Becky arrived at Jewish Adoption and Foster Care Options (JAFCO) as an abandoned, 12-year-old foster child. She will leave as a college-educated veteran of the Israel Defense Forces with professional experience working with children diagnosed with developmental disabilities.

Chana came to JAFCO at 16 years old, after enduring hardships that left her and her sister behind in school and far away from their dreams. Chana recently shared words of gratitude with her JAFCO friends, as she enters her junior year at University of Florida, after earning a 4.0 GPA at Broward College.

Thanks to your generosity, the Jewish Federation of South Palm Beach County is able to fund supportive environments for Jewish youth, who rely upon JAFCO’s group home program to thrive.

The Jewish Federation recently invested in JAFCO’s group home program with funding to help provide its clients with food, clothing, medical care, Jewish education and holiday celebrations. JAFCO program alumnae Becky and Chana regard JAFCO as their haven, where they found support and safety after life’s circumstances left them and their siblings without a traditional home and on their own. Within the program, Becky and Chana received the structure, motivation and guidance to make large strides towards successful lives.

Meet Becky – From foster child to IDF sergeant

A foster child of JAFCO, who went through hardships in her childhood, is now serving in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). Becky came to live in JAFCO’s Children’s Village in Sunrise at the age of 12, after having endured trauma, abuse and abandonment. Now 22 years old, Becky put her college career on hold to give two years of her life to the IDF, where she is a sergeant in the Air Force. Becky, who stayed at the Children’s Village during her 30-day leave from the IDF, explained her inspiration for joining the Israeli military.

“As a kid, I had a very strong Jewish connection. To me, Judaism was something more than just the Torah and all its commandments; it was a little bit deeper. I really did believe that I would find a lot more of my connection in Israel,” she said. “Growing up at JAFCO, they always made a point and were always very honest with Judaism. During Shabbat services on Friday nights, High Holiday services and any holiday, we were all together all the time. It really was like a family, an untraditional family; but it was still a beautiful thing, and I felt very connected to my roots.”

After graduating high school, Becky felt she had to dig a little deeper into her roots. She participated in a gap year program in Israel, where she fell in love with the country, its origins and how it’s developed, while appreciating how the country deals with its daily battles. This sparked her interest in joining the IDF towards the end of the program.

Becky returned to South Florida, worked and went to college. However, she eventually went back to Israel and joined the IDF, realizing her goals. She praises JAFCO for supporting her.

Her service with the IDF ends in April 2021, when she will return to live at JAFCO’s Children’s Village until she’s 23. She will complete college while working full time at the organization’s Children’s Ability Center, which serves children diagnosed with developmental disabilities.

With her passion for nonprofit event planning, Becky is also JAFCO’s annual gala co-emcee and is member of the organization’s Alumni Circle.

Meet Chana – From being lost to being UF-bound

Below are Chana’s words that she shared with the children living at the JAFCO Jewish Children’s Village, during her graduation party, when she received her AA degree:

“From a young age, I can remember having huge aspirations of what I wanted my future to hold. From wanting to become a doctor or ballerina, my dreams were endless. Unfortunately, from a young age, I also had to go through quite a few nightmares that no one should have to go through.”

My parents divorced when I was about nine years old, which put a large toll on my whole family, and started a huge chain of unfortunate events. From this point, both of my parents struggled to keep a stable job and the fear of whether there would be running water in my house or a hot dinner seemed to become more and more frequent. My mother’s mental health began to decline, as well. By the time I was 12, I had witnessed my mother having three psychotic breaks, followed by hospital stays. Each time she came back, she seemed less and less like the mother I remembered, and it became harder and harder for her to take care of me and my sisters.

During times where my mother was in the hospital or very unstable, my sisters and I would have to stay with different neighbors, relatives, and friends’ houses as my father was unable to house all of us. As you can imagine, school was not always a top priority in these situations. I would go multiple days without attending school. And on the days that I did attend school, the thought of not knowing where I would be sleeping each night would steal my focus. I began to fall behind barely being able to graduate middle school.

This pattern continued throughout my first two years of high school. At the end of my sophomore year, I had attended less than three months of high school and did not obtain a single high school credit toward my diploma. I had so many dreams that seemed to be slipping from my grasp. Around two and a half years ago, on June 6, 2018, I was 16 years old and found myself going through one of the biggest changes of my life. My sisters and I came here to JAFCO.

Although I was scared out of my mind the first time pulling through that gate, there was also a huge sense of relief. I knew that I was finally safe and would not have to worry about mine and my sisters’ basic needs being met. We started receiving nonstop support from so many amazing people right away. Although it can be annoying at times having so many people on my back, they are truly all there to help and support me in my journey and giving me opportunities I would’ve never had otherwise.

As school came along, the decision was made that I would work towards getting my GED, followed by enrolling in community college. I finally had something to work towards and the right environment to do it in. In just a few short weeks, I obtained my GED and enrolled in my first semester at Broward College at the age of 16. Going from being two years behind in high school to starting college at the age of 16 completely changed my goals and mindset. Tasks that I used to deem as impossible are now tasks I cannot wait to complete.

My two years at BC flew by, just like every person at JAFCO told me they would. I somehow managed to graduate with a 4.0 GPA, which would not have been possible without the help and guidance from Ms. Ashley. From listening to my nervous banter about exams, proofreading all my essays, and getting amazing tutors, I could not have done it without her support.

If someone told me three years ago, I would have my AA at 18 and be just two days out from moving to Gainesville and starting my junior year at my dream school, the University of Florida, I would not have believed them! But this just goes to show that with the right mindset and the right environment nothing is impossible and to everyone in this room, whether you are in elementary school, middle school, high school or just starting college… take advantage of everything JAFCO has to offer, especially when it comes to school. Education is not something you should take for granted; it is a power that can take you far in life no matter what path you choose to take.

I also want to say a huge thank you to every staff, child, and supervisor, whether you were my inspiration, my admiration, or my motivation. Each of you has played a role in my growth this past year ,and I am so grateful. Finally, a huge thank you to Aunt Sarah and Aunt Wendy for creating this amazing environment for so many kids. Your love and support truly make me feel like nothing is impossible.

I cannot wait to be able to re-edit this long speech, when I finish my Bachelor’s ,and then when I finish my Master’s, and maybe even my Doctorate, which I know will all be possible with the help from JAFCO and the determination to do it.