Root for Kids’ very own Maria DeWitt Gama organized a fundraiser called “Project Christmas Tree”. Maria understood that while there are plenty of resources for food, clothing, and toys accessible for those in need, the delight of having a Christmas tree with gifts underneath it contributes to the magic of the season. Maria spoke with a mother whose child asked for a Christmas tree. The mother had to ask her child if they wanted a tree or a present for Christmas as they didn’t have enough money for both.
Maria said, “Our Project Christmas Tree goal is to give away as many Christmas trees as possible to the people in our community who need one and can’t afford one. The idea of doing this fundraiser started when I posted our old Christmas tree for free on our local Facebook pages. The tree was gone within minutes. The person who took it said, “Thank you so much, we have a son who just moved here and doesn’t have a Christmas tree.” Even though the Christmas tree was already gone, I kept getting hundreds of messages from people who said they needed a Christmas tree.”
Maria truly exemplifies the spirit of the Root for Kids organization, helping as many families in our wonderful community as possible. She and her family have been working hard to ensure that some families are spared from having to make the difficult decision of giving a gift or the spirit of the holiday in their home.
Have a New or Gently Used Christmas Tree To Donate?
Do you have a new or gently used Christmas tree that you would like to donate to local families in need? Connect with us by filling out the Contact Us form below.
The Secret Garden Gala returned for its annual celebration of warmth, laughter, joy and tears at the lovely Garden Room in the Dixie Convention Center on May 12, 2023. Businesses, non-profits and locals joined together and raised money for the families of Root for Kids. We were honored to have Litehouse Inc return as our Platinum & Presenting Sponsor for the 5th year. Coy Bowles tuned in from Nashville with an inspirational keynote speech (along with an unplugged performance of two songs). All this and more in our recap of Root for Kids 30th Anniversary Secret Garden Gala
At 5:30 our guests arrived to socialize and view our live auction items (over 100 items, generously donated from local businesses and boutiques). After being seated, a delicious dinner of steak and salmon was served. Our evening’s hosts, Susi Lafaele and Ed Tracey welcomed the audience. Susi then shared an emotional personal story about her three nephews, who were enrolled in our Early Intervention program. Their family experienced great improvements. We absolutely love hearing stories of our alumni’s success.
Root for Kids wouldn’t be where we are today without the help of our local community. Every year, we like to show appreciation to those who give back so much, not only to us, but to the entire Southern Utah community. These are the people, businesses and organizations that received this year’s community awards:
Outstanding Community Partner: BlvdHome
Outstanding Business: Hughes General Contractors
Outstanding Health Partner: Family Healthcare
Outstanding Volunteer: Susan Sims
Outstanding Donor: Hurst Wood Foundation
Gardeners of Hope: James & Ilona Christopherson
Debbie Justice Legacy Award: Litehouse Inc. (our returning presenting sponsor)
Litehouse Inc Roots for Kids video.
This year, we had a very special guest join us from Nashville. Coy Bowles, guitarist, keyboardist, singer, and songwriter for the three-time Grammy Award-winning Zac Brown Band streamed in and gave our attendees a truly inspirational and toe-tappingly great keynote address. Coy is an advocate for literacy, early education, and teacher appreciation, so he fits right in with Root for Kids mission statement. To top it off, Coy donated all 5 of his award-winning children’s books, his children’s album, a signed Zac Brown Band CD, a signed Zac Brown Band LP, and a signed guitar, which was used as this year’s raffle prize! We can’t thank Coy enough for tuning in and making the Secret Garden Gala a magical evening.
As usual, our live auction became hilariously rambunctious. Susi and Ed were fantastic at keeping the mood light and the bidding high. Trips to Mexico, Canada, the Grand Canyon and Sonoma wine country were in high demand. Our friends at BlvdHome donated a luxurious mattress that raised a lot of paddles. A Parade of Homes limo tour finished the auction and was snapped up quickly.
Our 30th Anniversary – A celebration of our alumni
After the live auction, we were honored to have Cydney Holt speak. Her daughter, Temery is one of our enrolled children. Temery had a rough start on life – open heart surgery and non-verbal delays caused by a rare 22q11 deletion syndrome. With the help of Kindermusik and in-home speech therapy, Temery is now starting to verbalize. Her daughter’s story, like so many other children, is the heart of Root for Kids. Which is why for this year’s Gala video, we wanted to celebrate our alumni of the past 30 years and share several success stories. You can watch the video here.
And with that highly emotional note, we would once again like to say thank you to our sponsors, emcees, donors, gala committee, and volunteers for putting on a great evening. We can’t wait to see you next year!
