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Friday, January 27, 2023

The gift that doesn’t stop giving: nonprofit cares for kids at Christmas and beyond

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As Battalion Chief of the Indianapolis Fire Department (IFD), Anthony Williamson has dedicated his life to saving others. He continues this mission outside of the IFD through the Saint Florian Center, a nonprofit organization he started with a fellow firefighter in 1992 that is centered on the development of Indianapolis’ youth. For Williamson, who previously worked as a teacher at North Central High School, influencing young minds and impacting their growth is the gift that gives year-round, not just during the holiday season.

“We wanted to teach kids about respect and responsibility and goal-setting,” Williamson said about his motivation behind starting Saint Florian Center. “If our young people were to get ahead in life, they needed the education and the leadership to make good decisions.”

This desire has led to programs throughout the calendar year that have helped over 30,000 kids in the Indianapolis area since Saint Florian’s inception. Hundreds more will be in the holiday spirit this winter. Raising money through its 2018 Indy Firefighter Calendar, the Center assisted with IMPD’s annual Clothe-A-Child program on Dec. 9, taking more than 50 kids to Castleton Square Mall with an IFD escort to get clothes and toys. 

Funds were also given to the Phillips Temple CME Church’s Angel Tree Network on Dec. 16, which gives kids whose parents are incarcerated clothes, toys and food.

“We want to help ourselves, but we want to help them out as well,” Williamson said, regarding the partnerships with other organizations. As part of its after-school and summer programs, Saint Florian Center looks to instill this same selfless mindset into the kids they help. 

“Instead of kids being materialistic during this holiday season, they really understand that it’s about helping someone else,” Williamson said. “You don’t have to have money to do that. You don’t have to have things to do that. You can do that with just a smile or opening a door. They really got it and repeated it back. It was great.” 

That kind of response from kids is a year-round occurrence at Saint Florian Center, including within the summer program, which is now accepting applications for its 2018 session at stfloriancenter.org. The Center is also the backbone of My Brother’s Keeper, a program revolving around mentoring and coaching Indianapolis youth, and Voice, a youth-led anti-drug program. It is through these programs that kids learn leadership skills and how to be respectful and work with others. 

“Civility, that’s the key word,” continued Williamson. “We teach civility always. You have to be civil and respectful to everyone. Everybody comes from a background of different experiences, and you have to be respectful of that.” 

Saint Florian Center culminates its December of giving with Christmas at the Firehouse on Dec. 22 at Indy Firefighters Union on Mass Ave. Children, from newborn through high school, will receive toys while families will be given a basket of food that includes everything from turkey, ham and canned goods, to sugar and flour.

“All of those necessities, not only for one meal, but we’re trying to give them enough so they can have some items at least for a week,” Williamson said. “That works out really well for everyone.”

Saint Florian Center

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