The Jewelers Charity Fund for Children: Changing-and Saving-Young Lives

“Save one life, and it is as if you have saved the entire world,” says a Jewish proverb. Thanks to the Jewelers Charity Fund for Children (JCFC), that adage is being demonstrated daily in the lives of many critically ill children and their families. But the industry’s only national charity-“a collaboration of wishes, hopes, and dreams,” says its literature-needs wider grassroots support for it to thrive and be effective.

Although the nonprofit, tax-exempt JCFC was organized in 1999 by jewelry industry leaders, it is the culmination of years of benevolence. In 1982, designer Clyde Duneier founded the International Retail Jewelers’ Charity Fund (IRJCF), which raised $15 million over 15 years for nine charitable organizations. In the late 1980s, the second-largest U.S. jewelry retailer, Sterling Inc., under former chairman Nathan Light, launched its annual “Party With a Purpose” gala to raise funds for research into blindness. Initially held in New York, it moved to Las Vegas in 1990, where it was held each June during The JCK International Jewelry Show. The two became one in 1995 when IRJCF was asked to take over the “Party” and moved its own New York City fundraiser to Las Vegas during The JCK Show.

When Duneier retired in the late 1990s, a number of industry leaders decided to revamp, refocus, and rename the industry’s national charitable endeavor. Rather then spread its money among many groups, they decided it would have more impact if given to a few charities that focus on children.

The new organization, named the Jewelers Charity Fund for Children, was launched in June 1999 with dozens of jewelry industry leaders on its executive committee and honorary board of directors (40% retailers, 40% manufacturers, and 20% from trade groups). The JCFC appointed an executive director, Pattie Light, and began raising money year-round for three charities that help critically ill children. They are St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, the world’s largest pediatric cancer research center; the Make-A-Wish Foundation, which grants wishes to children under 18 with life-threatening and terminal illnesses; and the Elisabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation, which funds and conducts research to prevent and treat HIV infection in infants and children.

“Our industry will make a difference for children desperately in need of a brilliant future [by funding] research advances, extensive treatment, experimental procedures, or something as uncomplicated as a trip to Disneyland,” said a 1999 statement by then-co-chairmen Terry Burman, chairman of Sterling Inc., and Jonathan A. Goldman, chairman of Frederick Goldman Inc.

Successful start. The JCFC had an impressive first year, raising $1.05 million from jewelry retailers, manufacturers, and trade groups. The funds were presented to the beneficiaries June 4 at JCFC’s second “Facets of Hope” gala, which replaced the “Party With A Purpose.” The money was evenly divided among the three charities, each of which has a special program with JCFC (“so we can tell jewelers what their money is spent on,” explains Light). They are:

  • St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. This year’s $350,000 contribution brings to $1.2 million the money raised on a seven-year-old industry pledge of $1.5 million. The money funds St. Jude’s state-of-the-art bone marrow transplant clinic, dedicated Nov. 16 and named for the JCFC. The rest of the pledge is expected to be raised in time for the 2001 “Facets of Hope” dinner.

  • The Elisabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation. JCFC is the first founding member of the Glaser Pediatric Research Network, which links and supports world-renowned medical institutions as they collaborate on researching medical treatments for children, bringing more doctors into pediatric research, and addressing long-term pediatric issues, both legislatively and in the “pharmaceutical and biomedical corporate environments.”

  • Make-A-Wish Foundation. In cooperation with JCFC and Jewelers of America, the Foundation created the “Wish-A-State” program, with JCFC money used specifically for one or more children in each state. In its first year, the program granted 50 wishes. A state’s Make-A-Wish office cooperates with the state jewelers association in a check presentation (usually at the jewelers’ convention) and/or the wish-granting activity.

Finding funds. The JCFC has several creative ways of raising money.

  • The “Facets of Hope” gala. The organization’s annual fundraiser this year welcomed 1,150 industry members at $500 per ticket. The event details how JCFC contributions are used and honors a jewelry industry leader active in public and private philanthropy. This year’s honoree was Jeffery W. Comment, chairman and CEO of the 205-store Helzberg Diamonds chain, who is active in several jewelry trade organizations and many civic and charitable groups in his hometown of Kansas City, Mo. His book, Mission in the Marketplace, tells how Christian principles can be applied in the work environment.

