Be Seen. Be Heard. Inspire.

Pry Family Quilt

Empowering women to be themselves.

By Crystal Schelle

Bernadette Wagner is on a mission for women to understand their worth — especially as they age.  The 65-year-old of Hagerstown is the founder of Prime Time for Women, an organization that is empowering women to:  “Be Seen. Be Heard. Inspire.”

Wagner was in her early 50s when she started wondering what healthy aging looked like. She happened upon an article in The Guardian about blues zones, which are regions in the world where people live longer than average. At first, researchers thought it was about the diet of those living in these areas. 

“But what they determined was that it was the number and quality of positive social connections,” she said. 

That inspired Wagner to do more research. “It became really clear to me that if I really wanted to age well, I wouldn’t do it alone. I would have to do it in relationships and with other people,” she said. “And so I made this commitment to myself that my health depends on creating better health for other people through positive social connections.”

Wagner has been no stranger to making connections and helping others. A speech pathologist for years, she also served as a member of the Board of Education from 2000 to 2008, was co-founder and director of Volunteer Washington County, and was the Community Outreach Coordinator for Hospice of Washington County. 

So in 2018, she launched Prime Time for Women as a way to build communities for women, allow women to share their stories and inspire one another, and to provide resources for those in need. 

Through her previous positions with Volunteer Washington County and Hospice, Wagner had been part of TV projects for Antietam Broadband. She had just finalized her business plan for Prime Time for Women when Antietam Broadband approached her asking if she had an idea for local programming. She knew Prime Time for Women would make a great addition to Antietam’s lineup.

“It just hit me that our mission was to celebrate, connect and empower women from diverse backgrounds, as they explore new possibilities in the second half of life,” she said. “ And some of the things that really are important to me about that is that we were looking to bring diversity into the mission. Because that is another predictor of psychological well-being… challenging and expanding understandings at this stage of life, considering other perspectives and new vantage points actually creates new neuronal connections which are protective against Alzheimer’s.”

The show allowed her to bring women from a multitude of backgrounds to talk about their life experiences. But most of all it started conversations with women about their personal journeys.

“We were looking at women of a certain age who were taking on new things, or were not afraid to challenge themselves,” Wagner said of her guests. “So we had a female weightlifter. We had a woman who had been an Iraqi war veteran.”

Since then, there were several versions of the TV show, including a show with a live audience, which they did for about a year. But it became a costly endeavor, so they decided to continue the show, but this time at Antietam’s studios. That was in February 2020. They managed to tape two shows before the pandemic hit in March 2020.

Wagner said they returned in July through December and started shooting more episodes. This time it was a new format of just one-on-one. The show continued with her mission “every woman deserves to be seen and heard and when they are, they inspire,” she said.  The show ended production again, but Wagner said there might be a possibility of its return.

In the beginning of Prime Time for Women, Wagner said it started as a social enterprise. Even with her attorney encouraging her to make Prime Time for Women a nonprofit, Wagner said she was reluctant. She was hesitant to have a board that she had to answer to when it came to her own organization. Instead, she decided to fund it herself. Her mother passed away in 2017 and left her and her family an inheritance. Wagner used that money to fund Prime Time for Women.

“The funny thing is the joke at our house is that most people get paid to work, but mom pays so she can work,” she said with a laugh.

Since launching Prime Time for Women, Wagner has been kept busy with the organization. For example, in February she was scheduled to do four sessions of Walking to Wellness; held a vision board workshop; hosted an evening of cocktails, appetizers, and a show; made lunches for the charitable nonprofit, It’s A Blessing to Be A Blessing; as well as a monthly Book Club. That doesn’t count the blogs she’s written and coordinated as well as the newsletter she puts out as well. She’s also a mother of five and grandmother of five.

One of the Prime Time for Women’s events that has become popular is Walking to Wellness. The idea came from a conversation around 2019 that she had with her husband, Dr. Matthew Wagner. As a psychiatrist and co-director of Behavior Health at Meritus Medical Center, one of his jobs was to teach family medicine residents to treat mental illness before it becomes critical. 

“My husband said, ‘The thing is, we’re trying to teach these young doctors this, and we’re also looking to connect them so that they want to stay here in the community,’” she recalled. 

After discussing it more, Wagner said she suggested a video clip that highlighted each resident talking about some aspect of family medicine that they’re excited about. Then, they would take a walk with the community, like a Walk with the Doc. The idea was connected through Meritus Medical Center’s residency program. 

“It was wildly successful, and then the pandemic hit,” she said.

So then that program went virtual as well until February 2022. Every week she would do a new show with guests such as physical therapists, occupational therapists, life coaches, dieticians, and women in their 60s who were training for a marathon,” she said.

It’s a program she’s proud of especially in light of recent research. 

“It’s been very validating for me that there has been so much research now done on the negative health impact of isolation and loneliness as a result of the pandemic,” she said. “And I was talking about that before the pandemic saying this is how we’re going to improve health by connecting people and social connection.”

Wagner is enjoying the second half of her life by giving women a bigger bullhorn to shout about their own achievements.

“People say to me, ‘Where do you find all these interesting women?’ And this is what I want you to know: Every woman is interesting. If she’s given the opportunity to share her story, she’s interesting. Every single one.”

More information about Prime Time for Women can be found at or by following Prime Time Women on Facebook.

Hagerstown Magazine