At Last! Franklin Township Youth Center Gets Grand Opening

Township Councilwoman Kimberly Francois cuts the ceremonial ribbon at the Franklin Township Youth Center as Township Manager Robert Vornlocker and Mayor Phil Kramer (left to right) look on.

A half-century of talking about it and 15 years of planning came to fruition on May 14 with the Grand Opening of the Franklin Township Youth Center at 429 Lewis Street.

Set against a backdrop of jazz played by a trio from Montclair State University, invited dignitaries and township residents explored the many offerings of the two-story, $14 million building.

“Welcome to the house that Kimberly built,” Mayor Phil Kramer said during the dedication ceremony. Kramer was referring to Township Councilwoman Kimberly Francois (D-At Large) whose priority over her last two terms has been to get the Youth Center built.

“This building was designed by the community,” Francois said. “I might have had somewhat of a vision to have a youth center here, but this building was designed by the community.”

“The vision, obviously, is for the youth,” she said. “We believe that an idle mind is the devil’s playground. This is for our youth; this is for their future. I believe that this center … that will be the light that sparks the flame that will set generations of youth on fire.”

Francois said she had stopped in to the center the day before, “I was crying.”

“I am so overwhelmed and I am so grateful and I am so humbled that you all are here with us today,” she said.

Francois also remembered the late former Township Councilman Dan Glicklich for his role in planning the Center.

One of the highlights of the celebration was the symbolic presentation of a $1 million federal grant won by the township by U.S. Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-12). The money will be used to offset the center’s construction cost.

“I love this township,” Coleman said. “Everybody works together on behalf of the people of this community.”

“This building is beautiful, it is gorgeous, it is encouraging,” Coleman said. “It is something that our children and their families should have. We are proud of it.”

“But it is more than just a building,” she said. “Here is an opportunity for our children to come after school, to come perhaps on Saturday, to get enrichment, to get academic support, to engage in some sort of athleticism, to learn to be good citizens. To learn to recognize their value, how much we care about them and just how valuable they are to the well-being of our community and our country.”

It is a place where families can feel that their children are safe, and a place that families can come and get services,” she said.

Kramer was momentarily emotional during his short speech.

“Kimberly,” he said, before pausing for a few seconds, “you have saved lives yet to be born. You have prevented crime, you have prevented broken hearts, broken families.”

“This center is not only a place to play basketball, but it is a place for family counseling, to learn skills, to go to the library. This is a treasure,” he said.

The event was hosted by Saffie Kallon, the township’s Special Projects Director. Kallon received praise from Francois and others for her work on the Youth Center.

“Every towel, every color, every piece of furniture, she architected and engineered,” Francois said. “She put her life into this building.”

Township Manager Robert Vornlocker said Kallon “devoted her entire life, every breath that she breathed over the last five years … to this beautiful testament to the children of Franklin Township.”

The youth center, he said, will “serve all of those children who desperately need it.”

The Franklin Reporter & Advocate live streamed from the day:

Speaking with U.S. Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman:

Speaking with schools Superintendent John Ravally and Board of Education president Nancy LaCorte:

The dedication ceremony:

Speaking with some of the attendees at the event:

Speaking with Franklin High School head football coach Blair Wilson and some of his players:

Speaking with former township Mayor and Somerset County Freeholder Brian Levine:

Speaking with Youth Center Program Manager Joel Painson:

At the Kid Fest:

Here are some scenes from the day:

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