SOMERSET, NJ - Councilwoman-At-Large Kimberly Francois has been nominated by the Warrior For Life Scholarship Foundation as the recipient of the 2019 Warrior for Life Award.

Founded in 2017, the Warrior For Life Scholarship Foundation generates scholarship funds for Franklin High School Students and build a positive network of Franklin alumni. In addition to over $10,000 in scholarships awarded annually to Franklin High School seniors and recent alumni, “Warrior For Life” award winners are selected annually from a pool of local nominees who have dedicated their lives to uplifting the community through service and leadership.

“Councilman Francois has been active in the community for years, taking on any initiative that needed to be taken on,” Rebekah Solomon, co-founder of the Warrior for Life Scholarship Foundation, said. “She is doing work that is so necessary but can be really difficult, and we applaud her bravery.”

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Francois, who is the longest serving Council member, was “shocked” when she received the news. For members of the Warrior For Life foundation, the choice was rather obvious.

“Councilman Francois has been active in the community for years, taking on any initiative that needed to be taken on,” Rebekah Solomon, co-founder of the Warrior for Life Scholarship Foundation, said. “She is doing work that is so necessary but can be really difficult, and we applaud her bravery.”

Francois graduated from Harvard University with a degree in Engineering, later receiving her Masters in Project Management from George Washington University. She bounced around the United States before settling in Franklin, a place that reminded her of the college-town feel of Cambridge, Massachusetts.

“I thought, ‘This is a beautiful place, and this is where I want to live,’” Francois said. “I had no relatives here, no family, no anything. It was just one of those things… I guess it was meant for me to come here.”

While she is not a lifetime resident of Franklin Township, Francois has made an impact on the lives of countless generations of Franklin community members, and her pride in Franklin is impossible to hide. Ask Francois what she loves about Franklin Township, and she embarks on a lengthy, passionate monologue about the town’s landscapes of preserved open space, the mixed land-use, and the rich diversity of the people who call Franklin home.

“People that live in Franklin love Franklin, and they embrace the diversity,” Francois said. “We’re a microcosm of the universe out here.”

In addition to her immediate affection and appreciation for Franklin as she found it, Francois soon became passionate about making Franklin even better. Quickly after settling into town, Francois sought out ways to become an active, engaged, and impactful community member.

Francois became the Vice Chair of the New Brunswick area NAACP branch and the State Chair of the Criminal Justice Committee. She led a Community Concerns Committee at the First Baptist Church under Reverend Buster Soaries, where she advocated for education and social injustice reform and provided free legal counseling to local residents.

Francois, who is an Information Technology Executive in the healthcare industry, never predicted that she would get into politics. However, her undeniable potential as a community leader was immediately recognized by anyone with whom she crossed paths.

In 1995, Francois was asked to help identify a minority candidate to run on the Democratic ticket in the upcoming election alongside three other Democratic candidates. At the time, Franklin was led by a Republican majority, and Francois was just being exposed to the workings of the Franklin Township Democratic Municipal Committee as the Fifth Ward Chairwoman.

“Everybody who I asked to run would look at me and say, ‘Why don’t you run?’” Francois recalled. “I would say, ‘Oh I don't know a thing about politics, I can't do that.’

But when the Democratic minority candidate dropped out at the last minute, it was Francois who stepped up without hesitation. She quickly developed a platform to run on which promised a new senior center and expanded opportunities for teen recreation.

Just before the election, the Democratic candidates made a pact that if they were to win a Democratic majority, whoever received the most votes would become Mayor. To her surprise, it was Francois who ended up getting the most votes, and in 1996, she was elected as Mayor of Franklin Township.

“Becoming mayor was my very first opportunity in politics,” Francois said, calling it a ‘bizarre’ series of events. “However, I think it had to do with the platform that I ran on, and I’m sure that me being a Harvard graduate didn’t hurt.”

Her first stab at political leadership was an immense success. Francois went on to be a two-term Mayor, a three-term deputy mayor, and an elected official within the Township for fifteen years. The Township came to understand that there was nothing bizarre about her initial election, and the votes she received weren’t solely based on her alma mater; Francois kept her campaign promises, and made it the norm to go above and beyond them.

Francois lead efforts to build Franklin’s Senior Center, a center which continues to offer a diverse calendar of accessible programming and events for Franklin’s senior community. As a response to gang violence in the area, Francois founded the Franklin Youth Initiative (FYI). For the past twelve years, FYI has provided Youth Services like career fairs, professional workshops, and mentorship circles, the FYI Teen Drop In Center at the Franklin Middle School Hamilton Campus, and the FYI Police Academy.

“We are trying to give the youth life skills and career counseling, but also just give them things to do,” Francois said. “As I always say, the idle mind is the devil's playground, so we really wanted to ensure that we were providing them with programs and services.”

Francois used the success of the FYI program as well as her various community ‘hats’ to propel forth plans for a new Franklin Youth Center – something that has been in the works since the nineties.  

Serving as both a board member of the Somerset Community Action Program (SCAP) and as a Franklin Township Councilwoman, Francois liaised lengthy negotiations between SCAP, the Council, the Town Manager, and PNC Bank to secure 429 Lewis Street as the future site of the Youth Center. She visited Youth Centers around the state, compiling the best, most effective ideas to propose for Franklin’s own center. She led two years of community and youth planning forums to ensure that the needs and input of the community members were directly incorporated into the design of the space.

“She has been instrumental for decades fighting for the new Youth Center … and she just did not give up” Solomon said, adding that the Foundation was grateful to have a leader step up to see the project through completion.

“Many of us who are founding members of Warrior for Life were children when the original youth center was there, so we’ve always seen a great need for something new,” Solomon said.

To Francois, the determination needed to spearhead this project has always been a part of her character.

“Being a Warrior for Life means that you have a purpose and you fight for that purpose,” Francois said. “You believe in the purpose and you fight for the purpose and you make sure that you do everything to make that purpose come to a reality.”

The ground breaking ceremony for the Franklin Youth Center occurred on August 15th , and the Youth Center is on track to be up and running by September 2020. Francois says that the list of volunteers is already growing.

“There has been a groundswell of interest, a groundswell of support and a groundswell of energy from the community, and people can’t wait to get in there.” Francois said. “My wish is that there will be so many people with so many things going on that we end up having a scheduling problem.”

While Francois leaves behind a legacy of local landmarks and accomplishments, she continues to be committed to visions for Franklin’s future. Francois is on the Sisters2Sisters Professional Advisory Board and the Youth Services Commission, and is the Council Liaison to the Board of Education. Among other roles, Francois currently serves as Vice Chair of the Franklin Township Redevelopment Agency, which is responsible for assisting the Township of Franklin in the revitalization of the Renaissance Redevelopment Area. In this role, Francois leads a number of affordable housing and economic development initiatives, and has plans to provide Franklin with a true downtown within the Hamilton Street Business District.

Through her continued leadership in these capacities, It is quite clear that Francois will continue to work against any and every barrier to make Franklin a better place for everyone in it.

"That's what warriors do, right? They go out, they fight wars, and they're champions," Francois said. “You fight to win.”

Francois will be recognized at the 3rd Annual Warrior for Life Scholarship Foundation Gala Fundraiser, which will be held at the Imperia on November 29th, 2019. Tickets can be purchased here.