JVMF - Janet Vargas Memorial Children's Cancer Fund of New Mexico

JVMF History JVMF Children's Cancer Fund of New Mexico www.jvmf.org - left Air Plane
 

The Janet  Vargas Memorial Children’s Cancer Fund  (JVMF) was established on
October 1st, 1977
Janet Vargas - JVMF Children's Cancer Fund of New Mexicoat a meeting of the 1st Sergeants of the New Mexico Air National Guard (NMANG). The JVMF evolved from a single act of kindness.  In early 1977 the NMANG was made aware that a member of the NMANG Frank Vargas’s child Janet was in serious trouble stricken with cancer at an early age.  When it was learned that Janet would not survive her cancer, members of the NMANG raised money to make her wish to go Disneyland come true.  Janet died shortly after the adventure of her short lifetime.  On September 24, 1977, Dr. T. John Gribble, the director of the University of New Mexico Hospital (UNMH) Pediatric Hematology/Oncology Program wrote a letter to the NMANG asking if the guard would be interested in supporting some of the programs at the cancer clinic.  In typical fashion the NMANG needed little time to respond and one week later formed the Janet Vargas Memorial Children’s Cancer Fund.  In less than two months the NMANG raised enough money to purchase Christmas presents for 63 patients undergoing cancer treatments at UNMH.

Charity efforts during the first 8 years were modest raising $2000-$3000 a year to buy small gifts that were stored in a “grab box” and Christmas gifts for the kids.  The grab box was filled with inexpensive prizes that the children coming in for cancer procedures were permitted to take to help offset the discomfort and pain of their procedures.  The guard also asked for a list of children undergoing cancer treatments and purchased small Christmas presents (initially $5-6) for each child.

The next event that would affect the path of the charity over the years was the decision to build a Ronald McDonald House (RMH) in Albuquerque.  On December 1981, ground was broken for the construction of the RMH and construction was completed in mid 1982.  The JVMF relationship with the RMH started at the groundbreaking ceremony.  The Ronald McDonald House is a residence for financially challenged families that have a sick child being seen in one of Albuquerque’s many hospitals.  The early relationship with the RMH began by providing much needed items to support the day-to-day operation of the house and has evolved into supporting many projects over the years.  In 1985 the JVMF started asking the RMH staff what they needed for the house that could not be afforded in the annual budget.  These items became Christmas wishes and ever since the JVMF has made these Christmas wishes come true.  JVMF contributions to the RMH cannot be missed when you visit the house.  Each of the 31 guestrooms contains items donated and maintained by the JVMF including televisions and VCRs. 

In early 1985, the JVMF came under new guidance with the retirement of Senior Master Sergeant Bob Burwinkle the full time charity manager.  Dale Mochko, an A-7D and F-16 fighter pilot with the guard was recruited to head the charity.  Dale had spent 9 years on active duty with the Air Force flying F-4’s and F-104’s and one year with Continental Airlines before becoming a member of the NMANG in 1980.  Dale’s first objectives were to increase revenues, incorporate the charity and apply for non-profit status with the IRS.  The JVMF was incorporated in the State of New Mexico on May 20, 1986 and received IRS 501(C)(3) approval establishing the JVMF as a public foundation on October 1, 1986.  The money began to come in after a series of three raffles and various other successful fundraisers in the late 1980’s.  Dale continues to run the charity after his retirement from the NMANG in 1999 after 28 years of military service in the Air Force and the Air National Guard. 

In 1986, a large donation with conditions from an anonymous NMANG member would change the course of the JVMF.  The money was given providing it was used to have a Christmas party for the cancer patients and their families, thus removing the delivery of the Christmas gifts from the cancer clinic setting.  After that 1st party in 1986 the annual Christmas party became the feature event of the year.  Today the charity spends over $13,000 purchasing 420 gifts for patients and another 240 less expensive gifts for the patient’s siblings that attend the party.  The party is held at Peter Piper Pizza where there is pizza and beverages for all and plenty of tokens so that kids can play a variety of entertaining and fun games.  Garcia’s Kitchen caters a meal for cancer patients and family members that prefer Mexican fare or a traditional meal instead of pizza.  The arrival of Santa is always fun as the smaller children clamor around him when he enters the building.  Santa spends two hours giving out gifts to over 300 patients and siblings.  The remaining patient gifts are shipped to the patients the following week.  While visiting with Santa each family can have a picture or two taken with Santa.  These photos are symbolic for many families and represent another year winning the battle with their child’s cancer.  The party is great fun for all with clowns, face painters, great food, deserts, Santa and early Christmas presents.