Throughout the year, we have several events that help raise thousands of dollars for our organization. These events are critical in our success by raising funds for our families in need and organization. The Secret Garden Gala is one of our biggest events. This event simply would not have happened without our sponsors. Litehouse Inc returned for the 5th year as our platinum & presenting sponsor. Litehouse has been one of our most consistent donors through the years and we cannot thank them enough. The American Dream Foundation and BlvdHome were our gold sponsors, and they also belong in this category of donors who consistently help Root for Kids’ mission by being a recurring donor. Watts Construction, Flitch, Albertsons Foundation and Southern Utah Home Builders Association were our silver sponsors, and again recurring donors who show us support year after year. Every sponsorship makes a huge impact in our community, and filling out our bronze sponsorships were Altabank, Snow Jensen & Reece, Charlotte Shelley, Friends of TLC, Utah Tech Nursing, Main Street Insurance, Unite Us, America First Credit Union, Infinite Solutions Inc, Rainbow Sign & Banner, University of Utah Health, Stapley Pharmacy, Ruthy’s Fit Club & Fashion, State Bank of Southern Utah and Infowest. To all of our sponsors, from all of us at Root for Kids, Thank you!
Despite all of the uncertainties of last year, 2021 left us with so much to be grateful for! Our wonderful community of donors, volunteers, staff, and community partners really stepped up their efforts to help families and young children in our community. While we are looking forward to what 2022 will bring, check out our Top Ten Moments of 2021:
On December 15, radio stations Mix 103.1, Coyote 102.9, Kool 98.9 and Zion 104.2 spent the day interviewing sponsors, families, staff and encouraging people to donate to Root for Kids. This year we were able to have two locations for donations, one at Root For Kids and the second location was at Green Gate Village. We had many volunteers come to help with this big event. This year again we were able to take pictures with members of the community that made donations! We appreciate Red Rock Media for sponsoring this event and all of the volunteers and donors who made it possible.
Due to the pandemic, Root for Kids was unable to do our annual Gala in person, so we just rolled with the punches and organized our first Annual Root for Kids Glow in the Dark Golf Tournament. This event took place at Coral Canyon Golf Course. We decided to elevate this event by making the tournament glow in the dark! Everyone who participated had a great time. Last year our tournament sold out and this year we already have a waiting list. If you want to participate in this event sign up here, the event will be held on October 21, 2022.
Our Amazing Employees
At the start of 2021 we thought that life would go back to “normal”, but as we know it did not. Our amazing employees were resilient and adapted to our situation and we were able to serve all of our families. Home visits were still being made through Zoom and families were still getting the care and attention they needed. Later in the year, we transitioned back to in person visits and events with the proper health protocols in place. Even with all the changes and challenges, our employees kept going above and beyond.
We also had employees that had efforts that were recognized outside of our company; our Chief Health Officer Tena Heward was awarded the Committed Community Partner award by Dixie State University, Rosie Sever (Community Outreach and Volunteer Coordinator) received the Element Award by the St. George Chamber of Commerce. And last but not least, Monica Jones (Special Events Director) was recognized as one of the 30 in their 30’s by the St. George Chamber of Commerce.
This year we were able to return to in-person events again. Which meant; parent nights, once a month play groups, fatherhood events and family unity events were back in full swing. It was fun to be able to host these events again and see the parents and children interact.
We appreciate all of our sponsors and all that they help us achieve for the community and the families that we serve. As one of our many sponsors, TDS made a $100 donation to Root for Kids for every touchdown made at Dixie State University home games. It was such a fun initiative and we are grateful for everyone who thinks of us when fundraising opportunities arise!
Nurture & Grow Luncheon
At our Nurture and Grow luncheon we had the opportunity to have Dr. Patrick Carroll from the NICU at Intermountain Hospital come and speak to us about what the NICU can and cannot do to support babies and their families while they are in their care and once they leave their facility. Fun fact: most preemie babies that are in the NICU here in St. George are then referred to Root For Kids for a great head start in life!
Little Free Library
We are so grateful to the Rotary Club of Dixie Sunrise for making it possible for our St. George, La Verkin, Hildale and Colorado City locations to have Little Free Library facilities! They also donated dozens of books that fill each library at each location. We are so excited to be able to offer this opportunity to all families in the surrounding areas.
We were so happy to once again have the Baby Contest virtually in 2021 in association with the Washington County Fair. If you want to register your baby for this year’s contest, you may register at their website. Along with participating in the contest, you will also receive a Baby Contest T-shirt and an activity booklet.
We are delighted to announce that our Kindermusik program was ranked a Top Program in 2021! This year we have Madison and Marnie teaching our Kindermusik classes. If you would like to meet them and join one of our 0-5 year old music classes, which are caregiver and kids classes, our new semester just started and we still have classes available. Sign up today!
And last but certainly not least, we wanted to say a huge thank you to all of our volunteers that helped us through 2021! They helped with diaper bundles to putting together home visit materials (play kits). Our medical volunteers from the Dixie State University Dental Hygiene Program did dental cleanings for the families enrolled. We just wanted to say a big heartfelt huge thank you to everyone that helped us during our big events. We could not have had such a successful year without you!
Thank you for supporting Root for Kids and being a part of these special moments with us. Let’s make new memories together this year! Get involved today.
Amria Farnsworth is from Northern Utah and is currently a Dietetics Intern at Utah State University (USU) graduating this spring. In the past few years, Amria has been heavily involved with the Val. R. Christensen Service Center at USU, especially with the various food programs. These experiences have allowed her to connect with and help people. She’s worked primarily with reducing food insecurity on campus and in the community. She grew up in a multicultural family and developed a passion for learning about people, their cultures and their stories and finding ways to help them. She also is a self-proclaimed foodie so becoming a registered dietitian is her way of combining her passions.
