In August 2021, our Special Events Director Monica Jones celebrated 15 years at Root for Kids (previously The Learning Center for Families)! She currently plans all of our large events such as the Glow-in-the-Dark Golf Tournament and the Radiothon. But she has done so much throughout the years! We asked her to share her story below.
In November 2000, Debbie Justice (founder of TLC) visited my high school’s service club to share about her organization, The Learning Center for Families (TLC). It was like my heart had been pricked. After Debbie’s visit, I could not stop thinking about what she described of her organization and how passionately she spoke. Our service club organized a book drive for the beginnings of their lending library and assisted with wrapping Christmas gifts for enrolled families.
At this time, TLC was only providing services through Early Intervention state grants for Washington County, UT and the Arizona Strip. I would estimate they were serving an average of 150-200 children annually in a mixture of home-based and center-based services. Children with center-based services were dropped off by parents two times a week for a two-hour class. It is funny to think back on how our main services with families were with the parent and child separated. Thankfully, with the continuation of research and experience we were able to shift the focus of our services to a family focused model of supporting and modeling for parents and assisting them with implementing strategies and goals within their homes and daily routines.
After the first of the year in 2001, I stopped by the TLC office to visit with Debbie and ask about additional volunteering that might be available. I was desperate to learn more. We were able to organize work release credit where I came Monday-Friday for three hours each day to volunteer as a classroom aide, and in exchange I earned school credit toward graduation. It was a win-win!
During the last five months of my senior year, I fell in love with TLC and their mission. They were doing amazing work with children. I loved every minute of my time. As the school year ended, I was sad to leave. I had made new friendships with the staff and learned so much about child development- and of course loved the tiny, adorable children! A couple of weeks before graduation, Debbie asked if I could stay after one day and visit with her a little bit. If anyone knows Debbie, and knows who I was at 18, I was a little scared! She introduced me to Caroline Bass, an Occupational Therapist and one of the first employees of TLC. We visited about the last five months, and I shared some of my experiences and a-ha moments during that time. As the conversation begin to close, Debbie offered me a full-time position. I was speechless.
I officially began as an employee June 1, 2001 as a fresh high school graduate. I began as a classroom aide for EI classes and the play based therapy with Craig Roberts, and as a custodian. I was blessed to observe and learn from some of the most intelligent and compassionate people, some of whom are still employed here. I began our first toy and equipment inventory system, solely by pen and paper as the internet and computers weren’t very popular at this point in time. I ate up everything I could possibly learn. I signed up for every professional development opportunity and met more passionate early childhood educators.
During one of these trainings, I met someone from Utah’s School for the Deaf and Blind. My dream had always been to work with children who were deaf and hard of hearing. It felt like kismet. I learned more about deafblind children and services that are available for them. In the Washington County School District there were a set of four children in the same grade who were receiving services from USDB and they were going to place them in the same classroom to be taught in their native language, American Sign Language. It felt like I was being led to this opportunity. After a year and a half as an employee at TLC, I made the difficult decision to leave. I was hired as a Deafblind Intervener with USDB.
My time with the deaf students was a dream come true; I had been taking ASL classes since I was in 4th grade. It was a career path I had set as my goal in my 9th grade career exploration class. Knowing the language was one thing, learning how to motivate 10-year-olds to practice their math and English homework was another story! I learned so much during the first school year, again meeting some incredible people who mentored and taught me so much. During the second school year with USDB I decided I wanted to serve a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. I moved forward with preparations and by Christmas of 2003 they had found a replacement for my position, and I said goodbye to the Deaf class.
Early in 2004 my application process as a missionary was a delayed a little bit, so I began to search for a part time job. One afternoon I was driving down Sunset Boulevard when I saw one of the TLC employees turning into the TLC office parking lot. It had been a year a half since I had seen her and before I knew it, I was pulling in behind her. We were so excited to see one another and catch up. TLC had expanded so much over the last year and a half. She took me around don a tour of the expanded offices, introduced me to new employees and I embraced the staff I had previously worked with. All the excitement and passion swarmed all around me and I was head over heels for TLC again.
