People tend to discover their passions and ambitions through trial and error, through experiences. Without opportunities to experience the world, how do you know what in the world you want to do? FrankTown Open Hearts has made opportunity its mission, pulling the community together to provide varied experiences to those without their own means to get them.
FrankTown Open Hearts was founded in 2002 with a mission to teach life skills and offer mentorship to Williamson County’s inner-city youth. Chris Barnhill, the executive director of FrankTown for the last five years, said the nonprofit serves about 170 kids with the goal of helping them find a path for their life.
“That’s why we have 35 programs because how (else) would a child know that they love doing this thing?” he said.
Throughout the year, FrankTown serves children from low-income families not only by talking to them about God and providing regular meals, but also by teaching them skills such as sewing, cooking, fishing, car mechanics, arts and crafts, woodworking, music and stepping, and more. For high schoolers, the nonprofit focuses on the future with more career-oriented programs as well.
“When it comes to our high school students, it’s all about exposure, from learning public speaking, personal branding, marketing, woodworking, and the vast, many careers out there,” said Brandon Tinnon, the program director for FrankTown, during the nonprofit’s annual fundraiser in September. “Students get a ton of hands-on experience thanks to our volunteers, from learning how to drive, maintaining vehicles, to learning more high-skill vocational lessons.”
Older students also have the opportunity to visit colleges and, through community service and participation in other activities, earn their way to destinations like Washington DC, New York City, and Florida beaches.
This year, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the nonprofit had to significantly pare down the number of programs it offered — only seven of 35 are going on now — but the team saw that several of its families were in great need of support during the summer, when school was out. The organization distributed prepared meals to the families most in need along with other household essentials, such as toilet paper, which was a rare commodity back in those months.
“Before, all of our resources truly went to the kids and that opportunity we had with them, and since we’ve been able to switch, … we’ve been able to truly support our families,” said Crystal Tinnon, director of program operations, about the Feed A Family program in May.
During the holiday season, family is also a focus at FrankTown. This year, the nonprofit held its annual Thanksgiving Dinner with its students and their families on Nov. 24. Barnhill said he loves seeing people come together during this time, particularly for those kids whose families may not look so traditional.
“We only have one child living in a two-parent home,” he said. “It doesn’t mean you’re a bad kid; it doesn’t mean they’re a bad family or whatever. This is a fatherless community. Dad may or may not be in the picture, or certainly not very much, … so to get the family together and have — not many — but a few fathers actually come and participate is neat.”
Not long after its Thanksgiving event, on Nov. 26, the organization’s third annual Festival of Lights opened to the public and will run through Saturday, Dec. 26. This drive-thru light show features music and brilliant Christmas displays with a 30-foot Christmas tree, pandemic-friendly snacks and hot chocolate awaiting participants at the end of the tour.
Tickets for the event, which will run from 5 to 9 every night at the Williamson County Agricultural Expo Center, can be purchased online at FrankTownLights.com or at the gate for $25 per car. All the proceeds of the event will go towards the organization’s building fund as it searches for a building for all its operations.
Additionally, on Saturday, Dec. 12, FrankTown will hold its 17th annual Christmas Shopping Event, where roughly 100 kids will be paired each with a volunteer family to shop for the student’s family with $150 that the student earned through community service, FrankTown programs and more.
While this time is certainly busy, Barnhill said he and his team continue to jam-pack the last couple months of every year to serve and celebrate these kids because, “if not for us, then who?” He encouraged the community to volunteer during the nonprofit’s events, as the experience of being with the FrankTown families may just be invaluable.
“There’s a lot of love in (those families). Those kids say ‘yes, ma’am’ and ‘no ma’am’ and ‘yes sir,’ and they are polite and well-mannered and good kids,” he said. “We learn as much from them as they ever, ever do from us.”
To learn more about the nonprofit, visit FrankTownOpenHearts.com.