History

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 800 children and their families each year in the Milwaukee area. Throughout our 49 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.

2010-Present:

2017

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.

2016

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

2014

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

2012

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.

2011

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.

2010

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.

2000-2009:

2009

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

2008

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

2007

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

2006

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

2004

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.

2003

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.

2002

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

2001

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:

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.

1998

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

1994

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

1996

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

1995

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

1968-1989:

1989

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

1988

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

1974

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.

1972

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

1970

Our first infant class began.

1969

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

1968

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.