Annie Timmons’ time with the Friars Club, a ministry located in Cincinnati, Ohio, goes back to 1978. Back then, she had no idea how much of her life would be spent in the Franciscan family.
The Friars Club was founded in 1860 in Cincinnati and provides a safe place for youth to develop through organized sports, leadership programming, and education. Timmons came along just over a century later. Timmons was a high school senior looking for work when she saw a posting for a summer camp director.
Father Maynard Tetreault, OFM, was the director of the Friars Club from 1968 to 1981. He was hesitant to hire someone so young, but he brought the 18-year-old Timmons on board. From that day, she never really left. It turns out that it was God’s plan she was on, and not her own.
In 1978, Timmons was dreaming about being a professional volleyball player, but an injury ended her athletic career. She later would become a successful basketball referee who caught the attention of the NBA. But that wasn’t to be either.
“The Friars Club, I felt, was always my backup plan,” Timmons says. “And it wasn’t until a few years back when I realized it was never the backup plan. It was always God’s plan.”
After that first summer, Timmons went to college at Mount St. Joseph University (then the College of Mount St. Joseph) in Cincinnati, all the while working as a front desk clerk and sometimes maintenance worker for the Friars Club. She moved up the ranks to executive director and eventually became the organization’s president.
Early on in her relationship with the Friars Club, Timmons fell on some hard times. She grew up in an economically distressed neighborhood of Cincinnati called Corryville with her grandmother and sisters. She and her sisters attended Catholic school. When financial instability followed her into young adulthood, the Franciscans came through, treating her as one of their own family.
“I had a tough situation,” Timmons says. “My grandmother went to a senior home. I didn’t really have a home, so I was always moving. It was always hard paying bills. . . . I ended up with a lot of bills. I just remember one day I told Brother Alex about my bills. Next thing I know, Father Maynard took care of everything for me. I was just thankful.”
The Friars Club Ministry
When the Friars Club of Cincinnati started in 1860, its purpose was to keep the children of German immigrants busy and safe during after-school hours. The mission remains unchanged, though the clientele has become much more diverse.
Children ages 4 to 17 of all racial and socioeconomic backgrounds come to the Friars Club. Some years, more than 1,000 students are served by the club’s programming.
“We do the sports—volleyball, basketball, baseball. We have a learning center in the back,” Timmons says. “We have a summer camp. That’s a couple of weeks that we really work with academics and social-emotional learning. We do a lot for the kids. We try to offer as much as we can to help them and to support them on their journey through their childhood, to get through to high school and then adulthood.”
Some children served by the Friars Club have been impacted by community violence. Timmons noted the surge in shooting incidents around Cincinnati in the summer as an important marker, showing the need for the Friars Club ministry.
“When you talk about the city of Cincinnati and the shootings and the killings that happen every day, it’s critical and important that we continue our mission of just providing a safe place where kids can get life skills and opportunities. That’s what we do.”
The Friars Club has six employees and more than 100 volunteers.
“We have rich kids, Black kids, White kids, poor kids,” she says. “If you are a two-parent family, we are an extension of that. I think we continue to promote and support what you’re doing with your kids. But then again, there’s that other percentage of sometimes 45, maybe 50, sometimes 55 percent of kids that are from single-parent homes or kids who don’t have parents. So, our coaches are our parents. They’re helping to parent, they’re helping to lead, they’re helping to teach—and, in today’s world, it’s just critical.”
A Franciscan Approach
Throughout her 45 years with the Friars Club, Timmons has seen seasons where Franciscans were more visible or less visible to the students they serve. As a sponsored ministry of the former St. John the Baptist Province, and through the staff, the Franciscan presence is felt.
“[The Franciscans] are always involved and will continue to be involved through me, and through the people who volunteer because of how we serve,” Timmons says. “I’m always preaching respect. The four values [of the Friars Club] are respect, responsibility, leadership, and good sportsmanship. But in general, the respect value to me is the value of the Franciscans, the value of community, the value of the underserved. Our whole mission is to give kids an opportunity to be OK, to give kids an opportunity to grow up.”
Father Mark Soehner, OFM, praises the work done at the Friars Club under Timmons’ management.
“I remain impressed by the persistent energy of Friars Club,” he says, “whether it’s the energy of the very young players, their shouts of joy and competition, the flow of tears over a mistake or loss, or the energy of its executive director, Annie Timmons. Annie has been the face of Friars Club.”