Havin’ a ball at the TLC Corporate Sports Challenge fundraiser

Several local businessmen and women laced up their sneakers last Friday to help raise money for TLC at the first annual Corporate Sports Challenge fundraiser held at the Washington City Community Center.  Eight teams competed in 15 minute rotations such as dodge ball, sand volleyball, tug-o-war, obstacle course, rock wall, pickleball, track relay, water roller balls and a hoop shoot challenge.  

MACU CSC (Medium)

Mountain America Credit Union took home the title of first place and a member of the InfoWest team won the drawing for a 2 hour hot air balloon ride donated by Rocky Neal. Other businesses who sent teams included  weBoost, Therapia Healing Centers, Corporate Alliance, and The Neal Group at Merrill Lynch. Guests enjoyed breakfast (donated by Grandma Tobler’s Bakery) and lunch (donated by Einstein Bros. Bagels) and had a chance at winning donated gift cards from businesses like Platinum Car Wash, Riggatis, Coral Canyon Floral, Red Robin, Olive Garden, TruAudio and The Habit.  The event was generously sponsored by Rock Canyon Bank, the Washington City Community Center, MegaPro, Corporate Alliance of Southern Utah, Town & Country Bank and Simmons Media.

If you or your business are interested in helping us plan for the 2016 Corporate Sports Challenge, please contact us at (435) 673-5353 or email jbelliston@tlc4families.org

CSC group photo (Medium)

TLC team 8 (Medium)

Rocky rock wall (Medium)

weBoost CSC (Medium)

Corporate Alliance team (Medium)

Jeff Sherman water ball

WCCC staff (Medium)

TLC team 7 (Medium)


TLC Announces New Executive Director

The Spectrum – July 22, 2015

The Learning Center for Families has named a successor for Debbie Justice, the founder of the nonprofit organization that serves the families of “vulnerable children” throughout Washington County and the Arizona Strip with early-intervention programs.

Suzanne Leonelli of Centerville will take the helm of the program that has become known to thousands of area families simply as TLC when Justice retires in September, the organization announced Wednesday.

Justice launched the elemental early childhood intervention program more than two decades ago to provide a better alternative to the system she had dealt with inSouthern California as an “annoyed consumer” mom who had a special needs child of her own.

She began working with toddlers and investigated ways intervention programs could provide support for families with young children, which led her to Southern Utah and a collaboration with state Health Department officials, she told The Spectrum & Daily News last month.

Justice co-founded TLC in 1993 with a Hurricane location loaned to the organization by the Fire Department. TLC now has four sites and 65 employees. It’s budget has grown “30-fold.”

“Debbie has laid an incredible foundation. She’s really laid down an empire in the community,” Leonelli said Wednesday. “(But) there are still others to be served. That’s always been an issue for nonprofits – there’s always more demand than services offered. It all comes down to funding.”

Leonelli has more than 17 years of experience working for nonprofit and governmental agencies, most recently as the program coordinator for the Utah Department of Health’s Office of Home Visiting, an agency of the Bureau of Child Development that strengthens parenting capabilities and overall family functioning.

The OHV’s voluntary programs draw on federal funds to provide social support and resource information beginning during pregnancy and continuing, in many cases, until children are in school. The Department of Health is based in Salt Lake City and TLC is a partner.

Leonelli said she provided direct oversight of TLC’s contract with her state agency. TLC receives funding from two Bureau of Child Development programs, as well as other agencies not related to the OHV.

“I’ve been able to interface with them very intimately for the last two and a half years,” she said.

Leonelli will start Sept. 1 and work in tandem with Justice for a month until Justice’s last day, which is scheduled Sept. 28. An open house is planned at TLC that day from 2 to 5 p.m.

“Our process for finding a new director involved several months of meetings with our Succession Planning Committee, face-to-face and Skype interviews with many qualified candidates nationally and across the state and then bringing our final candidates in for a lunch meeting with our 60-plus staff members,” TLC Board President Shirlee Draper said in an emailed statement. “While we are sad to lose Debbie to a well-deserved retirement, we are confident that Suzanne is the right fit for this organization that is near and dear to so many families in our community.”

Justice praised Leonelli as someone with “a wealth of policy and practical experience.”

Before she joined the OHV, Leonelli served as executive director for the Ogden-based Prevent Child Abuse Utah, where she was an advocate for changes in policy at the legislative and judicial levels of government.

From 2007 to 2011, she worked as a vice president for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Utah in Salt Lake City.

She holds a master’s degree in administration, counseling and educational studies as well as a bachelor’s in political science from Fort Hays State University.

She also is a graduate of the University of Utah’s Nonprofit Academy of Excellence, and has overseen budgets of millions of dollars, including direct oversight of a $12 million federal grant as part of her OHV duties.

Leonelli said she had to do some diligence of her own before deciding to make the move from the Wasatch Front to St. George. She found that TLC is a highly regarded part of the community that “continues to learn” just like the families it serves, she said.

“It’s nice to see that. … There’s a lot of energy to grow the organization to be able to serve more families,” she said. “For many years, I have witnessed the positive impact this agency, its leadership and staff have played in the lives of children and families throughout Washington County and along the Arizona Strip.”

In her final year, Justice has been honored with Arizona governmental entity First Things First’s Champion for Young Children award at Centennial Park’s Masada Charter School as a result of her work with youngsters in the polygamous community, and the Community of Compassion – Nonprofit of the Year award presented to TLC by the St. George Chamber of Commerce.

