‘Celebrate Francie’ aims to help beloved children’s entertainer
For 22 years, Francie Dillon has entertained children and families with her mix of music and storytelling, everywhere from Fairytale Town to area schools to hospital bedsides.
Now battling an undiagnosed neurological disorder, the community is rallying to support Francie in her time of need with “Celebrate Francie” – a fundraising event on Friday, Nov. 2 at Fairytale Town.
“Francie touches people’s hearts and particularly the hearts of children,” explains Terry Foley, organizer of Celebrate Francie. “It was a no-brainer that people would want to come together for her. If you had to choose a person for which you were going to do something, you might as well choose someone that everybody loves, and everybody loves Francie.”
The “Voice of Fairytale Town”
Dillon – who was just named Arts Educator of the Year by the Arts & Business Council of Sacramento, according to an article in the Modesto Bee – says she first started her business, then named Jazz Babies, in 1991 by teaching music appreciation in preschools.
During this time, a parent asked her if she performed at birthday parties. “I remember looking at her and thinking you’ve got to be kidding, right?” Dillon says with a laugh. “I didn’t even know people could do this for birthday parties!”
Dillon decided to take a shot at performing at a private engagement, which eventually lead her to perform at the former Thursday Night Market on K Street and eventually Fairytale Town. Dillon says her first performance at Fairytale Town was the “most unique feeling in the world” and she walked away from it thoroughly enjoying the experience. “That was the kind of thing that started me on the avenue of being an entertainer,” she adds.
For at least 15 years Dillon has been a special guest performer and program MC at Fairytale Town, according to the park’s Executive Director Kathy Fleming. However, Dillon is mainly known for the 25 storybook boxes that are stationed at each of Fairytale Town’s sets throughout the park. The stories and songs she recorded for them, earned her the name the “Voice of Fairytale Town,” Fleming says.
“She brings a love of literature, a love of play and fun to Fairytale Town,” Fleming says when asked what Dillon brought to the park as a performer. “She brings her essence and it just represents what we do here so well, so it worked out well to have her as much as she’s been here.”
From there, Dillon continued to perform and went on to record and publish her own album, “The Toy Box,” which won the National Parents Choice Approval Award. She also began to cross over to teach adults how to bring music into the school setting through presenting at childhood education conferences, and currently teaching children’s literature at California State University Sacramento.
Dillon says teaching other adults is crucial to her now with the physical limitations she is now experiencing. “It’s very important that adults see the potential for creativity and joy that comes from music and storytelling, and for them to present it in such a way that we release the excitement about it,” she adds.
In July 2011, Dillon sought medical attention for the symptoms of her condition, left her nearly bedridden. Although she has some mobility, her lack of balance affects her walk and leaves her unable to walk very far without needing to sit, and her speech alternates between normal and slurred. And her energy declined to where her Monday night lectures at Sacramento State left her incapacitated for the rest of the week.
Currently Dillon’s condition has been undiagnosed by doctors, though they recognize it as a neurological disorder. Dillon says she is determined to find an answer.
“I’ve never felt like a victim,” Dillon says. “I’ve never felt like why me? It has been more of a what can I do to understand this, overcome this, to get through this.”
Now unable to perform as she once did, Dillon is facing some financial hardships. To help her get through this period in her life, some of Dillon’s friends asked her if they could put on a benefit to help raise money for her. Although Dillon says she was reluctant at first, they talked her into it and she finally agreed. “That is the hardest thing to be on the receiving end of such generosity,” Dillon adds with emotion in her voice.
The benefit, Celebrate Francie, is being run by Foley, who was first introduced by Dillon when he hired her to perform at children’s programs for Borders Books & Music in the Sacramento area. After hearing about Dillon’s medical issues, Foley decided to step forward to take on the fundraiser.
The event will be held on Friday, Nov. 2, from 5:30-8:30 p.m. at Fairytale Town, which Fleming says is the logical place for it to happen. “Francie played a major role in the re-invigoration of Fairytale Town, so it just made sense,” she says.
Foley says the fundraiser will feature a performance by Northern California band Mumbo Gumbo, as well as family programming. He says further information can be found at CelebrateFrancie.com, where community members can also purchase tickets for the fundraiser and make donations. Additionally a trust fund for Dillon has been established at the Chase Bank on Florin Road in Sacramento.
“This is not a sad event – it’s a happy event and it’s a way for people to come together and celebrate Francie and the contribution she has made,” Foley says. “And really that is what makes up the fabric of our community or any community is people coming together to honor and support one another.”
Dillon says the money raised will allow her to take the steps she needs to adapt her past career as a children’s entertainer to a new one that works within her current situation, as she knows she still has more to give.
“I can’t believe that the universe is willing to let me just dissolve without making further contributions, I cannot believe that is the plan,” Dillon says. “I believe I’ve got something to give that will benefit and be of service, and now it’s my job to discover that. This benefit will give me the breathing room to make that happen, and to me the greatest gift of all is the room to discover that.”
Celebrate Francie will take place Friday, Nov. 2, from 5:30-8:30pm at Fairytale Town. To purchase tickets and for further information, visit CelebrateFrancie.com.