It was nearly 40 years ago when Jackson residents Margaret and Chuck Doumitt found out two of their children were diagnosed with Batten’s Disease, a genetic disorder that causes blindness, seizures and other symptoms for which there’s no known cure.
It was 35 years ago when the couple worked together with as many partners in the community as they could find to establish The Star Center.
They set out originally to simply figure out how to help their children, but that effort grew into a mission that’s lasted 35 years and has helped thousands of people mainly in West Tennessee but has expanded in the last couple years across the entire state.
Last Thursday night was an opportunity for those connected to The Star Center to honor the legacy of the Doumitts and those who have been a part of the effort, including Jennifer Graves, who’s been The Star Center’s executive director for nearly a year.
“Margaret Doumitt is a force,” Graves told the crowd at the Carl Grant Center at Union University. “I was nervous the first time I met her after I went to work at The Star Center, and I’m nervous now talking about everything she’s done and what she and Chuck mean to The Star Center.”
Throughout the evening, videos and a slideshow played on the screens in the room, showing the impact The Star Center has had on the lives of its clients, helping children and adults with special needs live productive and less-dependent lives that otherwise they might not have without the presence of The Star Center.
“I remember when The Star Center first started and I first heard about it,” Graves said. “I was sitting in Ann Singleton’s class when I was a student here at Union, and I thought, ‘Wow! That sounds like a cool place to work someday.’ And I was right.
“The Star Center is the Doumitts’ legacy, and we’re grateful for that legacy.”
Jackson Mayor Scott Conger was on hand to give a key to the city to the Doumitts, which was a full-circle moment because it was Conger’s grandfather, former Jackson Mayor Bob Conger, who was present on behalf of the City for The Star Center’s ribbon-cutting after it had started in a church basement and opened its first permanent location.
The Center now serves 4,000 people each year and reaches all 95 counties of the state.
“I never dreamed that our desire to help our children would lead us to something that’s helped people from across the country,” said Margaret Doumitt after she and Chuck had just received a standing ovation from the crowd. “We were just looking for options to help our children, George and Angela, continue their education after they were each diagnosed at ages 9 and 11.”
She said in 1985, there were no places like The Star Center near Jackson. There were only a handful of them across the country, and they were all in the largest metropolitan areas.
So they officially opened the Center’s first location in the building that housed West Jackson Elementary School before moving to their current location in 2002.
By 2005, the Center was the largest place of its kind in the country.
“None of us here have a legacy that has touched as many lives as Chuck and Margaret’s,” Graves said. “And most of us in this room are glad to be a small part of that legacy and carrying on the vision they had 35 years ago when they were just trying to help their children.
“I can tell you from my short time with the Center so far that we truly are a family and works hard together and loves every one of our clients, and I’m proud to be a part of this team.”
The Center also honored those who have been with the organization for more than 30 and 20 years.
Two employees have surpassed three decades of service: Nancy Connors and Selina Crawford.
Six others have been there for 20 years or longer: Jennifer Cunningham, Misty Hart, Ray Holder, Mable Paschal, Emmita Raynor and Bryan Taylor.
Brandon Shields, firstname.lastname@example.org