Big education aid fund at JFCS awaits range of applicants

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If you think college, vocational school or professional training is beyond your financial grasp, talk to Ted Schreiber at Jewish Family and Children's Services in San Francisco. He might change your mind.

"We absolutely have funds available" to help people reach those goals, says Schreiber, head of the JFCS loans and grants department.

"Nobody has ever been turned down for lack of money. We're anxious to seek out those deserving people who are in need of funds."

While declining to say how much money is in the financial pot, Schreiber allows that "it's in good shape."

He encourages those in need — whether they're high school seniors seeking funds for college, older people interested in "re-entry" programs, or those seeking vocational training — to apply for assistance.

"I wish we had more people send in their applications. We get a lot of requests for them, but a lot of people don't complete the paperwork," Schreiber says.

Natalya Tsodikova, 26, is among those who did the paperwork. She says the loan she received from JFCS enabled her to take a computer course — the first step in her march toward future employment.

Tsodikova, her husband and young daughter moved from the Ukraine to San Francisco in 1994. Her husband has already completed training and found a job as a computer programmer, and she is on the road toward becoming a software test engineer after completing the six-month course. She takes classes two days a week, five hours a day.

An avid chess player and chess coach in the former Soviet Union, Tsodikova realized shortly after emigrating that, practically speaking, her professional horizons were rather limited here.

Computers seemed an appealing alternative. "I like the computer because of the logic," she explains. "It's like chess: you have to think. You have to make it work."

Encouraged by her husband's ability to find work after completing courses, Tsodikova is upbeat about her future as well.

The JFCS loan "was a big help. I really appreciate it. If they'd refused me, I don't know about starting out."

Yezgeniy Zolotukhim, 23, wasted little time after moving here from Russia with his mother last March. Zolotukhim wanted to study computer science, but found that with less than a year's residency in the United States he was considered a "non-resident," which limited his financial aid options.

Friends and relatives encouraged Zolotukhim to go to JFCS for help. He did, found the procedure simple, and soon received a grant to help pay for fees at City College plus a loan to pay for a computer. Zolotukhim started college in September and is confident he is on the road toward success.

Unlike many financial aid programs, JFCS is flexible in determining "financial need." As a social service agency, it considers the applicant's "entire family situation." There is no strict income ceiling, for example, because even $100,000 a year might not go far if the family has four children in college or someone with costly medical problems.

Another consideration is earlier education performance. Transcripts are reviewed with an eye towards "indicating that this will be a successful venture," adds Schreiber.

Generally, applicants under age 26 are eligible for grants while older candidates are likely to receive low-cost loans. Repayment is deferred until completion of school or coursework.

Applications may be made anytime, although the bulk come in between May and September, after colleges have issued letters of acceptance. Schreiber estimates that last year 100-200 people received JFCS assistance.

There is variety of funds available, he notes. "The general pot is so big that the student shouldn't have to worry about anything. If they have a particular field of interest, we will allocate their application to the appropriate area."

Liz Harris

Liz Harris is a J. contributor. She was J.'s culture editor from 2012-2018.