I am currently the Administrator of the JFK Health and Welfare Fund. I founded the Fund as the “US Customs Inspectors Health and Welfare Fund” as an unincorporated association in 1986. Our current name was changed when we incorporation in the State of NY in 1998
The original objective of this organization was simply to improve the working conditions for US Customs officers at JFK, namely by improving the areas provided by the airlines and the Port Authority of NY for our use as break rooms for use between tours, lunch breaks, waiting time between arriving flights, etc. US Customs provided some very old, turn of the twentieth century lockers. Management scrounged up some old tables and chairs from the old Customs House and when SAS airlines left JFK for Newark International, they gave Customs some old furniture from their employee's lounge. These were placed in the International Arrival area break room which was nothing more than an old operations office. These sofas were upholstered in a plastic bonded material that was impossible to sit on for more than a few minutes.
We had one small refrigerator which was maybe, a generation removed from the refrigerators made with the compressors on top and two generations removed from an actual "ice box". This was it. This is what was provided for the entire workforce working this facility for three different tours every day plus overtime hours. All told, more that 100 inspectors and support personnel using this area during the slow seasons, and maybe 150 during the peak travel seasons. This area that was less than 22x22 square feet total and a portion of that area included the lockers which were installed on every wall.
Then in 1985, the Port Authority of NY had plans to rehabilitate areas within the building which included the area where our break room was located. I took it upon myself to look over these plans which were just left out in the open in the work area. I did not like what I saw. The "new" break room facility was not very large. Most of the area was going to be given to install our lockers which would be a consolidation from all the lockers placed in various locations in the building.
The plans called for a small kitchen area with room for some sitting and a men's bathroom. There was a separate lounge area but it was not very large. There was no zoned lighting.
I took the initiative to contact the Port Authority and as a result, they agreed to make 17 different design changes, which included zoned heating, lighting, a larger men’s room, the locker room partitioned off from the kitchen area, a larger kitchen and a carpeted lounge area.
What we were to receive in the way of space was very generous. But, we were going to have a new area with nothing in the way of furniture.
I took the initiative and contacted every male Customs officer who would use this facility or any of the other facilities provided by the airlines at the other terminals. It took a while, but within the year I had collected more than $14,000 to purchase furniture and appliances for this new area. Along the way, a number of inspectors volunteered to
assist me. Some had contacts who could provide furniture at a reasonable price, others knew businesses where we could buy appliances. After the facility was completed, we are able to purchase just about all we needed with only a short fall of $400.
But, we had no way to support this facility or any of them as equipment, appliances and furniture required repair or replacement. This was the beginning of the Fund. Voluntary contributions were few and far between and it took almost a year for me to recover the $400 I put up to purchase the balance of a second refrigerator.
I then bought snack items which were placed out on a counter along with a cash box so personnel could take what they wanted and pay for it by putting money in the box.This was marginally successful and at this rate, we could never support or maintain anything.
After accumulating about $1,500, I allowed the snack items to liquidate resulting in another couple of hundred dollars in return.
I then contacted a company that sold vending machines and bought one paying for the balance out of my own pocket. Then I purchased items to stock this machine. I had now extended almost $2,000 as an interest free loan. We had a small, narrow closet at our disposal and this became our supply room. It was just about 3 feet wide and 12 feet deep.
Everything was now bought and paid for. I then bought the first items to stock the machine for $472 from a “big box” wholesale outlet. Marking up the items modestly, I figured I would recover all the money I put up in maybe five months. The first full day of operation yielded a total of just $13. I felt as if I just invested in the purchase of $3 bills. I guess it was much cheaper to just take items and pay for some, than have to pay for everything. The two other inspectors who remained involved after early enthusiasm faded, continued on. It did not take long before this single vending machine became popular as our items were cheaper than any of the vending machines airport wide.
Within short order, I purchased another vending machine that vended canned juice. I secured a vend supplier which relieved me the task of driving 60 miles round trip every time I needed to buy vend supplies. We added a soft drink vending machine and had the product delivered.
In the next 12 years, we grew steadily. During that time we had more money than we could use. We started fund raising, raising money for various charitable causes. We raised money for the families of the two US Customs agents killed in Oklahoma city on two different occasions, for the daughter of a building cleaner whose daughter was critically ill with a blood disorder, for the daughter of a British Airways employee whose daughter needed a kidney transplant not covered by insurance, for the family of a Customs’ supervisor whose wife was terminally ill with cancer and for Customs employees who sustained losses in Florida due to hurricane Andrew. In addition we made cash gifts to schools, hospitals,( St. Jude’s in Tennessee and St. Mary’s Children's Hospital in Queens, NY) . We annually fulfilled requests from a school for Children with Multiple Handicaps addressed to Santa Clause that we requested and received from the US Post Office; sent cash gifts to families with sick children and the family of a police officer who was killed while moonlighting as an armed security officer one Christmas eve.
We also organized more employee/family activities. Fishing trips for children, family rafting trips, one which had 135 people and cost the Fund $3,950 above the amount charged for the adults. The Fund paid for the lunch and dinner all the rafting costs for the children and the charter of the three coaches.
Almost every day, I came to work an hour early to stock our vending machines or would stay late after work . On days I was off, two others would fill in for me.
In 1998, the fund became a 501 (c)(4) non profit. Port Authority of NY built a new terminal building and we could no longer manage our vending machines and we farmed them out to a third party. Our net income dropped from the low 30K level to less than 10K per year. 9/11 created addition problems, yet we managed to carry on.
We have kept up the maintenance of our facilities. We have our yearly ski trip or two sponsored by the Fund and other events, such as Christmas parties, Spring retirement parties, Day trips to Atlantic City, all which we have done to just break even, but usually ended up losing a few dollars, more often than not.
In 1999, I started organizing international trips to various destinations all over the world from Australia and New Zealand, South Africa, Russia, China, Scotland Ireland, Italy, Greece twice, Peru, Chile, Spain &Portugal twice, Morocco and Argentina four times. Very little money from the Fund was ever used for any of these trips. We found a group consolidator who would discount our cost per person if we could get a decent number of people on our trips.
In 2006, I stepped down as the president after 20 and took the position as the Administrator. I retired in 2007 from Customs and Border Protection.
As many of our few original officers retired and moved on, we were not able to attract new talent. Then several years ago we were fortunate enough get someone whom I am sure will be able to take the Fund to the the next level. During the 2015 year, the Fund held three Fund Raisers for the benefit of three different section 501 (c)(3) charities. The last one in December, 2015 raised $11,000 for the National Law Enforcement Memorial.
At my suggestion, we have now embarked upon yet another chapter for the Fund. Very soon, in early 2016, the Fund will be making application to have the Fund recognized as a 501(c)(3) charity.
Founder and past president.
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