittersweet for me," said Aycrigg, 68, who grew up in Rowayton, Conn., a fishing village.
His dad was a market research specialist, but he followed in his mom's footsteps. She was a social worker. She earned a master's degree in social work from the University of Iowa. So did Aycrigg.
"I've always been interested in people," he said. "Why people do what they do, and their history. So I started out in anthropology, moved to sociology and decided on social work."
He is a licensed clinical social worker whose career has been varied. He has worked for state government in Iowa, for private businesses and for not-for-profit organizations.
"My favorite is the not-for-profit, private, charitable organization," he said.
Before joining CARES (which stands for Community Aging and Retirement Services), Aycrigg worked for Catholic Charities, as regional director over Citrus, Hernando and Pasco counties. A Catholic Charities board member who also served on the board of CARES sought him out when CARES needed a new assistant director.
Aycrigg was interested.
"I grew up with elders and have a lot of respect for what they bring to our communities and families," Aycrigg said. "I was always around my grandparents. They taught me how to fish, how to write. They taught me about politics and manners and literature. They taught me about good food and appreciating the environment."
CARES helps preserve a person's ability to contribute the way Aycrigg's grandparents did, he said. So he applied for the position and was hired.
He worked as the organization's assistant director for two years before being promoted to president and CEO. He has led the organization ever since and has helped it grow.
When he started, the organization served Pasco, was based in New Port Richey and had three senior centers. Today it serves 3,700 people in Pasco and parts of Hernando, Hillsborough and Pinellas counties. It is based in Hudson and has four enrichment centers: the CARES Elfers Center, the Rao Musunuru, M.D. Enrichment Center in Hudson, the Claude Pepper Center in New Port Richey and CARES Zephyrhills. CARES also operates licensed adult day care centers in Dade City, New Port Richey, Plant City, Bloomingdale, Northlakes and Tampa, and offers home care services.
In 1986, the organization had 60 staff members. It now employs 183 and has 200 volunteers, all with the goal of letting the elderly stay in their homes. CARES has served 87,000 clients over the years.
"The agency has become more sophisticated, more complicated," Aycrigg said. "The demand for services has doubled because this is such a large retiree community."
The changes presented challenges, but Aycrigg likes challenges, and is proud of the results of having stuck around to face them.
"The CARES name is strong and the brand is respected," Aycrigg said. "We've made a real difference in people's daily lives."
CARES also has made an impact on Aycrigg's life.
"We learn from the people we work with, especially the seniors," he said. "One of the things they'll tell you is: 'Life is short. Take advantage of the time you have.' "
Which, in part, inspired Aycrigg's decision to retire now.
For him, retirement is an opportunity to travel with his wife to a home in the Caribbean, spend time with their children and volunteer in the community. He and his wife will continue to reside in Land O'Lakes.
His retirement is also an opportunity for CARES, he said.
"It's a bit unusual in business for people to stay on (for as long as he did)," he said. "CARES now has an opportunity to add new leadership. The agency will benefit from some new eyes, some new skills."
His retirement, however, didn't escape attention. Last week, he stood before the Pasco County Commission and accepted surprise resolution honoring his career.
"What a tribute to your life to be able to provide those services in such a loving and caring way,'' said Commissioner Ted Schrader. "Pasco County is a better place because of you.''
Aycrigg shared the credit.
"As we learn more and more about CARES' mission, (it) is about caring for a community and that's what Pasco County is about,'' Aycrigg said.
Times staff writer C.T. Bowen contributed to this report.