After struggling to have children of their own and becoming foster parents to several children who were then sent back to their families, Freeport native Michelle Ross and her husband Bruce took in a little girl named Bella shortly after she was born.
Bella’s birth mom had been affiliated with the Jewish foster care and adoption organization JAFCO and placed twin boys into the program following a family history of dysfunction, abuse and neglect.
For two years, JAFCO sought to transfer Bella’s guardian rights from her birth mom to the couple and in 2006 succeeded in fulfilling Ross’s lifelong dream of becoming a mom.
“We promised that we would take care of Bella and love her every second of her life,” she told an audience of about 240 people Thursday at JAFCO’s sixth annual “Fun in the Sun” fundraiser at the Glen Head Country Club. “We have kept our promise.”
Founded in 1992 and based in South Florida, JAFCO in the last two decades has expanded to the northeast to offer services in the New York area and last April opened a facility in Philadelphia.
Approximately 20 percent of the organization’s $5 million operating budget comes from fundraisers like “Fun in the Sun,” which featured a luncheon, card games, yoga and a shopping boutique supported by various North Shore retailers. The 2014 “Fun in the Sun” raised $35,000.
With the “Fun in the Sun” event having grown each year since it began at the Old Westbury home of northeast chapter president Pearl Halegua, JAFCO officials have said they hope to soon offer the program’s full range of services and open an office in New York.
“What we’re doing here is meaningful,” Halegua said Thursday.
Thursday’s luncheon began with a solemn lighting of five candles, which JAFCO officials said symbolizes the five American children who die every day due to abuse and neglect.
JAFCO volunteer Cheryl Goldberg was also installed as part of the organization’s godparent initiative in which people commit to an $1,800 annual donation to ensure its foster children maintain hope, food, clothing a home and dignity.
Rana Bell, JAFCO’s director of northeast development, said Thursday the program has expanded to offer services to children with developmental disabilities as well as those who come from families dealing with substance abuse and domestic violence issues.
“We can’t sit by and watch,” she said, citing a statistic in which one of six newborns will develop a disability by age three.