Bubbling Up

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On December 16, during Missouri Foundation for Health’s annual dinner hosted by its Board of Directors, Sister Anne Francioni, director of Whole Kids Outreach, will accept the 2015 Dr. Corinne Walentik Leadership in Health Award. Now in its third year, the award was created to honor the late Dr. Walentik’s commitment to serving vulnerable populations. It is presented to a leader in Missouri health care who exemplifies the passion, dedication and energy that Walentik brought to her work. Francioni will receive a personal award and, per her direction, $25,000 will go to Whole Kids Outreach (WKO), a nonprofit she founded in 1999.

Sister Anne Francioni, SSND, RN, MA, has devoted her life to ensuring that children receive the health care and services they and their families need to have a healthy future. Originally from New Orleans, Francioni began her pediatric nursing career in her hometown before moving to Missouri to work at St. Louis Children’s Hospital in 1983. After serving as director of child care and health services at St. Mary’s Special School and in the Infant Acute Care Unit at Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital, she became involved in projects that brought her to rural southeast Missouri in the mid-1990s.

Anne Francioni

Through her previous work with various organizations, she learned more about southeast Missouri and the challenges of rural living.

“After meeting the children and seeing the way of life in this area, I knew I wanted to stay.”

Sister Francioni

Joining together with likeminded partners, Francioni worked to further identify the issues that rural families face and developed programs to address them. Located in Ellington, Missouri, the organization is devoted to meeting the health and developmental needs of children, youth and pregnant women, within their family structure.

WKO works to broadly address the many influences that place children at risk in isolated, rural, low-income areas. To enable a “whole” child to develop, WKO has created diverse programs and activities designed to educate and strengthen both children and parents.

Francioni has helped shepherd more than 2,000 families and 16,000 children through the organization. Services include home visit and center-based programs for pregnant women/teens and families with young children. Their six-county service area spans nearly 5,000 square miles, and 99 percent of their clients fall below the federal poverty line.

“For many years I have felt compelled to boldly stand for women and children who live in poverty in ways that help them to reach their God-given potential,” said Francioni. “This award affirms that, despite the hardships of such a quest, I can move forward knowing that important and powerful people, like those who make up Missouri Foundation for Health, stand with me.”

Though Francioni and Dr. Walentik never had the opportunity to meet, they seem to be kindred spirits, both incredibly driven to care for the most vulnerable children in the state. “Dr. Corinne Walentik was clearly one of a kind, but if there is anyone who might come close to emulating her passion, drive and spirit, it would be Sister Anne Francioni,” said Lynn Raney, a coworker at WKO.

“Of course we are delighted to honor Sister Francioni for her incredible work,” said Robert Hughes, president and CEO of MFH. “I know that were she with us today, Dr. Walentik would be overjoyed that we are recognizing Sister Francioni and supporting the Whole Kids Outreach organization. This work is truly an extension of what Dr. Walentik was most passionate about in life.”

“It is one thing to have my work acknowledged and even sometimes celebrated, but it is surely another, more amazing thing to me that this acknowledgement comes with such a wonderful prize,” said Francioni, in preparation for receiving the honor. “The award will hopefully illuminate the mission of Whole Kids Outreach in a way that emboldens others to actively help us improve the lives of the families that we serve.”