Township Councilwoman Kimberly Francois Is Franklin Reporter & Advocate 2021 Woman Of The Year

Township Councilwoman Kimberly Francois is the Franklin Reporter & Advocate Woman of the Year.

When she won re-election to her current term as an At-Large member of the Township Council, Kimberly Francois said she was determined to see the construction and opening of the Franklin Township Youth Center through in the coming four years.

“I’m going to see that all the way through,” she said at the time. “When I retire, I’m going to go over there and volunteer for the rest of the days of my life.”

That promise came true this year, as the final touches are being applied to the new 24,000-square-foot, $9.8 million center on Lewis Street, and she and others await its Covid-19-delayed grand opening in 2022.

It is the culmination of Francois’ work on that Center – a journey that germinated in 2007 and took shape in 2014 – that leads us to name her as the Franklin Reporter & Advocate’s Woman of the Year for 2021.

It’s more than symbolic that the new Youth center sits on land once occupied by the Somerset Community Action Program, an organization for which Francois is a board member. This Center, with its state-of-the-art rooms, full-sized gym and spaces for kids and families alike will further advance SCAP’s mission when it comes to township youth.

Francois neatly summed up the Center’s vision at its groundbreaking in 2019: “We are planning to invest in our youth and give them the life skills that they need: job training, job readiness, recreation, mentoring, counseling, whatever they’re going to need to make them the powerful young people and provide a safe place for them to be at.”

More recently, Francois said that the Center is “is beautiful, practical, forward looking, and amazing. The design is entirely based on the input received from the youth and the community. I really believe the programs and services that the township, service providers, and community partners will provide in the Center will be the multitude of investments that will create and empower our next generation of leaders.”

People who worked with Francois on varying stages through the Center’s development said it will have a lasting impact on the township.

“The youth center is Councilwoman Francois’ longtime dream and passion,” Mayor Phil Kramer said. “It is a major step forward for the town which will support our youth and families for decades to come.”

“Besides recreation it provides the opportunity for education, family counseling, and a northern branch to the library,” he said. “It will offer a positive and controlled environment in which our most important resource, our children, can grow.”

Township Manager Robert Vornlocker, who also worked with Francois on the Center project, said, “Councilwoman Kimberly Francois’ dedication to the youth of our township is unparalleled. It has been a true pleasure to witness her vision and passion for the creation of our new Youth Center.”

“She has spent countless hours to ensure that the Youth Center is a place where all of our young residents are given the opportunity to grow in body, mind and spirit,” he said. “She is truly deserving of this recognition.”

Beau Byrtus, the township’s Recreation Director, said the Center will have an impact on youth far into the future.

“This facility is the centerpiece of Franklin Township where youth will find a home that offers a whole host of programs,” he said. “Recreation activities, educational opportunities, job development and social services will all be on the menu at the Youth Center.”

“Councilwoman Francois’ vision, dedication and leadership has steered this project and we are fortunate to be a part of such a momentous project,” Byrtus said.

Gary Rosenthal, chairman of the Franklin Township Human Relations Commission, said the center “will only make Franklin Township stronger and continue to insure that our youth have a place to stay active. Along with our good educators including with some of our Principals who are new, this can only complement their objectives in working with our youth so they grow into mature individuals.”

Rosenthal said that he has ensured that one of the HRC’s Junior Members has a seat on the Youth center’s Youth Subcommittee, and that Francois gave the Commission monthly updates.

Windy White, the Recreation Department’s Deputy Director, said that Francois “deeply understands the needs of the Franklin community. Her longstanding dedication to youth success is evidenced by her unwavering leadership throughout the Youth Center inception and development stages.”

“From the start, her contributions emphasized creating a safe space where township youth can receive the social, academic and creative resources to reach their fullest potential as our next generation of leaders,” White said.

“The benefits of the Franklin Township Youth Center are therefore limitless and will continue to highlight the legacy of Councilwoman Francois and all involved with bringing our community together for this exceptional accomplishment,” she said.

Saffie Kallon, the township’s Special Projects Manager, said, “The impact this youth center will have on the community is, plainly put, immeasurable.”

” The potential which can stem from just having an opportunity to learn skills, grow, socialize, heal, have fun, help your community, and just be a kid in safe space is what this youth center offers and her dedication to that end is awe-inspiring,” she said.

“In 2007/2008 when she was working on the Franklin Youth Initiative, she saw a need for a place where Franklin youth could call their own and thrive,” Kallon said. “Several of our young people had catastrophically fallen to violence within the community. This was unacceptable. There had been been rumblings about the need for a youth center for decades prior. This loss brought that need into shockingly clear view. Her drive to bring this youth center to fruition has been unyielding since then. Now, here we stand with a state of the art facility near completion, dedicated people at its helm, and a Councilwoman who shows no signs of slowing down in her commitment to the young people of Franklin Township.”

“I don’t want to be the flame that lights the world on fire,” Francois said at that 2019 Youth Center groundbreaking. “I just want to be the spark that lights the flame that will empower future generations of our youth.”

Thanks to Francois’s efforts with the Youth Center, the stage is set for that flame to burn a good long time.

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