ST. GEORGE – A woman who has served the community for over 20 years found herself unexpectedly honored before the St. George City Council Thursday night after learning that her name will adorn a portion of the All Abilities Park.
Before the council’s official business began, Shirlee Draper and two other members of the board of directors of the Learning Center for Families presented the City of St. George with a $10,000 donation for the sensory garden portion of the All Abilities Park.
Justice came up to the podium and stood by Draper – she had no idea what was about the happen.
“What Debbie doesn’t know is that we have worked with the (city’s) Leisure Services Department, and they’ve agreed to let us name the sensory garden the ‘Debbie Justice Sensory Garden,’” Draper said.
The gathered crowd, many of whom had come to support the donation and witness Justice’s surprise, burst into loud applause. Justice was left speechless for a moment and began to tear up as the applause continued.
Justice co-founded the nonprofit Learning Center for Families in 1993. The nonprofit serves families with young children in a varieties of ways geared at early child development and healthy pregnancy education. The center also aids in the early detection of potential developmental delays in children ages 0-3.
Since its opening over 20 years ago, the Learning Center has helped 13,000 families. All the while, Justice has been there serving those families. However, her time as TLC’s executive director will come to an end when she retires in September.
“The impact she has had on the community can’t begin to be quantified,” Draper said, “but the long-term ripples will be felt as the first graduates of her program are just now becoming parents themselves.”
The incoming All Abilities Park, with its sensory garden and other amenities geared toward children, regardless of ability, is something that will benefit children with the disorder, as well as the families TLC serves overall, the statement read.
“When you think about it – Debbie, and your board, and your employees – that’s a generation, Debbie,” Mayor Jon Pike said. “That’s a generation of service.”
Private donations made toward the All Abilities Park are now around $300,000, City Manager Gary Esplin said. The park, which will be dinosaur-themed, is expected to be completed by late summer or early fall.