As someone who has been a long-time supporter to the Maxine Platzer Lynn Women’s Center, Sara Cary is one of the Center’s most esteemed donors. In its 25th anniversary year, the Women’s Center would like to recognize Cary’s generosity by highlighting her here on our website.

Among all her contributions, Cary has supported the Center’s Body Positive/Eating Disorders Education program, which is currently gearing up for the annual Celebrate Every Body Week at U.Va. The week’s events, from Feb. 23-27 this year, are co-sponsored with the U.Va. Coalition on Eating Disorders and Exercise Concerns and aim to promote body positivity and raise awareness about eating disorders around Grounds.

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For Sara Cary, a personal tragedy motivated her to support the Body Positive/Eating Disorders Education program at the Women’s Center.

After losing her stepdaughter to Anorexia, Cary grew “encouraged [when hearing the Center] would have program like [Body Positive].”

“Once a person gets into that mindset, they seem to have a distorted body image – I know the victims are mostly driven and they do have a distorted view of themselves. When they look in the mirror, they see something entirely different,” Cary said. “I could see that in my stepdaughter.”

Cary notes the “Great Jeans Exchange” as a memorable part of the annual Celebrate Every Body Week, co-sponsored by members of the U.Va. Coalition on Eating Disorders and Exercise Concerns, which includes the Body Positive program at the Women’s Center.

“People turn in their jeans or other pieces of clothing that they use as a measuring stick to try to be a certain size,” said Amy Chestnutt, Body Positive/Eating Disorders Education Coordinator at the Women’s Center.

When students donate the clothing, they get a free Celebrate Every Body T-shirt, and donations go to the Shelter for Help in Emergency.

“I thought giving up those jeans was a great idea – trading in those tiny jeans when [students are] keeping them and thinking that they would get into them and striving to do that beyond all reason […]”

The other Women’s Center program that Cary is very supportive and proud of is the Young Women Leaders Program.

“I think that is a fantastically successful program,” Cary said. “It does my heart good. I go to the luncheons they have: To see the Bigs with their Little Sisters, how much the Little Sisters have matured and grown and become self-confident – I just love that.”

Creating these feelings of encouragement and cultivating this sense of empowerment for women on Grounds, specifically in students, is part of what initially inspired Cary to become involved with the Women’s Center Advisory Council 24 years ago.

In 1991, Cary decided to serve on the Advisory Council to the Center after moving from Washington D.C. to Charlottesville. Cary brought with her extensive experience in fundraising with the American Heart Association, along with her prior career as a registered nurse. She graduated in 1968 in nursing and later transitioned into healthcare administration after earning her degree from Mary Baldwin in 1990.

“As an administrator in ambulatory care, I was basically a patient advocate – so it was a natural fit that I would become a women’s advocate through the Women’s Center,” Cary said. “I felt that women needed to be supported and given equality.”

Cary and her husband relocated to Charlottesville when he accepted a position on the U.Va. Medical School faculty. Looking to get involved within the University community, Cary found the Women’s Center through friends already on the Council, such as Anne Lindeman and Jill Rinehart. Cary said she soon realized that she “would love to be a part of this group.”

“I was impressed with the caliber of women at the University – both students and faculty,” Cary said. “I was very impressed with [Women’s Center founder and current director Sharon Davie]. She was soft-spoken, but she was very strong, intelligent and articulate – all those things that I admire in a woman. I was happy to be affiliated with Sharon in anyway.”

Another aspect that Cary came to appreciate at the Center is the Counseling program that’s open to the staff, students and community at no charge. In fact, a relative of Cary’s visited the Women’s Center upon her recommendation. Her relative underwent counseling for several months and it “certainly did help her.”

At that time, Cary’s relative was a community member, not directly connected with U.Va., and “she was welcomed with open arms.”

“I didn’t inquire about anything,” Cary said. “I just told her about the service and she took it from there. And [the counselors] didn’t know her association with me. I didn’t speak to anyone at the Women’s Center about her. That’s another personal experience with the support that the Women’s Center gives to the community.”

Cary recognized the additional Counseling staff and programming, recently highlighted in the media, as a “really great step in the right direction.”

Through the Office of the Provost, the Women’s Center has recently received funding for a full-time counselor in residence with experience in trauma. In addition, with support from the Office of the Provost and the Vice President for Student Affairs, Counseling Services will be able to provide confidential groups for student survivors as well as separate groups for faculty and staff survivors.

After reflecting on the past 25 years of change and development at the Women’s Center, Cary highlights the founder:

“From a little, tiny seed grew this enormously successful program. And the founder, Sharon, deserves all the credit in the world. There are a lot of people that helped us grow. And I still consider myself being part of the Women’s Center, even though I’m not on the Advisory Council.”

Story by Agnes Filipowski

Photo by Peggy Harrison

Pictured left to right at the Women’s Center 25th Anniversary celebration: Anne Bromley, Lisa Eorio, Sara Cary, Shirley Midyette, Sharon Davie, Barbara Brownell-Grogan.