Surprise! Board Donates $10k to New Debbie Justice Sensory Garden

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.

Debbie Justice (left, foreground) gets a surprise at the City Council meeting once she's told the sensory  garden at the All Abilities Park will be named after her, St. George, Utah, May 21, 2015 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

Debbie Justice (left, foreground) gets a surprise at the City Council meeting once she’s told the sensory garden at the All Abilities Park will be named after her, St. George, Utah, May 21, 2015 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

“Now, at this point I’d like to invite Debbie Justice, our executive director, to come up and join us,” Draper said.

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 Learning Center for Families founder Debbie Justice at the nonprofit's 20-year reunion, date, location not specified | Photo courtesy of TLC Development Officer Janie Belliston, St. George News

The Learning Center for Families founder Debbie Justice at the nonprofit’s 20-year reunion, Town Square Park, St. George, Utah, Sept. 21, 2013 | Photo courtesy of TLC Development Officer Janie Belliston, St. George News

Naming the sensory garden after Justice is a way to honor Justice and the families TLC serviced, Draper said. In a statement released by TLC shortly after Justice received her surprise, Draper said many of the 13,000 families helped by Justice and center staff have had children with sensory processing disorder.

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.


View St. George News article and video
View The Independent article

See more: 
City unveils design for All Abilities park; animated video shows dinosaur theme


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