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Angels Among Us- Daniel

By Julie Shepherd-Lovell

Editor's Note: This is the fourth in a series of stories about the remarkable people who are part of our Next Step Ministries' family. 

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19-year-old Daniel may have autism, but he’s also a bit of a ham. He’s a talented musician, and when he sits behind a set of drums in front of a crowd, his music speaks volumes about his love for life and the Lord.

“He started taking drum lessons from a wonderful man at our church,” says his mom, Zoey. “He really has a passion for drumming, and has been playing since he was about nine years old.” 

The Woodstock High School student first started beating the drums when he was nine years old, but he’s been beating the odds ever since he was born prematurely. Over the years, this inspiring young man has battled everything from autism, seizures and Crohn’s Disease to cirrhosis, cancer and a life-saving liver transplant.

 “Even now that he seems stable, we never forget to praise God and thank Him,” says Zoey, who is also thankful for her son’s resilience.

“I never see Daniel unhappy,” she adds. “Even when he’s in pain, he manages to be happy,” says his mom. “He fills my life with joy." 

Daniel is definitely a survivor, and so is his remarkable mom, who has raised him as a single parent since he was ten years old. Zoey’s deep faith, and her love for her son keep her going when life gets difficult. She also relies on her friends at Next Step Ministries, who help care for Daniel during school holidays and summer camps.

“A friend told me about Next Step when Daniel was about 12,” says Zoey. "At first, it was just a daycare, but then I started falling in love with the people who go there, with Lori Baker and the staff.”

“We just love having Daniel here,” says Lori.  “He loves history, and has a pretty good memory. Especially when he first started, he would come in quoting Bible verses. He also has a wonderful mom."

Zoey says Lori doesn’t just take care of Daniel; she supports the whole family. 

“Sometimes I go to Next Step, and I’m just dragging, and  Lori tells me, ‘Come on, you can do it,’" says Zoey. “She encourages and inspires. She is a woman of God. I know she does this for a lot of families."

At Next Step, Daniel participates in the job skills program.  Coordinator Cheryl Allison says he’s very capable and is a big help with work projects. She also calls him a charmer, who’s a pleasure to be around.

“He loves to share his love of music,” says Cheryl. “Music is such a natural energizer, and it is something that really binds us all. So that’s amazing that he does that.”

When he’s not hanging out with his friends at Next Step, Daniel keeps his mom on the go. 

“He’s very happy and active,” Zoey says. “He plays tennis for Special Olympics, and loves swimming. He likes movies, and memorizes the biographies of everybody from writers to composers. He’s always telling me something interesting."

Daniel plans to attend a Transition Academy after high school, and then wants to pursue music in college. But Zoey thinks her son will also always find a home at Next Step.

“It’s something inside his heart because of the way he’s treated and respected,” Zoey says. “Lori has a team of people who have a passion for children with special needs. I think God chose these people to be here, and chose Lori to open this business because they need a community.”