Surprise!

By Dexter McCree, Feature Writer

ST. PETERSBURG – On the rainy morning of Saturday, Feb. 1, Janice Starling-Williams prepared to attend a faith-based meeting assembling to address issues affecting the community. Soon after the gathering, she along with her good friend Cheryl Sage, headed to Glory Days Grill Fourth Street for a bite to eat.

Unbeknownst to Starling-Williams, she was walking into a get together of more than 40 friends and family prepared to wish her well for her birthday. 

As she entered the restaurant, Janice flashed her signature smile, greeting the host and hostess of the restaurant, yet unaware of the wonder that she was about to face. 

“Surprise,” screamed her family and friends. 

The shocked look on her face told the story that she had been outdone. Several of the faces she now connected eyes with had been on the phone with her moments earlier. Others were involved in making plans with her for other endeavors and no one let on that they would come together to celebrate her. 

“I can’t believe this,” said Starling-Williams. “I just talked to you,” she said to some of the guest.

Jimmy Starling, brother and the youngest of six siblings, shared the experience of growing up with his sister. 

“She taught me everything, including how to drive, cook, wash dishes and to be a leader.” 

In high school, Starling became class president at Dixie Hollins High School in 1984 and credits his sister for encouraging and preparing him for the task.

Starling-Williams was born Feb. 2, 1964, and is a 1982 graduate of Dixie Hollins High School. She went on to earn a bachelor’s degree from Nova University and a master’s from the University of Phoenix. 

She taught at Madeira Beach Elementary before being appointed to the Pinellas County School Board by then-Governor Jeb Bush. 

With her professional career thriving, her heart sent her to work in the family business, Starling School and Day Care, started by parents, the late Jimmy and Viola Starling. 

Soon afterwards, Starling-Williams was diagnosed with kidney disease.  A woman of faith, she put her trust in God. With the love and support of her family and friends, she is winning the battle over the illness. 

“All that I had been taught about walking by faith and not by sight, I knew that God would heal me. I believed that I would live to live and not live to die.”

Six years ago, Starling-Williams received a kidney from a young donor. This young man’s kidney was such a blessing that she named it Glory. She turned her battle over kidney disease into support and awareness of the disease. 

In 2009, Starling-Williams started the All Kidney Patient Support Group. As the founder, her work allowed her to impact kidney patients all over the world. 

Her husband, Michael Williams, recently passed away, and through her faith, family and friends, she continues to endure.

At the party, Michael Jean Felix, of the All Kidney Patients Support Group, presented her the Outstanding Community Leadership Award in appreciation for her extraordinary dedication, generous commitment, time, support and inspiration.

Jean-Felix met Starling-Williams three years ago while taking care of his mother suffering from kidney disease. She welcomed him with open arms and offered countless support.  He was ecstatic to be a part of the celebration.

“Today was a total surprise, Starling Williams stated. “I’m so blessed and thankful to God that he was able to show me his love through my friends and family.”

To reach Dexter McCree, email dmccree@theweeklychallenger.com

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