The 1988 Christmas Wish for the RMH started the largest project undertaken for the house by the JVMF.  The wish was for the JVMF to totally remodel the house playground. The NMANG civil engineers drew up the plans and did the work on drill weekends and the JVMF purchased $5,000 in materials.  The work commenced in early 1989 and the playground was dedicated on December 3rd 1989.  The transformation included replacing clay, rocks and dirt with paved areas covered with indoor-outdoor carpeting for wheeled vehicles and constructing a jungle gym in a large play area with swings, slides and sand.  Water that flowed off the flat roof and collected in the play area was corrected by installing a gutter system that routed the water underground through pipes and out of the area.  The last improvements included an automatic sprinkler system for shrubs and installing benches so that parents would have a place to sit while monitoring their children.  The playground remains an ongoing project for the NMANG.  The indoor-outdoor carpeting has been replaced three times and the benches were replaced in 1999. An artificial cushioned grass surface was installed in the playground in 2005 at a cost in excess of $10,000. 

In 2001 the NMANG and the JVMF took on additional responsibility.  The charity was made aware that the RMH had an adopt-a-room program.  Local businesses and service organizations take financial responsibility for the furnishings and condition of one of the houses 18 rooms.  When it was learned that two rooms were losing their sponsor, the JVMF and the NMANG immediately adopted both rooms.  The two rooms were given a southwestern tone with a touch of military aircraft thrown in.  One room has a wall size mural depicting an F-16 in flight opposite a pair of hot air balloons in the skies over Albuquerque

The 2008 Christmas wish for the RMH began a yearlong communications project.  The RMH has suffered with poor television reception for years.  The RMH expansion project started in 2007 and increased the facility guestrooms from 18 to 31 (including 5 suites).  The JVMF and the Air National Guard was asked to help improve the television reception in the old house, add data wiring in existing rooms and then tie the old section of the house to the addition in a central technology room.  This RMH expansion project coupled with the approaching digital conversion date convinced JVMF to replace RMH televisions with 36 new digital televisions with built-in DVD players.  The new guestrooms needed an additional 19 VCRs to be installed to make each of the 31 guest rooms capable of using both the DVDs and videocassettes.  This $10,000 project was completed with a total volunteer workforce comprised of New Mexico Air National Guard Communications Flight and JVMF personnel.  Today every RMH guestroom has excellent digital reception, VCR's and DVD players.  In addition families have the capability to hard wire a computer in every RMH guestroom.  The JVMF continues to maintain the entertainment media in the RMH and maintains large DVD and videocassette libraries containing over 750 videos.

Two primary fundraising efforts were crucial in the early evolution of the JVMF and the ability of the JVMF to expand and add programs through over 25 years of existence, the annual JVMF charity golf tournament and the Combined Federal Campaign / United Way fund drive. These two events raise roughly 40% of the charity’s current annual revenue. The Boo Ball, a new fund raising event in Albuquerque has infused a 40% increase in donations to the JVMF over the past two years. This additional support has allowed the JVMF to substantially increase spending in support of the Ronald McDonald House and the University of New Mexico Children's Cancer Clinic. The remaining 20% of JVMF revenues comes from individual donations and interest income.

The primary focus of the charity will always be providing a joyous Christmas party for the patients and families we support.  The NMANG also raises money to adopt financially challenged families with a child fighting cancer and those families are presented a tailored gift to meet their holiday needs.  Typically the family will receive gifts for all the kids, much needed clothes and food to get the family through the holidays.  Going hand and hand with the Christmas spirit, the JVMF provides special gifts (Christmas wishes) for both the UNMH Children’s Cancer Clinic and the Ronald McDonald House. 

The mission and goal of the JVMF is to turn our money into fun and excitement for the sick children and their families.  We achieve this by sponsoring three events, outings to Cliff’s Amusement Park, Hinkle’s Family Fun Center and the annual Christmas party.  These events have a common theme.  They are held at locations that are fun for kids and family members of all ages.  The families are treated to food and beverages provided by the JVMF and served by charity volunteers or NMANG food services personnel.  Cancer clinic nurses, social workers and doctors are invited to the events.  These events give families an opportunity to interact with medical personnel in an informal more casual atmosphere.  These events also allow family members to interact with each other outside the clinic and build friendships with others struggling as they are to deal with a seriously ill child.  The friendships formed at these events and the information shared by the families is often invaluable to help get them through the tough times. 

The New Mexico Air National Guard and the Janet Vargas Memorial Children’s Cancer Fund are proud that when the Cancer Clinic or the Ronald McDonald House seek our support we respond immediately and make it our goal to see that they get what they need.  If we can’t find a donor we will raise the money to make sure needs do not go unfulfilled.  It is our mission to help sick kids and their families.  The Ronald McDonald House and the University of New Mexico Pediatric Oncology Program are two extraordinary organizations that provide a tremendous service to sick children and their families and the community and we are tremendously proud to help them accomplish their missions.

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Janet Vargas Memorial Fund
PO Box 80660
Albuquerque, NM
87198



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