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Special needs daycare celebrates 30 years

Special needs daycare celebrates 30 years


The Developmental Learning Center (DLC) in Jacksonville marked 30 years of service to its community in early September. A special celebration featured inspirational guest speaker Pam Tebow, along with about 130 parents, staff and students giving thanks for years of miracles.

Like so many blessed success stories, DLC’s beginnings were simple. It was the idea of a United Methodist special education teacher and housed in Murray Hill UMC.

Amy Buggle, a member at Crossroad UMC, identified the problems of parents of children with special needs. She saw that these parents had no options for daycare for their kids and were unable to work to provide for them and their families.

“I had been a special education teacher in Duval County, teaching children with severe disabilities. I realized that there wasn’t a daycare which could fill their needs. So often, parents couldn’t work towards financial stability and a happy family life,” Buggle said.

At that time, she lived near Murray Hill UMC, and the church was seeking new ministry opportunities. The leadership, some of whom had family struggles involving special needs, welcomed the creation of such a daycare facility and it has grown steadily.
Left to right, Heather Corey, Amy Buggle, executive director and founder and a past parent, Ashley Metz and her daughter Caitlyn, who was a former student. She had severe heart defects, had a tracheotomy and G-tube for feeding at the age of one when she started. She graduated by age 3, eating on her own and walking independently. She is now 15 attending Yulee HIgh school and a cheerleader.
Buggle is the founder and executive director, now with a staff of 30, including nurses, therapists and extra staff which can provide necessary one-on-one care.

“We are kind of a church Monday through Friday,” Buggle said, pointing to difficulties of caring for special needs children and wanting the best for them.

Having the facility housed in a church was also part of the original dream. Sometimes clients attend local churches and sometimes not. But that’s not the goal, she said.

“We wanted to meet people where their needs or hurts were and offer healing and support for them,” she said.

After school and summer programs are now part of the curriculum. The cost to parents is on a sliding scale, and many scholarships are in place.

“Many times, people have had good jobs and a solid income, but their finances became drained by medical costs and they were not able to pay for childcare. A lot will start out on scholarships, and as they can work, then they pay. Donations and grants support us, too,” she said.

DLC is a 501c3 religious charitable organization.

To date, 4,500 children have come through DLC’s doors, and the organization has expanded to two different locations with five classes in each. Children enjoy all the fun and learning of regular daycare, but they are secure with having on-site nursing care and medical therapies.

Because the children have found a safe place to thrive, many have accomplished things that might have once seemed impossible, including 27 high school graduations.

Caitlyn Metz is one former student who attended the celebration September 12. She started at daycare at age one with severe heart defects, a tracheotomy and G-tube for feeding. She graduated by age three, eating on her own and walking independently.

She is now 15 attending Yulee High school and a cheerleader. 

Pam Tebow, mother of Heisman Trophy winner and local hero Tim Tebow, was just the person to speak at the event, Buggle said.

Pam Tebow travels widely, encouraging audiences to use the incredible influence God has given them to impact their world eternally. In this corner of Florida, the DLC has been doing just that.

—Anne Dukes is a freelance writer based in Decatur, GA.