As Ellie Justice observed the latest artwork created by children at the Helen Gordon Child Development Center, a young girl called out her name. Reaching up to Justice, the girl handed her a small piece of construction paper with a leaf glued to it, a backwards $3 symbol written under it. “I made this for you,” the girl said, “but you don’t have to give me $3.”
As Ellie Justice observed the latest artwork created by children at the Helen Gordon Child Development Center, a young girl called out her name.
Reaching up to Justice, the girl handed her a small piece of construction paper with a leaf glued to it, a backwards $3 symbol written under it.
“I made this for you,” the girl said, “but you don’t have to give me $3.”
Justice, the director of the PSU-run center, reached out and accepted the gift. The kids, she explained, are still showing their appreciation for a Tuesday night ceremony, where she was recognized for her 20 years of service in the children’s center.
Hired in June of 1987 as a teacher, Justice became director, in 1991, of the full-day childcare center for children aged 6 months to 6 years. In that time, she said, she has invested herself in the organization.
“She’s an amazingly intelligent and caring person. She’s so emotionally involved in what the school is and does,” said Venessa Veselka, a parent whose child is enrolled at the center.
Tuesday afternoon in the Smith Memorial Student Union Ballroom, Justice was honored at the annual Length of Service Awards for her 20 years at PSU. After the event, a celebration was held in the Helen Gordon Center so parents, children and coworkers could tell Justice about their appreciation for what she has given to the center.
Before coming to Portland, Justice studied developmental psychology at University of California, Berkley, and then went on for her master’s degree.
“I always knew I wanted to work with kids,” Justice said.
In 2003, the Helen Gordon Center expanded with an attached facility in response to constant pressure to meet the demand for childcare on campus.
With the expansion, the center was able to increase the number of children it can care for, from 95 to 175. With the expansion of the facility, the program doubled in size. At the Helen Gordon party on Tuesday evening, Justice cited her work in the expansion as her proudest moment at the center.
While walking through the recently created wing of the center, Justice pointed out several creative art centers where children can explore their creative side. In a quiet room on the second level, while children sprawled across the floor napping on cots, Justice showed a project that the kids have been working on for some time–a forest mural.
The mural is a hodge-podge of several different trees and animals, made from construction paper and recycled materials. Every child contributes a piece to it.
“It’s the value of the group and the value of the individual,” Justice said. “The mural is a great metaphor for what goes on here at the center.”
Employees of the Helen Gordon Center say there is a strong governing philosophy within the organization that emphasizes the individuality of each child, what they are capable of and their place in the community.
Will Parnell, pedagogical director at the center, said that philosophy is apparent in the work Justice does.
“A really big passion for her is the political connection, where children are seen as little citizens, with the same rights and interests and education as university students…. You can see that in her work,” he said.
Over the course of her work in the center, Justice has accumulated 40 weeks of unused sick time, but she soon plans on taking a three-month sabbatical in the Italian Alps.
“That really says it all,” Parnell said about the sick time Justice has saved.
Justice’s colleagues recognize her role in shaping the program.
“If something needs to get done, it’s going to get done,” said Lynn Green, infant/toddler coordinator for the center, who has worked there for 18 years. “Whether that means helping on the playground, at some big meeting, pushing for funds or writing grants, she’s going to do it.”
-Additional reporting by Ed Johnson
The Helen Gordon Center will hold an auction on the evening of Friday, May 9, at the Tiffany Center to benefit the Helen Gordon Child Development Center. Call 503-725-3093 with any questions.