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‚ 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.”