St. Francis Children’s Center was founded in 1968 by Sister Joanne Marie Kliebhan, then head of the Special Education Department at Cardinal Stritch University and Eli Tash, a Jewish businessman and the father of a son with special needs. In those days, the general feeling was that children with special needs should wait until they were “ready” to go to school. However, Sister Joanne Marie and Mr. Tash strongly believed that the earlier these children received services, the more opportunities there would be for them to achieve success. Their shared vision was to someday create a unique learning center that would stimulate the early development of children with special needs…a place where the philosophy and programs would reflect their belief that, “all children can learn if we can learn how to teach them.”

Today, St, Francis Children’s Center provides education, therapy and family support to over 900 children and their families each year in the Milwaukee area. Throughout our 50 year history, we’ve never lost sight of our mission, and we remain as committed today as we were then to maximizing the learning potential of every child we serve.



St. Francis Children’s Center opens our newly renovated Outdoor Playground. 


For the fifth time, St. Francis Children’s Center was selected as one of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Top Workplaces, which recognizes the best places to work in southeastern Wisconsin.


St. Francis Children’s Center celebrates our 50th Anniversary!


Our newest program, the Family Activity Center, opens to serve families of children with special needs throughout the community.


Our Early Childhood Education Program receives accreditation by the National Accreditation Commission for Early Care and Education Programs (NAC).


The Exceptional Learning Initiative for Special Education (ELISE Initiative) was dedicated to provide support for special education services for children with special needs younger than three.


We redesigned and built a brand new outdoor play/therapy area designed specifically for our 1-3 year olds. Not only is the new space bigger, but it is now fully accessible to all children.


St. Francis Children’s Center goes green! With the addition of solar panels on our roof, we are able to generate more than 10% of the electricity we use.



We added bilingual service coordinators to our Children’s Long-Term Support (CLTS) program to better serve our growing number of Spanish-speaking families.


To accommodate the rapid growth in our CLTS program, we remodeled an underused storage area in our building to create more space for staff.


We remodeled all of our Early Childhood Education classrooms and opened a second Kindergarten classroom to accommodate more families on the waiting list.


We expanded our CLTS Program in Milwaukee County to include children with other severe disabilities including developmental, physical, emotional or sensory impairments.


Our CLTS Program began providing case coordination and support to children with autism over the age of three who are receiving intensive or ongoing in-home therapy services in Milwaukee, Ozaukee and Washington counties.


St. Francis Children’s Center expanded our Early Intervention/Birth to Three services into Ozaukee County to serve an additional 55 children with special needs and their families.


We opened First Friends, a new infant and toddler classroom with part-time schedule options for children with and without special needs.


We started a Center for Autism Resources and Education (CARE) school program to serve children with severe challenges of autism, ages three years through third grade.

1990- 1999:


Early Intervention/Birth to Three services moved more toward the natural environment for each child and family. We visited children in childcare centers, in their homes, or wherever their normal routines took place.


We added a five full-day Kindergarten class to our Early Childhood Education program.


We started an infant childcare program for children with and without special needs.


We changed our name from the Wisconsin Society for Brain-Injured Children to St. Francis Children’s Center, Inc.


State legislation changed…allowing non-city agencies, such as St. Francis Children’s Center, to serve children from Milwaukee Public Schools.


St. Francis Children’s Center hosts our first ever Wine, Beer & Chocolate Tasting Event.



Our classrooms became integrated to include children with and without special needs.


The south addition to building was completed, almost doubling classroom space.


The new (current) building was dedicated at 6700 North Port Washington Road. Eighty-five children with special needs up to age twelve started receiving services.


We moved to a space at Bayside Middle School to accommodate increased enrollment.


Our first infant class began.


Our first class was held in donated space at Congregation Sinai for seven children ages 2-6.


Parents met at Nicolet High School to discuss the educational options for their children with disabilities. St. Francis Children’s Center founders, Eli Tash and Sister Joanne Marie Kliebhan were present at that now historic meeting.

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