St. George’s Leisure Services department also is naming a section of its All Abilities Park after her.

Follow Kevin Jenkins, @SpectrumJenkins. Call him at 435-674-6253.

TLC Program Honored by Kindermusik International

Tara Dunn, the director of the Kindermusik program at the Learning Center for Families in St. George, began a weekly session June 23 with five infants and their parents by covering her eyes and singing “Peek-a-boo / Peek-a-boo / I love you.”

Then Dunn sang “Itsy Bitsy Spider.”

She lay on her back and moved her legs up and down, as if she were pedaling. The toddlers, five mothers, and one father followed her directions. She later led a calypso number, and the parents approached the center of the room with their children from both sides of the walls.

More exercises followed, including blowing bubbles, and Dunn maintained a smile throughout the 45-minute session.

She had good reason to be cheerful. Kindermusik International notified Dunn via two emails on June 16 that the St. George Kindermusik program she oversees earned the Mezzanine Level Maestro status and Maestro in Outreach, both for the license year that began April 1.

Kindermusik International based the Mezzanine Level Maestro designation on overall enrollment in the program and the Outreach honor because of heavy participation of underserved children, including those with special needs, Dunn said. Dunn said Kindermusik International has presented the Mezzanine Level honor for three years in a row and the Outreach achievement for two of the three years.

With 125 children participating in Washington County, the local Kindermusik program ranks in the top 5 percent worldwide in terms of enrollment, Dunn said. She said she began teaching Kindermusik in 2002 when she lived in Port Clinton, Ohio, and launched the program at the Learning Center in 2011 with 25 to 30 children participating during the first semester.

The emails to Dunn state, “This mission, that we collectively call Kindermusik, couldn’t possibly have the breadth of benefit for children without you – your sacrifices, pure determination, elbow grease, and unwavering passion.” The achievements enable her program to use the Maestro logo; she also will receive certificates in the mail.

A brochure from Kindermusik International describes it as the “world’s leading music & movement program” that serves at least 1.5 million families and 5,000 or more educators in 70 or more countries.

The Kindermusik program at the Learning Center helps children from newborns to children age 5 to develop social, linguistic, and other skills, Dunn said, adding that the Learning Center receives state and federal money. The program currently offers 11 classes for different age groups that meet once a week and last year-round.

“Everything is developmentally appropriate,” Dunn said. “This model is unique because most Kindermusik programs are just [at] private studios.”

Dunn said the program is “process-based learning,” as with learning to play the piano as opposed to “performance-based” learning.

Referring to the children, Dunn said, “They might get into it the ability to get a steady beat.”

She said parents may obtain referrals for the program from physicians, social workers, and other professionals or enroll their children on their own.

Two mothers who took part June 23 said Kindermusik helps their children develop social skills.

Kara Misiak of St. George said her son, Lucas, 21 months old, is “getting a lot of socialization. He used to be very shy. Now he is more sociable.”

Like Misiak, Lindsey Stucki of St. George began enrolling her daughter, Rowen, in January.

“She’s just gotten really outgoing,” Stucki said.

Both Rowen and Lucas are only children, but Rowen has a sibling on the way because her mother is pregnant.

Kindermusik operates out of the Learning Center at 2044 S. Mesa Palms Drive, St. George. For more information, call (435) 673-5353.


Arizona First Things First 2015 “Champion for Young Children” award

Colorado City, AZ – Debbie Justice, Executive Director of The Learning Center for Families (TLC)was honored by the State of Arizona’s First Things First La Paz/Mohave Regional Partnership Council by being named the 2015 Champion for Young Children award on Wednesday, June 24th at 10:30am (MST) at the Masada Charter School located at 365 W. Cannon Ave., Centennial Park, AZ.   The Champion for Young Children award is presented annually to an individual who has made significant contributions to the field of early childhood development and health.

Debbie was selected for the award “because of her outreach efforts over the past 22 years to increase public awareness of the importance of early childhood education, as well as her coordination of several partnerships with other organizations to serve families in your community,” said Vijette Saari, Regional Director for the La Paz/Mohave Regional Partnership Council of First Things First.  Debbie has also been proactive in the business community when it comes to educating various groups about TLC’s mission and early childhood education, which earned TLC the 2015 Nonprofit of the Year award from the St. George Chamber of Commerce.  She has also built a strong, trusting rapport over the years with the Arizona communities of Colorado City, Centennial Park and Cane Beds and helped educate and bridge the cultural and linguistic divide that existed in those areas before.

“I am truly overwhelmed with this honor and hope that by shining a light on my work, the State of Arizona will see how difficult life is for families on the Strip and how vitally important programs such as First Thing First are in ensuring that our most vulnerable children are healthy and learning ready when they reach kindergarten,” said Debbie.

Debbie Justice co-founded TLC in 1993 with only three employees and one location and has since grown the agency to five locations and 65 employees. She has three children – one with special needs and has built an extensive resume of experience and awards over the years in the field of early childhood education.

Please visit www.azftf.gov for more information about the Arizona First Things First program.


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

TLC Receives Select 25 Award!

Thank you SelectHealth for naming The Learning Center for Families one of Utah’s Select 25 grant recipients at the award luncheon in Salt Lake on May 18, 2015.  We were one of 25 selected from 285 nonprofit organizations who applied from around the state to receive a $2,500 grant, marketing materials and a beautifully produced video about our services.