The Valley of the Sun JCC offers a variety of summer camp programs that keep kids occupied with swimming, field trips and crafts. Now, thanks to a new organization, children with disabilities and those in extreme financial need will have the opportunity to take part in those programs as well.
Launched in the fall, J Family Aid is a nonprofit, qualified Arizona charitable tax-credit organization affiliated with The J.
The organization’s mission is to provide fulfilling experiences through summer programming at The J for children living in extreme financial need, as well as those with chronic illness and physical challenges.
Money raised by the new organization will go solely toward funding scholarships for The J’s summer camp programs.
“We are in the midst of a year-end campaign,” said Laura Toussaint-Newkirk, spokesperson for J Family Aid. “Obviously, it’s a great time for people to take advantage of the tax credit, and all the money will go to these scholarships.”
Howard Sckolnik, chief financial officer for the Jewish Community Association of Greater Phoenix, helped navigate J Family Aid through state and federal requirements to become a tax-credit organization.
He said the current goal is to raise $50,000 for scholarships to summer 2019 camps. Sckolnik hopes to double those donations in order to provide more scholarships in summer 2020.
While J Family Aid is only just starting its public fundraising campaign, it already has raised $10,000 through word of mouth.
To qualify for the J Family Aid program, a family must meet at least one of the following:
Have a child age 21 or younger with a qualifying physical or developmental challenge.
Meet the state of Arizona eligibility requirements to receive Temporary Assistance for Needy Families benefits.
Have a household income below 150% of the federal poverty level.
Initially, Sckolnik said, the scholarships will be going to special needs children, and will be available to children of all faiths.
Sckolnik, whose wife teaches special needs students, has seen the stress families are under as they care for their children. The J’s summer camp programs may provide some of those families with a bit of a respite.
“If we can help two or three families — or five families — to have their child in a program for two or three weeks during the summers, it’s a win-win,” he said.
All donations to J Family Aid are eligible for a dollar-for-dollar tax credit reduction in state income taxes — up to $400 for those filing as individuals and up to $800 for those filing jointly.
“Here’s an opportunity where you can really direct your tax dollars,” Sckolnik said. “It’s such a simple, easy thing to do and people can wait to donate until April 14 before they write a check to the state.”
He added that the details of the program are still being fleshed out and will depend on how much money is raised. But every penny will be used.
“The cost to support a medically fragile child for a week or two that includes one-on-one aides is very expensive,” Sckolnik said. “I don’t see us having any problem with spending all the money on a camp program.”
In the past, The J had camps for special needs children, Toussaint-Newkirk said. The J is thrilled that those camps are returning.
“Regardless of their faith, background or abilities, everybody is welcome to take part in The J’s preschool and after-school programs, including those for special needs children,” Toussaint-Newkirk said. “We are very excited that in addition to our adaptive recreation programs, we will be bringing back an adaptive camp program this summer.”
For now, scholarships to the The J’s special needs summer camp will be offered to children in grades K-5, eventually expanding as more donations are made to J Family Aid.
However, no matter how many special needs children are served in its first year, the camps will provide a summer of joy.
“They can have a very enriching experience that is tailored for them,” Sckolnik said, “where they get to smile and swim and splash just like they see the other kids doing, and I think that’s really what we want to accomplish.” JN
For more information or to donate to J Family Aid, visit jfamtaxcredit.org.