Since 2011 more than 12,000 children have taken part in Francis in the Schools programs, from San Francisco Bay Area cities, Washington DC, Baltimore, and New York City.
Recently we began our Gifts from the Heart initiative to provide children and families in low-income neighborhoods fresh groceries, beautiful clothing, new shoes, books, toys, educational supplies, and other gifts.
Francis in the Schools
Children growing up today, whether in impoverished inner-city neighborhoods or upscale suburbs, can experience neglect and loneliness. Dr. Carol Weyland Conner conceived Francis in the Schools to nurture feelings of kindness, courage, and self-worth in children – not through words to feed their minds, but through loving experiences to nourish their hearts.
Francis in the Schools offers these experiences through music, dance, theater, crafts, and games staged in a special outing: “A Day of Perfect Joy”.
A Day of Perfect Joy
Volunteers prepare richly staged musical dramas on the lives and work of historic figures like Francis of Assisi. These stories of love, service, and courage are shared in ways that children can sense and experience the positive qualities of courage, universal kindness, and brotherhood.
Several of these programs have featured the celebrated international recording artist tenor Alessandro Brustenghi, a Franciscan friar who traveled from Assisi, Italy, to America to sing for the children.
An Umbrian Renaissance-style Faire follows the musical play. It includes a nourishing lunch and a wide range of activities especially designed to delight and entertain the children and lift their self-esteem: dancing, face and hand painting, flower arranging, and a variety of games. They talk with the actors, dancers, and singers and receive a beautifully wrapped gift treat with a sincere “Thank you for coming!"
Gifts from the Heart
School principals and teachers made us aware of the great need for additional support to children and families in their communities. They felt that gifts of groceries, clothing, books, toys, and art supplies would make a huge difference.
So during the 2017 holiday season, we began our Gifts from the Heart initiative for underserved children and their families living in the San Francisco Bay Area. We joined forces with White Pony Express, a Bay Area nonprofit that helped us fill gift bags with quality clothing, groceries, books, and toys. What they were not able to provide, our volunteers shopped for, tailoring their purchases to each child’s specific needs.
To date we’ve provided gifts for more than 3,500 children and their families.
Francis of Assisi created the first living nativity nearly 800 years ago, in Greccio, Italy. Francis’s nativity scene became so popular that similar presentations spread throughout Italy, and then to other countries.
In honor of the namesake of our programs, we periodically offer Living Nativities for the community. On Christmas Eve, 2017 and 2018, a Living Nativity was staged in Walnut Creek, California.
Our model is very simple.
It is rooted in the message of our program's namesake, Francis of Assisi. It is not a religious message; it is a universal message: If we see someone in need, we serve them as members of our own family.
- Terry Johnson. Executive Director