About Us

Our Mission

JAFCO’s mission is to provide care, safety and support to children and their families within the Jewish community and beyond who are impacted by abuse, neglect, trauma, or developmental disabilities…giving every child a place to belong.

JAFCO provides a full continuum of high-quality services including foster care, adoption, family preservation, mentoring, independent living and developmental disability programs. The JAFCO Children’s Village, consisting of an Emergency Shelter and six Group Homes, is one of the most unique and innovative programs in the nation. The JAFCO Children’s Ability Center supports families raising children with developmental disabilities by providing family enrichment, resources, and respite care all within one state-of-the-art center. JAFCO also is providing foster care, adoption, family preservation and support services to families raising a child with a developmental disability in our Philadelphia office.

2023 – JAFCO Children’s Ability Center
Channel 6 News

2023 – JAFCO Children’s Ability Center Justin Kohlhagen
Inside South Florida

2020 – JAFCO CAC Tour

Vision

JAFCO’s vision is to provide a model child welfare program which can be replicated by other communities around the country providing a full continuum of high-quality family preservation, case management, foster care, adoption, emergency shelter, group home, independent living, therapy, mentoring, family enrichment, and respite services to both typical and special needs children and their families. We believe that the care of children in our community is our responsibility, one we accept with joy, pride and love.

Our long-range vision is to promote the development of our unique comprehensive services to abused, neglected and special needs children in other Jewish communities around the country — whether those services are provided by local existing autonomous agencies, or by JAFCO directly.

Philosophy:

JAFCO believes that the care of our children is a community responsibility.

We believe that while JAFCO was created to fill an unmet need in the Jewish community, it is our privilege, our pleasure and our responsibility as a Jewish community to offer our quality services to any child and family in need.

We believe that by recognizing and respecting the signs and symptoms of trauma in our clients and other stakeholders, we can mindfully integrate our commitment to the Trauma Informed Care Model and Person Centered Approach into our policies, procedures, practices and daily interactions.

We believe that nothing is more tragic than a family torn apart and that providing a child with a familiar cultural and religious environment will assist that child as they heal from the trauma of abuse and neglect and separation from their biological family.

We believe that communities will respond to the responsibility of caring for abused and neglected and special needs children when appropriately educated as to presence of local children needing their support, and when an organizational framework is established that provides concerned people with opportunities to participate in meeting the needs of such children.

We believe that children served by JAFCO should be treated no differently than the traditional way loving “Jewish parents” would act toward their biological children, offering them the best life has to offer in all aspects of their social, emotional, physical, educational, cultural and spiritual development.

We believe that caring for dependent children should not be viewed as charity, but should be viewed as a parent caring for a child — with joy, pride, love and support…giving every child a place to belong.

History of JAFCO

by: Shani McManus, Jewish Journal Staff Writer

Ronald D. Simon may be just 55 years old, but as President and founder of Jewish Adoption and Foster Care Options, also known as JAFCO, he ranks as a true-life pioneer in the child welfare and foster care field. Moreover, the proven success of The JAFCO Children’s Village, located on a five-acre site in Sunrise and providing a wide range of services for more than 350 abused and neglected children, may possibly stand as the model for future state-run foster care programs nationwide.

Since he grew up with 10 siblings, it is no surprise that Simon, who was born in Philadelphia and moved with his family to Miami Beach at age 13, would devote his life to improving the lives of children. The Delray Beach resident, who married his high school sweetheart, Deni, and is the father of two grown sons, initially became involved in child welfare during the 1980’s‚ when he headed a national training program, the first such organization to initiate preparation classes for foster parenting.

Simon earned his doctorate in education in 1982 at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton. While still involved in education as president of Alternate Educational Systems, which develops and operates model independent educational programs in the state of Florida, and as headmaster at the Randazzo School in Coconut Creek, his true career is in social services. “A lot of decisions in life happen by chance, without planning,” Simon says. “I felt this was my calling.”

The idea for JAFCO grew out of Simon’s‚ years of work with social services and child welfare, and took root in 1992 when, with the help of Nova staff associates Sarah Franco and Wendy Jenkins (who later became JAFCO founding Executive and Clinical Director), he saw a need. We would come across Jewish kids, and (we) found they were totally separated from the Jewish community, he says. So we decided to form our own agency, and since we were experts in this field, we wanted to create something in the Jewish community that would be significant.

