By Rob Rickles | Jewish Educational Loan Fund Board President

Shana tova from the volunteers and staff of JELF, the Jewish Educational Loan Fund. Now in our 126th year serving Jewish families and individuals in Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia, JELF enters 5776 with a renewed commitment to our mission of helping Jewish students in need meet the financial challenges of higher education through interest-free loans.

Our work is rooted in the teachings of Torah, and the help we provide to Jewish students pursuing undergraduate and graduate degrees, as well as professional certifications, is in keeping with one of our most cherished Jewish traditions: education.

During this calendar year, JELF will grant interest-free loans totaling more than $800,000 to approximately 250 students. By most standards, this is an impressive accomplishment.

After all, in some cases JELF is the only thing standing between our applicants and their ability to continue their education.

While we take satisfaction in helping these students, the fact is that the need we will see this year will total nearly $1 million, leaving students to find other sources to fill the remaining gap. Regrettably, to be able to stay in school, many students and their families will max out credit cards, which are anything but interest-free.

Like so many other organizations serving the Jewish and secular communities, JELF’s ability to meet the needs of our constituents depends upon securing the resources to do so.

Recognizing that the increasing costs of education are putting more and more pressure on middle-class families and those in dire financial situations, we have stepped up our efforts to promote our work and to attract new supporters. No longer do we refer to JELF as “the best-kept secret in town.”

We are grateful to so many generous individuals, corporations and Jewish agencies that have responded. Many supporters are attracted to our focus on education, while others like our “hand up” rather than “handout” approach.

Still others are inspired by the fact that their donations will be recycled for decades to come as students receiving loans today repay them after graduation and then those repayments are turned into loans for new applicants.

It doesn’t hurt that JELF continues to boast a 99 percent repayment rate, a result that would delight any private lender.

As we look ahead to the new year, JELF will be working on many fronts to be able to serve the needs of Jewish students and their families, from the use of technology to improve efficiency to a commitment to building stronger ties on the ground in the communities we serve.

We invite you to join us as a volunteer, donor or JELF champion within the organizations in which you are involved. Please visit us online at www.jelf.org, like us on Facebook, or give us a call at 770-396-3080 to learn more about JELF’s work and how you can help Jewish students in need in 5776.

Shana tova.