ORANGE PARK – Clay County’s two YMCAs are home to the only two DayStar national programs, and for nearly 20 years, the programs have given adults with disabilities a place to spend their days after high school.
Elementary, junior high and high schools offer programs that cater to the specific needs of students with disabilities. But after graduation, these people lose access to that kind of care. In May of 2000, one woman, Jo Knott, decided to create a place for her disabled daughter to spend her days upon finishing up high school. That place was the DayStar care facility of the Dye-Clay YMCA located on Moody Avenue in Orange Park. That happened roughly six years after Knott had founded BASCA in the same town.
“Parents got together because there were no programs in Clay County for our kids when they got out of high school,” Knott said. “We later decided to create a day program like this one years later and now DayStar will be celebrating its 20th birthday next year.”
BASCA caters its services to all varieties of disabilities. DayStar’s focus is on what Knott said are those with severe disabilities. The facility is now in the hands of Sherkina Roberts who was made site director just a few months ago. That promotion came after a devoted 19 years to the program.
Prior to the opening of Dye-Clay’s launch date in May of 2000, Roberts spent her days taking care of children at the location’s KidZone. When she noticed a new building going up on Dye-Clay’s property, she got curious and learned the new building was to be DayStar.
Roberts volunteered at DayStar for two weeks before being asked by the site director at the time to join the team full-time.
“I had never done anything like this but I just wanted to check it out so I volunteered some of my time,” Roberts said. “Well, I’ve been here ever since and coming up on 20 years.”
That amount of time at any workplace is a long time but for Roberts, it’s been the time of her life. That’s because this work is her calling from God.
When Roberts was 2, she was diagnosed with spinal meningitis. Robert’s parents had plans to go to a movie but she would instead spend the night in the hospital with Roberts. Before her mom could walk out the door, Roberts’ grandmother, who worked for a doctor, told her to take Roberts to the hospital after showing severe signs of sickness.
The sickness was spinal meningitis and an emergency surgery drastically changed the outcome of Roberts’ life.
“When she got there, the doctor said my head was full of fluid,” Roberts said. “If they had not have brought me, I would have been developmentally disabled the doctor said so this is why I know this line of work is my calling.”
Roberts said the doctor told her parents if she hadn’t been taken to the hospital that night, she would have spent the rest of her life in a wheelchair. Roberts now helps over a dozen disabled adults, some who are in wheelchairs, day in and day out at DayStar.
She sings with them, takes part in devotions with them, bakes cakes, brownies and cookies with them and above all else, loves on them like their family. For Roberts, they are family. Because of how the program works, Roberts takes care of people that have been in the program since its start nearly 20 years ago.
“I leave home where my family is and come to work where my other family is,” Roberts said. “It can’t get any better than that.”
Roberts works with five other staff members to bring joy and education to disabled adults, which in turn brings joy and security to the parents of those disabled people. That security that Roberts and her staff bring to parents is why Knott started this program in the first place: she wanted security that her daughter, Rhonda Knott, would be safe long after Knott was no longer there to take care of her.
“This program makes me feel safe and secure for Rhonda, for the children here who have parents that they’ll outlive,” Knott said. “That was the main issue for all parents. They might outlive us so we wanted programs in place so that we knew our kids were safe and secure when we’re gone.”
DayStar is open to all and can be covered privately with money or with government medical cost waivers. There is a waiting list today and program acceptance is given out based on that waiting list. When someone moves or is taken out of the program, someone from the waiting list will be accepted. Because those in the program might be there for 20 years or longer, the facility isn’t as accesible as Roberts and Knott would like, although anyone can visit and check out everything DayStar offers.
Knott hopes to see new facilities open. After all, the one at the Dye-Clay YMCA and the one at the Barco-Newton YMCA are the only two in Clay County and the only two in the country. Roberts, on the other hand, dreams of a grander and more holistic program where the people in it live at the facility. Neither Roberts or Knott are sure what the future holds in that regard but for now, both are content with their DayStar family.
“It’s awesome seeing being able to service someone in need and DayStar allows us to do that,” Roberts said. “These people love you no matter what. They might not be able to express it vocally in some cases, but their actions tell us everything we need to know.
“They appreciate us just as we appreciate them.”