TLC had recently been awarded a new federal grant for an Early Head Start (EHS) program. They were right at the beginning phase of structuring the program, designing paperwork, creating spreadsheets for data tracking and marketing for enrollment. I shared that I was working towards leaving on a mission, but I was looking for a part time job in the meantime. I was surprised to leave that day as a new employee of TLC! This time I was working in the office helping the team create a database of sorts through Excel spreadsheets to track enrollment data and health requirements for their brand new 60 openings for EHS children.
I quickly moved to full-time hours as it became necessary. Once we got enrollment moving and our spreadsheets were functioning well, my responsibilities broadened to more tasks with Health Services: scheduling hearing and vision screenings, requesting and receiving medical records, plus lots of other odds and ends! I ended up staying a little over a year, leaving in May 2005. It was incredible to see our organization grow through the addition of the EHS grant and the ever growing impact it was having on the families of Washington County.
After my time as a missionary I moved to Orem, UT to pursue my education. Since my high school graduation I had taken a class here and there at Dixie State University, but nothing towards an actual degree. I was ready to move forward in my education and to help make an impact on the world. Utah Valley University (UVU) had recently begun their Deaf Education programs and I was ecstatic. In 2009, during my second year of school, I was walking the halls of UVU and it happened to be career week. I passed by a booth that had photos of infants and toddlers- one photo in particular stood out to me. A photo of toddlers sitting in brightly colored cube chairs stopped me dead in my tracks. My heart rose in my chest, and I was flooded with memories of my time at TLC. It was like being drenched in a rainstorm. It was all I could think about for days. I was deep in my deaf education program, and ironically, just a few weeks before this I had found myself dreading my interpreting service hours. This felt like a push to rethink my goals. But I pushed it aside and continued the semester.
When summer came, things were coming up at home and my brother was needing some support and I felt like I needed to return to St. George to be with my family. I left Orem with a plan to return to my job and schooling. I had acquired new housing, registered for classes, and secured my job at a local bookstore. I headed home for the summer.
It was down to the wire, I would say a week, maybe 10 days before I needed to return to school at UVU, and I made the decision to stay in St. George. I was so torn, but felt I needed to stay close to family. I immediately applied to DSU and registered for classes.
A dear friend from TLC let me stay in her basement for the summer, and she was kind to allow me to stay through the end of the year. Since I didn’t have many bills, I wasn’t rushed to find a job and I just focused on school and family. I changed my degree to early childhood education and worked towards finishing an associate’s degree at DSU. A few weeks into the semester, my friend shared that TLC was preparing for the federal review of their EHS program. They had been providing services for about five years at this point. She had asked Debbie if they would like some assistance auditing files in preparation. She said yes, and I began a temp job with TLC auditing files. The review preparations went on for about six weeks, and before I knew it, I was offered a part-time position as a home visitor for early intervention.
In early 2010, TLC was given an expansion grant from the Office Head Start that expanded the existing EHS program from 60 children to 132 children. I applied for a full-time home visitor position that would expand my responsibilities to EHS families and EI families. I was part of a lucky group of 10 additional women that joined the organization.
Since 2009, I graduated from DSU with my bachelor’s degree in Human Development & Communication, with an emphasis in Early Childhood Education. I have enjoyed six more job positions within Root for Kids that have opened my knowledge and experience to additional home visiting programs, data management, staff training and development, to leading the EHS program and now serving on our development team designing fundraising events for our incredible organization. We have rebranded to Root for Kids to better align with our mission and have expanded from one program to five. We are now serving 600+ families every month.
The word ‘grateful’ is not enough to express how fortunate I feel to be apart of the Root for Kids organization. It is a part of who I am, it is marked in my very DNA. I am so grateful for the multiple opportunities I have had to return to the organization, for the incredible people I have the honor to observe and learn from, and for being a witness to the beautiful and inspiring work within family’s homes. There is no better place I would rather be.
We are very fortunate to have Monica in our team! If you want to be a part of Root for Kids, check out our employment opportunities.