Our Founding in the 1980s
The STAR Center was founded by Margaret and Chuck Doumitt and opened on April 21st, 1988. When their two children, George and Angela, began losing their eyesight, Margaret and Chuck searched the nation to find solutions. At the time, the only resources available that would help their children to realize their potential were assistive technology centers in distant major cities.
Rather than relocate from their home in Jackson, Tennessee, the Doumitt family organized a support group of parents, medical professionals, and concerned citizens in West Tennessee. After much consultation with community leaders, Project STAR was launched in 1988 in the basement of the gymnasium of West Jackson Elementary.
Project STAR consisted of donated Apple II computers, the latest in assistive technology, and an all-volunteer staff. With a growing collection of hardware and software, we began a computer lab program that continues to this day.
Growth Through the 1990s
In 1990, Project STAR outgrew the space and moved into the basement of Lambuth University. Paid staff were hired, and in 1994, the STAR Center purchased its own facility, a 10,000 square foot building on Lynoak Cove.
We formed a partnership with Tennessee’s Vocational Rehabilitation Services to provide computer and job training. We purchased a 42-foot bus, the Access Express, and converted it into a mobile version of STAR.
In addition, we began Therapy Services to help people with disabilities meet social and emotional needs. We expanded our services to address vision issues and hired Orientation and Mobility specialists. We started a Home Care division focused on dignity and quality of life, so that people with disabilities may stay in their own homes.
A New Facility in The 2000s
By 2001, the STAR Center was outgrowing its 10,000 square foot facility on Lynoak Cove. A vacant lot was purchased across the street from the Lynoak Cove building, but it was determined that two buildings would not serve our clients well. In 2004, the former USJ Elementary school building became available for purchase, and the board of the STAR Center moved quickly to acquire the property.
In 2005, the STAR Center opened the door to a 30,000 square foot facility at 1119 Old Humboldt Road, where we currently reside. In 2007, the former gymnasium of the school was renovated into a 440-seat Auditorium to host community events. During the 2000’s, we also developed our own database software to streamline our administration. Our services expanded greatly during the decade, such as our Home Care program which grew from serving 5 clients in 2000 to over 100 in 2009.
Advancement in the 2010s
In 2010, our founder Margaret Doumitt retired, but we continued to carry out our mission as we always have. In 2012, we won a Toyota Sienna from 100 Cars for Good to replace our Access Express bus with a much more compact vehicle for the smartphone age. In 2015, we added PROJECT SEARCH and Pre-Employment Transition Services to help high schoolers with disabilities transition into the workplace, and constructed two sensory rooms to better serve children with autism and other needs.
In 2016, the West Tennessee community came together for the first annual DWTS Jackson, which has grown to become our most successful fundraiser to date. We also began offering ECF CHOICES services in 2016 to help people with intellectual and developmental disabilities become employed and live as independently as possible.
Expansion in the 2020s
Despite beginning the decade with the COVID-19 Pandemic, we served more clients in 2020 than we did in the previous year. In 2019-2020, we expanded our Assistive Technology services into all of Middle Tennessee. In 2021, we signed a contract with the State of Tennessee to provide our Assistive Technology services to Vocational Rehabilitation clients statewide, from Memphis to Mountain City.
We are currently celebrating the 34th year of The STAR Center. We are led by President Jennifer Graves, operate on a multi-million dollar budget, and continue to improve our services to better carry out our mission. None of this would be possible without the support of the West Tennessee community and beyond.