JAFCO started as a private charity funded by the Simon family, with his uncle, Jack Taylor, putting up the seed money, along with his father, Charlie Simon, and himself. The concept of JAFCO is an original idea and revolutionary, Simon says. Where JAFCO differs is that it is a privately-funded community-based agency. The Jewish community says these kids are really a part of our family. You won’t find this in state welfare; we view them as our kids. It is our hope that the model we created in Florida will become the model for the rest of the country.

Future plans may include opening JAFCO prototypes in other communities around the country one day. A current project will expand JAFCO services to include a campus to help developmentally disabled children and their families. Simon is grateful to the Jewish community for making his dream come true. “Without Ron Simon, JAFCO would never exist”, says Sarah Franco, JAFCO Executive Director. “He is one of the most caring and intelligent human beings I know and thankfully his love for children has spread throughout our JAFCO family.”

Preserving Our Jewish Heritage

Nothing is more tragic than a family torn apart. When a child is removed from his family, he leaves behind what he has known and takes with him his fears, anger, hurt and insecurities. We believe that we can provide one less obstacle in the healing process by providing a child with a familiar cultural and religious environment. We believe every child deserve a safe and loving home.

Founded in 1992 by the Simon Family, JAFCO was created to ensure that Jewish children who were being removed from their home due to abuse or neglect and in one moment lose everything that is important to them, their home, their family, their pets, their friends, would at least be able to take with them the one piece of their identity that comes from their connection with their Jewish heritage. 

Prior to the creation of JAFCO the Jewish community had not taken any action to care for these children who ended up lost in a large state foster care system that was not able to maintain their Jewish identity. While JAFCO was created specifically to meet an unmet need in the Jewish community, it is the Jewish tradition to take care of any child in need and respect their culture and religion as well.

The JAFCO Jewish Children’s Village and the JAFCO Foster Care and Adoption Program are the placement options for a child whose family is unable to care for them.

  • Adoption
  • Foster Care
  • Group Homes (The Children’s Village)

At the JAFCO Jewish Children’s Village, we teach the children about the beauty of Judaism by…

  • Nurturing them with Kosher food
  • Celebrating Shabbat dinner and services
  • Learning about being Jewish at Hebrew School
  • Giving each child a Bar or Bat Mitzvah of their own complete with a beautiful celebration
  • Celebrating Rosh Hashanah with a beautiful dinner and attending services
  • Observing Yom Kippur with the traditions of  tashlich, fasting and a break-fast dinner
  • Inviting the community to our annual Tu B’shvat Seder and Tree Planting
  • Celebrating Passover with a beautiful Seder
  • Keeping the miracle of Chanukah alive with special gifts, candle lighting and an annual party

Frequently Asked Questions

Do you have a new facility for children with autism?

Yes. In 2014, JAFCO opened the Children’s Ability Center which provides family enrichment, support, and respite for children with all developmental disabilities including Autism, Intellectual Disabilities, Spina Bifida, Cerebral Palsy and Prader Willi. We support families who are raising a child with a disability ages birth through 22 with support groups, case management, education, training, social and life skills training and clubs for the children, summer camp and day and overnight respite, also known as Incredible Social Experience. Naming opportunities in honor or memory of a loved one are still available for those wishing to donate to the Center and name a room or building.

What does JAFCO stand for?

JAFCO stands for Jewish Adoption and Family Care Options.

How does JAFCO hear about the children?

JAFCO can help a family in one of two ways: either voluntarily with the request of the parent or guardian or if ordered by the court; referrals are made by the state, schools, grandparents, rabbis, therapists, teachers, neighbors, family members and by parents themselves who are seeking help.

I know someone who is interested in adopting a child? Can you help them? What about a baby?

Yes. There are always children in need of homes and JAFCO is a licensed adoption agency. A family who wishes to adopt should email Katie Ginsberg, our Foster Care, and Adoption Specialist at [email protected] to get the process started by attending one of our free monthly adoption orientations in Sunrise, Florida. A parent wishing to place their child for adoption should also contact Katie.

Over the years where have the children come from?