However, Comment (a member of the JCFC executive committee) was specifically honored for “Santa’s Tour,” a program he created for businesspeople based on his years of dressing up as Santa Claus and visiting thousands of injured, sick, and terminally ill children who spend the holidays in hospitals. His latest book, , is his touching story of one such child.

  • The JCFC Countertop Canister Program. Launched in late 1999, it’s one of the easiest and most effective ways of raising money for JCFC, and it enables any store to participate. The colorful canisters are the idea of Stanley K. Pollack, chief operating officer of the 11-store G. M. Pollack & Sons in Maine, who was inspired by Jewish family “tzadaka boxes,” into which small change is put for good works. He made a prototype, put it in one of his stores, and in a short time collected $192.

Pollack took the box to a JCFC executive committee meeting in the summer of 1999, dumped the money on the table in front of everyone, and said: “If we can get this from one box in one store, think what the JCFC could get from one in every jewelry store in America!” The JCFC committee approved the idea. Jewelers of America, the largest U.S. retail jewelers organization (of which Pollack was then president) picked up the tab to produce 10,000 canisters. JCFC paid for acrylic canister stands and the cost of mailing them to jewelers. (JCFC ships canisters free of charge to jewelers who request them.) Currently, 8,500 U.S. jewelry stores participate.

Each jewelry business has its own way of using the canisters. Some put one in their company lunchroom, so employees can contribute. Samuels Jewelers-a 200-store national chain headquartered in Austin, Texas-has charged its store managers with raising at least $3 a day in the JCFC canister in their stores, with a total goal of $250,000 by the next “Facets of Hope” gala. Other jewelers provide services like battery replacement or jewelry cleaning for free-and ask customers to donate some or all of the normal cost of the job to the canister.

Some jewelers put in money from recycled batteries or scrap gold. At Pollack & Sons headquarters, “Anyone who wants to dress casually on Friday must put a dollar in the canister in the lobby. So do all salesmen who visit us,” says Stan Pollack. Other jewelers simply put the canister next to the checkout register where customers can see it and contribute. As added incentive, JCFC says independent jewelers will receive a complimentary ticket to the 2001 “Facets of Hope” gala for every $500 they collect in their canisters by May 1. (Any portion of that can also be applied to the cost of a ticket.)

JCFC asks jewelers to empty their canisters monthly and send it a check for the amount. “We get four or five checks a day from jewelers, in amounts of $8 to $35,” says Light. “As of mid-September, we have raised $50,000 from the canisters.”

  • Holiday greetings. This year, JCFC offered its own corporate holiday greeting card ($15 for a box of 25), designed by Haley Hubbard, a young patient who underwent a successful bone marrow transplant at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. It also offered insert cards to those making donations in someone’s name to JCFC, which the donors could put into their own greeting cards to those people.

  • Sweepstakes. JCFC officials and members sold raffle tickets for a cruise from France to Turkey. With a minimum donation of $20, the project raised $25,000.

  • Memorials and tributes. These are meaningful ways to honor a relative, friend, or co-worker or commemorate special events like birthdays, anniversaries, or significant accomplishments. Gifts are acknowledged with a specially designed card and the name of the contributor (though not the gift amount). Contributions are tax deductible; a receipt is mailed to the donor.

  • Special local events. “We encourage all jewelers to get involved by planning special events that benefit JCFC,” says Light. Recent examples include the New Mexico Jewelers Association’s fundraising raffle as well as golf tournaments sponsored by the New Hampshire Jewelers Association, the Tri-State Jewelers Association, and G. M. Pollack & Sons. Sears, Roebuck & Co. asked its vendor partners to contribute to JCFC in lieu of holiday treats. Two Bailey, Banks & Biddle stores in New Jersey held a fundraiser featuring a Marilyn Monroe look-alike, while the Rapaport Diamond Corp. raised $1,800 during an auction at The JCK Show.

But if the JCFC is to thrive, more hometown jewelers must get actively involved. That grassroots support is “where we look for success in the future,” says Light. “The large companies are generous, but it is the ongoing support of independent jewelers that we need. No company is too large or too small to be involved with JCFC’s mission of helping sick children.”

As Stan Pollack notes, “We all have the potential to change lives and to be miracle workers.”