When Margarita Santiago and Ana Fernandez first envisioned opening an adult medical day care center in 2012, they had no idea how much a center of the Camden, NJ community their business would become.
“It started with the idea that we could create a better experience for adults in an underserved area, and for the Hispanic community in our area of Camden as well,” said Margarita, who drew on her administration background as a Hispanic Community Liaison in Camden before joining forces with Ana, who worked for the New Jersey Judiciary for 27 years, helping people throughout the state on their paths to citizenship. “Too many people were isolated and not engaged. We jumped into that ocean to help fill the void.”
“Ana and I have found that our business, STARS Adult Medical Day Care Center, is more than a resource for the community,” said Margarita. “It is a labor of love, each and every day.”
As the only Latinas in New Jersey to own an adult medical day care center, Margarita and Ana embrace their role in not only helping community members at STARS, but at home as well.
“We’ve expanded our services over the years as clients’ needs have grown,” said Ana. “Our staff is 98% bilingual, and we’ve branched into assisting them at home and in their daily lives, setting and taking them to doctor and therapy appointments, taking them to the grocery store and bank, and helping make sure they have meals, which was especially needed during the pandemic.”
STARS has branched out in other ways as well, as they have become a community hub. “Before we opened, there was one community center in our area of Camden, and the doors were almost always locked,” said Margarita. “People were traveling elsewhere for life events like weddings and family gatherings. We fought hard, but eventually were able to get a license to host events and now have a full banquet hall for community members to have a place to gather and celebrate important moments in their lives.”
Adds Ana, “it’s also important to know that our center and services are not just for seniors. We are able to assist developmentally disabled adults who have maxed out of schools or other assistance, for example, throughout Camden, Burlington and Gloucester counties.”
Margarita and Ana also keep area residents informed and entertained with their own radio station, STARSRadio.fm, which streams on Live365 every day.
The impact on their community stretches far and wide, according to WSFS Bank’s Gladys Parilla, who as Vice President, Small Business Relationship Manager has worked with Margarita and Ana for several years to support their banking and lending needs.
“Margarita and Ana put the sweat equity into STARS and take great pride in their work,” said Gladys. “They took a building that needed a lot of work to make their dream a reality, with a lot of love poured in. Many of the same employees who were helping to open STARS by cleaning and bleaching the building to open are still there. That’s a testament to the leadership and impact Margarita and Ana bring to STARS and Camden’s Hispanic community.”
“We’re grateful to be a force that has had a positive impact on our community,” said Ana. “Every day, we strive to ensure that no one that needs help is left behind.”
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