Since our inception in 1992, we has served over 4,000 children from all over South Florida in one of our 9 programs, (foster care, adoption, family preservation, emergency shelter, group homes, independent living, and developmental disabilities) in the following ratios: from Broward (35%), from Palm Beach (25%) and from Miami-Dade (35%). 5% of the children have come from other states and countries including NY, PA, NJ, CA, NV, MD and also Canada and Israel.

Does JAFCO serve only Jewish children?

No. JAFCO was created to fulfill an unmet need in the Jewish community and as a Jewish agency it is also our privilege and our pleasure to help any child and any family in need.

How do you screen your foster parents? Do you supervise them after they receive a placement? Do they get paid?

Our foster parents are trained and screened according to state guidelines which include FBI background checks, employer and personal reference checks, medical and psychological evaluations including drug screens and more. The process takes about 4 months. Once a child is placed with a foster family a JAFCO social worker visits the child and the home at least once per week and offers 24 hour on call support to the foster parents. Foster parents receive a small monthly stipend from the state for food, clothing and childcare expenses. Foster parents must show ample income and financial stability prior to being approved. JAFCO foster parents very often use their own funds to supplement the needs of the child and do this from their heart.

What are the ages of the children you serve?

The children we serve range from 2 days to 22 years of age.

How many children live at the JAFCO Children’s Village? Where do they go to school?

The JAFCO Village can hold up to 52 children: 16 in the shelter and 36 in the 6 group homes. The children attend either local area public or private schools or they are transported by the JAFCO staff to their home schools, sometimes in Boca or Miami Beach. Over 1,000 children have found safety at the Weicholz Family Campus of the David Posnack Jewish Children’s Village over the past 12 years.

What happens when the children turn 18?

A child who turns 18 can live at the Village until the age of 21. JAFCO will support them until the age of 24 if they are in college, drug free and leading a healthy lifestyle and we will help them move into an apartment or college dorm and prepare for Independent Living.

Do the children get to visit with their parents?

Yes. We strongly encourage visitation with parents and family members and will supervise the visits if so ordered by the court.

Are there hands-on volunteer opportunities?

Yes. There are volunteer opportunities to work with the children at the Children’s Village and at the Children’s Ability Center. For more information visit our website and attend one of our Tours to get started. Also our JAFCO Chapters are made up solely of volunteers who work tirelessly to create events to raise awareness and funds for JAFCO.

Are there JAFCOs anywhere else in the country?

Currently the JAFCO Jewish Children’s Village and the JAFCO Children’s Ability Center are the only centers of their kind in the Jewish community in the United States.

Do you have an office in Philadelphia?

Yes, in April of 2014 we opened our first expansion office in Philadelphia, serving the greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey communities. This office offers Family Strengthening support services, supervised visitation, and support groups for siblings and parents of children with special needs. To contact our Philadelphia office to help with an event or refer a family for services, please call 610.525.1040.

Are there JAFCOs anywhere else in the country?

Currently the JAFCO Jewish Children’s Village and the JAFCO Children’s Ability Center are the only centers of their kind in the Jewish community in the United States.

How can I get involved?
  • Volunteer your time with the children, tutoring, mentoring or donating your professional medical, legal or dental services.
  • Sponsor an annual JAFCO event including our Black Tie Gala, Women’s Luncheon, Golf Tournament, a child’s Bar/Bat Mitzvah or birthday party, a Shabbat dinner or a trip to Disney World.
  • Become a Godparent by making a financial commitment of $1,800 per year for ten years and join the exclusive JAFCO Godparent Circle. Godparents are pinned at our annual Gala or Luncheon with a beautiful custom made gold pin.
  • Support the new Children’s Ability Center with a capital gift/naming opportunity or support the programs at the center by joining the Circle of Hope by making a financial commitment of $1800 a year for ten years. Circle of Hope members are pinned at the annual In My Shoes Luncheon and other events as well.
  • Make an annual gift to support the children’s needs including food, clothing, therapy, medical care, education, recreation and any other needs they may have.
  • Create an endowment or special purpose fund in your family name to ensure that JAFCO will be here to save the lives of generations of children and families yet to come.
  • Make a planned gift – remember the JAFCO children when you are planning your legacy and leave a gift to JAFCO in your will with a gift of cash, stocks or real estate.
  • Earn a competitive percentage of your charitable donation with a JAFCO Gift Annuity.
  • Host a Parlor Meeting, Dorm Shower, Baby Shower or Ability Center Shower in your home to make your friends aware of the work that JAFCO does in the community. You provide the guest list and the refreshments and JAFCO will take care of the rest. Have your guests become members with a $36.00 gift and fill our wish list.