This coming year she will continue completing her 1000-hour Dietetic Internship at various facilities in Utah and Arizona. She is currently interning at Root For Kids in Southern Utah. This is an Early Head Start and Early Intervention program serving 600 families per month. Amria has been working on bolstering the nutrition screening information, providing updated nutrition information for employees to share with enrolled families, researching effective interventions for children with feeding issues, and updating facility menus among other things.
Upon completion of her hours, Amria will take the exam to become a registered dietitian. Afterwards she plans on pursuing a Master of Public Health. She hopes to work in a hospital treating patients for the first few years of her career. Eventually, she wants to advance her career in public health to increase and improve the efforts of chronic disease prevention. She’s excited to become a registered dietitian and use her experiences to develop a career improving the health and lives of others.
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.
We were excited to present this year’s awards in person at our Nurture & Grow Annual Luncheon. Each recipient has made unparalleled contributions to Root for Kids and the kids we serve.
Outstanding Community Partner: Dixie State University
We have developed a strong relationship with Dixie State University, and they have become one of our greatest community partners. The students, athletes, coaches, professors, and administrators have volunteered with us in many capacities including: making bottle shakers, lacing kits, activity kits, painting our logo on puzzle blocks for our little ones, re-bundling diapers, cleaning/sanitizing our childcare toys and helping to maintain our yard. Many have also shadowed our home visitors, therapists, teachers, and staff.
DSU has invited us to be a part of their career fairs to promote our organization where we have recruited interns and even found students we have hired as employees. We are fortunate to have many student interns that come through our doors and leave more equipped for the challenges they will face in their future business or nonprofit careers. We also love that we can share the world of child development and the nonprofit sector with them.
Outstanding Business: Nothing Bundt Cakes
Nearly 10 years ago, Nothing Bundt Cakes St. George was a simple dream for Kelly and Claudia Clayton. After their first Bite of Joy at a Thanksgiving Dinner, they just knew they had to share it with all their friends and family! Though they never imagined their dream would become a reality, in November 2019, it did just that as they opened the doors of their family-owned bakery.
Partnering with Root for Kids has been the perfect match since the bakery opened! They will never forget the first time they brought bundtinis over to the Root for Kids staff! Everyone was kind and welcoming and best of all, they loved the cake! Since then, our friendship and partnership has blossomed as Nothing Bundt Cakes has chosen Root for Kids for their Annual Charity Day and offered sponsorships, including desserts for the 2021 Charity Gala and sweet treats for the entire Root for Kids community! With the help of their daughter Kelsey and son-in-law Benetton, and all 5 of their children and spouses, they find nothing more rewarding, than Spreading the Joy to their local community through delicious cake!
Outstanding Health Partner: Southwest Utah Public Health Department
The Southwest Utah Public Health Department serves the residents of Washington, Iron, Kane, Beaver, and Garfield counties with the mission of protecting the community’s health through the promotion of wellness and the prevention of disease. From our agency’s inception, Root for Kids has had a rich and collaborative partnership. Together we share referrals back and forth for each other programs that benefit our enrolled families and children.
Prior to early childhood education staff being approved to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, our Health Department were aware of our needs and knew we serve a vulnerable population and made sure we had access to the vaccine as soon as possible. Much of the work they do is preventive and behind-the-scenes. They have been at the forefront of our region’s disease investigation and vaccination efforts during the COVID-19 pandemic and have appreciated working with all community residents and community partners during this challenging time.
Outstanding Volunteer: Fred Walker
Fred Walker has volunteered with Root for Kids in many capacities, along with his team from Infowest and with groups of college students. During different volunteer projects Fred made sure his groups were engaged and enjoying their time- including keeping them well fed! He has helped us prepare for our annual radiothons by putting together needed supplies. Fred and his team have been great to assist us with re-bundling diapers for the families we serve.
Fred is known for his phrase: “But wait….there’s more!” And boy is there so much more to Fred’s relationship with our organization. He attended the ribbon cutting of our Kindermusik Studio grand opening and loved trying out the children’s new musical instruments. There is never a dull moment with Fred!
Fred’s affinity to our organization is most impressive. The fact that at the last minute he stepped up to tag team our virtual gala in 2020 as the Emcee, speaks to his willingness to support and engage in the community and with our agency. We are very grateful for his support and his advocacy for children!
Outstanding Donor: Nancy Hubler
Over the years at Root for Kids we have noticed a theme: most of our board members just can’t quit us. We have several board members who continue to serve because we love this organization, and we believe so strongly in the mission.
Nancy Hubler is a perfect example of this. Nancy originally joined the board back in March 2014 and shortly thereafter became the Treasurer and chair of the Finance Committee. She left in 2016 to work for the Ohio Department of Insurance and upon her return in 2018, we were fortunate enough to have her rejoin the board and the Finance Committee. She has helped to secure sponsorships for our fundraising events in the past and goes above and beyond with her own generous donations to Root for Kids.