After 46 years of helping local kids reach their full potential, Diane Brower is retiring as executive director of the Northeast Georgia Speech Center in Gainesville.
Her last day is Wednesday, June 30.
Tammy Meeks, preschool teacher at the Speech Center, said she has known Brower for the past 21 years and has witnessed her change the lives of local kids.
“She has been in this business for so long, she knows exactly how to approach and handle them,” Meeks said. “If a child comes in, and they’re fearful or crying, she just nurtures them like they were her own.”
Jodi Branyon, office manager at the Speech Center, describes Brower as a “silent leader” who doesn’t like the spotlight and works tirelessly behind the scenes to make the practice run smoothly.
“Personally, I’ll miss her genuine love and concern for not only the children she serves, but the staff,” Branyon said. “She’s always been supportive on a personal level.”
Brower said she was first inspired to become a speech-language pathologist after observing a therapy session at the Speech Center when it used to reside in the old Gainesville First United Methodist Church building. She had originally attended Brenau University with the intention of pursuing a theater major.
“I just felt a call that this was what I was supposed to do,” she said. “I was a sophomore at the time, and I went to the dean of students and told him that I felt like this is what I needed to do. He advised me to look into speech pathology and see what was required. So, I did.”
Brower said she graduated from Brenau and went on to the University of Georgia to earn her master’s. Before finishing her degree, she interned at the Speech Center. Soon afterward, she was hired on as a speech therapist.
“I just loved working with children and parents, and the exhilaration that comes from seeing children progress and their confidence increasing, and growing into who God made them to be,” Brower said.
Only three years into her new job, Brower said the center’s director resigned. Brower likes to say that she “became director by default.”
Thanks to the help of the Junior League of Gainesville, the center’s board of directors, staff members and other supporters, Brower said she was able to gain her stride as a leader and launched several programs that still exist today.
In 1992, the Speech Center started its therapeutic language for children program for kids ages 3 to 5 years old. The children come to the building to spend three hours a few days a week with therapists.
“We decided there was a need in the community to have a preschool program just for children that had communication issues, to help them on their path to be successful as they went to kindergarten,” Brower said.
Three years later, the Speech Center started an offering for children 2 to 3 years old that involves parent participation.
Alba Moreno, a local mom whose son has been in the program, said she has seen first-hand Brower’s positive effect on kids. Nearly three years into his therapy, she said her child has come out of his shell.
“My son loves her,” she said. “He’s very shy, so for him to really get along with Diane, means a lot to me.”
Today, Moreno works as the Speech Center’s early literacy instructor.
On July 1, Amy Cox will replace Brower as executive director. Cox has worked 16 years in public schools as a speech language pathologist, 14 of which were in the Hall County district.
Brower said she has “complete confidence” that Cox will succeed and “forge her own way” at the Speech Center.
“There comes a time when you know you need to step back and let somebody else with that expertise, enthusiasm, experience and love have a part of it,” she said.
Now leaving the Speech Center, Brower said she will miss both the children she served and the people she has worked alongside.
“There is a wonderful group of staff members that know what their purpose is and enjoy being able to fulfill their purpose by being here,” she said. “I’ll miss the camaraderie. I’ll miss the laughter and the tears that we shared when we’d go through difficult times.”
Even though she is retiring at the end of the month, Brower said she doesn’t plan to stop living out her passion. She intends to soon offer independent consultations as a speech-language pathologist.
“I can’t imagine myself ever not wanting to do what I’ve done.”