Janet Vargas Memorial Children’s Cancer Fund (JVMF) was
at 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.
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
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.
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