Father Robert Kaeding greets a parishioner following Mass. Monitor file photo
Father Robert Kaeding greets a parishioner following Mass. Monitor file photo

For 30 years, The Center in Asbury Park, Inc. has been an anchor of hope and a source of comfort for those living with HIV/AIDS in the greater Monmouth County and beyond.

The organization was founded in 1992 by Father Robert Kaeding, then pastor of Wayside’s St. Anselm Parish, when the epidemic was at its height. His successful efforts over the decades to build the volunteer, not-for-profit agency into the multi-faceted service organization it is today were heralded Oct. 12 at the organization’s annual fundraiser, the Red Heart Gala.

Some 160 volunteers and friends of The Center gathered for the event which has been held annually for “10 or 11 years to honor our volunteers,” said Father Kaeding, who has been executive director of The Center since its founding. He added that he was “thrilled” to receive the honor himself for the first time, especially on “such a significant” anniversary.

The Center offers a broad range of services which include Center House, a permanent residence for 25 individuals living with HIV/AIDS; emergency placement for homeless individuals, and rental and utility subsidies in order to prevent homelessness.

Other services include nutrition programs; referrals to a wide range of service providers and programs; transportation to medical appointments and other needs, and a variety of educational and other programs.

The successful Center Square Thrift in downtown Belmar is one of the more recent additions and a “terrific fundraiser” for the organization, said Father Kaeding. A friend observed that a thrift shop could be a financial benefit to a non-profit such as The Center and Father Kaeding thought it was worth a try. “It’s working out well,” Father Kaeding said.

That’s but one example of the combined creativity and devotion on his part that has steered the organization from the beginning.

Back then, in a time of great apprehension, he had called a meeting inviting houses of worship and community groups of the area together to see if they could collaborate on ways to deal with HIV/AIDS locally. He was reportedly surprised when 60 came out and opted to get involved.

Joan Walsh, board member at The Center, who was the office manager at Precious Blood Parish, Monmouth Beach, when Father Kaeding was pastor, sees his incisive perceptions as a gift. “Everything goes into the mission,” said Walsh, who added that the 75 volunteers follow his lead. They see how well things are run, how hard Father Kaeding works and “how he made things happen” and they want to help, she said.