Thirteen years ago, when Jessica Myer of McClure was facing the loss of her rented one-room trailer, her landlady told her where to go.
“My landlady said, ‘I didn’t want to give you this place. I knew you wouldn’t be able to keep it.’ Then she told me about this lady in Cairo who might be able to help me,” Jessica says.
“I was at the end of my rope. My refrigerator went out, my sister’s family needed somewhere to stay and moved in with me, then I caught the flu and the house got infested with bed bugs. I was an addict and a new mom. I felt like a loser,” she says.
She took her landlady’s advice and drove down 35 miles south to Cairo, to Daystar Community Program.
“I walked into Daystar and Sherry Miller said she would help me,” Jessica says. “But she said, ‘It doesn’t do any good for Daystar to pay your rent if you don’t help yourself.’
“Sherry was the queen of tough love,” Jessica adds.
Sherry Miller passed away Oct. 30, 2022. She was 75. She was celebrating her 32nd year with Daystar last year.
But her legacy lives on in the lives of all those she helped with their struggles. People like Jessica.
“I was an addict with a newborn baby. Instead of buying food, I bought drugs,” she says. “Sherry didn’t just help me stay in my home, she gave me hope and encouragement. When I had my first baby, Sherry told me, it is no longer about you. You’ve got to learn to manage your money. She helped me learn to do that. She helped me stay on the right path.”
“I came back at Christmas,” Jessica says. “I went into Daystar and said, ‘Can I get some help?’ I had had to burn all our bedding because of the bedbugs and buy new mattresses and hire an exterminator. We had nothing left. Daystar gave us pillows, blankets, sheets, and Christmas presents. Daystar was an answered prayer.”
“We never say no,” says Amy Conaway, the interim director at Daystar. “We want to be helpful in some way.”
Over the years Jessica would return to Daystar’s food pantry “out of true need,” she says.
“It was all very stressful for a young mom,” she says. “Daystar takes some of the burden off your shoulders.”
Now 38 and the mother of three, Jessica has come full circle.
“Sherry helped me to grow up,” she says. “Now I am trying to help others. Daystar was there to help us be better people and then to help others.”
Amy says, “It made me so proud of you, Jessica, when you called me to see about getting some help for another family.”
“Amy is like Sherry,” Jessica says. “Everything Amy does comes from love.”
“Sherry was the best mentor I could ever have had,” Amy says.
Amy Conaway was Sherry Miller’s right hand since she began working at Daystar in 2016. Amy had just gotten divorced and had returned to school when she took the job at Daystar on a whim.
“I didn’t know anything about social work!” she says. “But I prayed about it and I had some good guidance from Sherry.”
She says she made the right choice. “I do enjoy what I do,” she says.
“Amy knows the resources in our community and the needs of our community,” Jessica says.
Hearing about Daystar those 13 years ago was a godsend, not only for Jessica, but for all of the people Jessica has been able to direct to Daystar over the years.
“You don’t expect any help,” she says. “Not everyone has a heart like Amy. If they do they want to do it on their terms.”
Amy says, “It is not ours to judge the deserving from the undeserving poor. That is the hardest part of social work.”
Daystar, founded in 1978 by the Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ, is one of the Diocesan agencies that receives funding from the annual Catholic Service and Ministry Appeal.
The region served by Daystar Community Program, including Cairo and the surrounding Pulaski and Alexander counties, are some of the poorest areas in the United States.
And yet in the midst of all that poverty, Daystar shines like a beacon. Daystar’s soup kitchen, run by Tim Petty, serves as many as 200 meals a day.
“The poverty in this area is so concerning,” Amy says. “All of these little communities are fighting over the same few resources.”
“When you go to Daystar, you don’t just get help with material things, you get spiritual help too,” Jessica says.
Today, Jessica and her husband Jamie are more likely to be helping others than looking for help.
Though it is still a struggle raising three kids on $16,800 a year, which is far below the federal poverty level of $32,470 for a family of five.
Jamie, who is on disability, still volunteers to deliver meals to shut-ins and is a trustee for the village of McClure.
“They are so thankful someone comes around to check on them,” he says.
“These people have no one to help them,” Jessica says. “All the young people have moved away. But moving away doesn’t solve your problems.”
Jessica volunteers at Spark Ministries, a non-denominational church and outreach center in McClure. On Wednesday nights, the couple helps cook dinner for about 80 people, mostly kids.
“Sherry taught us, we need to be the the hands and feet of Jesus,” Jessica says.