Meet the Team

EXECUTIVE AND DEVELOPMENT STAFF

Sarah Franco, MS

Chief Executive Officer
Main: 954-749-7230
Direct: 954-315-8680

Wendy Jenkins, LCSW

Chief Clinical & Operations Officer
Direct: 954-749-7230, ext. 110 

Justin Kohlhagen, PsyD

Executive Director – Children’s Ability Center
Main: 954-315-7033
Direct: 954-315-8697

Jill Lapensohn

Executive Director – FamilyMatters
Main:  610-525-1040
Direct: 484-385-0726

Rebecca Jarquin, LCSW

Director – Eagles’ Haven
Direct: 954-618-0344 

Shea Pucci, LMFT

Clinical Director
Main: 954-749-7230
Direct: 954-315-8683

Katie Ginsberg, LCSW

Director of Foster Care and Adoption
Main: 954-749-7230
Direct: 954-315-8676

Shelli Gold

Director of Development Operations
Main: 954-749-7230
Direct: 954-315-8671

Janet Epstein

Philanthropy Director
Main: 954-749-7230
Direct: 954-315-8696

Rebecca Salus Hodge, MSW

Director of Grants and Partnerships
Main: 610-525-1040
Direct: 484-385-0725

David Rudolph, PHR, SHRM-CP

Director of Human Resources
Main: 954-749-7230
Direct: 954-315-8690

Maher Malak

Chief Financial Officer
Main: 954-749-7230
Direct: 954-315-7031

Sheree Spaulding

Comptroller
Main: 954-749-7230
Direct: 954-315-8684

Michael Moran

Illuminate Venue & Facilities Director
Direct: 954-226-9925
 

CHILDREN’S VILLAGE BOARD OF TRUSTEES

Stewart Greenberg
Chairman

Richard Allen
Vice Chairman

Dorinne Gerstin
Secretary

Maurice D. Plough, Jr.
Imm. Past Chair

Barry Sylvetsky
Treasurer

Dr. Ronald Simon
Founding President 

Dara Berger
Allen Chelminsky
Dr. Jerome Chermak
Dr. Hyman Eisenstein
Vicki Freed
Mara Gober
Paul Goldner
Abbey Kaplan
Glenda Krongold

Justin Leo
Marsha Levy
Sholom Neistein
Jeffrey Schacknow
Denise Simon
Keith Singer
Dr. Lisa Sirota Weiner
Helene Weicholz
Francine Zeitz

CHILDREN’S ABILITY CENTER BOARD OF TRUSTEES

Melissa Barnhardt
Chairwoman

Amy Sylvetsky
Vice Chairwoman

Laurie Rich Levinson
Treasurer

Marjorie Plough
Secretary

Louise Allen
Chairwoman Emeritus

Marc Abrams
Susan Auerbach
Leslie Berman
Perry Isenberg
Stefanie Kushner
Nicole Lopez-Alvar
Rita Messner

Stacy Mager
Sandi Morris
James Orleans
Rachel Sapoznik
Dr. Ronald Simon
Sharon Wender

CHILDREN’S FOUNDATION BOARD OF TRUSTEES

Stuart Rader
Chairman

Marci Langley
Vice Chairwoman

Laurence Herrup
Treasurer

Larry Robinson
 Secretary

Randi Winter
VP of Fundraising

Linda Brodie
Kenneth Fisher
Mara Gober
Paul Goldner
Stewart Greenberg
Leslie Kaminoff

William Kushner
Kenneth Morris
Maurice D. Plough, Jr.
Dr. Ronald Simon
Steven Weiss
Ed Wenger

JAFCO FAMILYMATTERS BOARD OF TRUSTEES

Linda Brodie
Chairwoman

Mark Taplinger
Vice Chairman & Treasurer

Michael Simon
Secretary

Louise Allen
Terry Auerbach
Rana Bell
Alan Casnoff
Debbie Casnoff

Amy Chipetz
David Kaplan
David Levy
Maurice D. Plough, Jr.