Just a small mom-and-pop foundation” is how Jennifer Armer describes the foundation she and her husband Matt launched in July 2019.
In that short time, numerous Ahwatukee parents who were facing catastrophic hospital stays for their children – and mountains of debt for themselves – have had the Armer Foundation for Kids to help them in myriad and essential ways.
The foundation is dedicated to ease some of the financial burdens to families with children with extreme medical conditions that have unforeseen financial burdens.
When health insurance is not enough, Armer assists with co-pays, premiums, deductibles and out-of-pocket expenses and more.
Stepping into the worlds of these families becomes real for anyone visiting ArmerFoundation.org, which carries stories of Ahwatukee children who are going through hospitalization or extensive physical treatments at area clinics or in-home.
Their first names and photos accompany the stories. Surnames aren’t regularly used to ensure the “privacy of families” said Jennifer Armer, founder and CEO.
Among them is 10-year old Kailin, also known as Kiki, who just weeks ago was injured in a freak accident involving a boat trailer in the Fry’s parking lot. She now faces pediatric plastic surgery and months of physical and occupational therapists.
There is Catalina, Lyla, Keira and Olivia, 5-year-old Ryker and the foundation’s first “kid” – Abigail Tessa, who was diagnosed with Childhood Non-Hodgkin’s acute T-cell lymphoblastic lymphoma in June 2019 at age 3.
Jennifer Armer knows each of them personally. She often speaks with the parents daily or weekly, keeping apprised of successes or setbacks of their children, and doing what she can to meet their needs – which are daunting emotionally and financially.
“This is very personal; we become family,” she said.
Such closeness with the struggling and hurting families takes a toll on Armer but has not impeded her mission.
“It does get difficult because I get attached to the kids and chat with the families on a daily basis, they become a part of my everyday life. When a child does pass, like Jordan, well I took that very hard because she would text me and send me photos on Instagram and just knowing how hard she fought and she always had a smile on her face when I saw her and I miss that. It does not compare, of course, to the pain that the families feel.”
Jordan, 13, did not survive a battle with cancer.
Armer also serves as a protective buffer between the families and the media. She handles publicity, yet seldom provides direct contact between the two.
“I worked in PR and advertising and in marketing at the East Valley Tribune. That’s my background. Knowing how important the media is, I use that to my advantage in getting the family’s stories out to the public.
“And I also know what the families are going through, so I do handle that for them so they can concentrate on helping their children,” she said.
Armer is social media savvy as well, hosting not only the Armer Foundation for Kids Facebook page but now also the Armer Foundation for Kids Buying for Charity that is used to raise funds to help families with kids with extreme medical needs.
Recent items for sale included five yards of fabric featuring an assortment of modern aircraft, a carry-on suitcase, and a gaming chair, all of which listed for $5.
And with so much accomplished for so many already, she has big dreams for the foundation – one of which is shortly coming to fruition.
“My dream has been to open a resource location in our community, and we just signed the lease on a space on 51st and Elliot,” she announced. “We’ll accept donations of items that you’d normally take to thrift stores like Goodwill, and we’ll sell those items and use the funds to help families.”
She said the arrival of COVID-19 halted the foundation’s public fundraising and awareness events, so she’s hoping the community donations will help increase the coffers.
“With the new facility, we’re also going to be looking for new items as well so that during Christmas we can help adopt many families and provide the extra groceries to make a special meal for the holidays,” she said.
“Then if someone has the unfortunate event of a fire, we’ll be able to provide them with immediate needs. The possibilities are endless and I am so excited that we get to start helping more in our community.”
There are many ‘behind the scenes’ aids given that few outside the families served know about.
For example, Avi, 7 who joined his family at 6 weeks as a special-needs foster care child and was adopted at age 1.
The Srinivasan family has seen Avi through cerebral palsy, infantile spasms and a rare genetic mutation that took four years to find a match.
“We’ve spent thousands and thousands of dollars buying special equipment, traveling to see specialists, buying a car that’s suitable for him to travel with his wheelchair,” explained his mother. “Through all of this, we found a constant for Avi is that movement and being outside is what brings him joy.”
Researching, the family found a bike that would provide their son that joy but came with a daunting $6,000 price tag.
“Our bank account was drained from all the medical expenses. Then we found ‘The Great Bike Giveaway’ but we didn’t win. It gave us an option to fundraise though the website, and it was really hard for us to do,” she said.
“I posted in a local Facebook group and the community support was overwhelming, particularly the support we received from Jennifer Armer. She reached out to me and told me about her foundation and offered to help us. The Armer Foundation organized a raffle giveaway at a local coffee shop and it was all set to be a success.
“Then COVID-19 hit. Suddenly people were being more conservative and afraid to donate, rightly so. The Armer Foundation held the auction online and donated the money to us. When they saw that we were still short, they donated the rest so that we were able to get his bike…We definitely wouldn’t have been able to do this without them.”
The Foundation’s “Admit Bags” is another little-known project, though it is being affected by COVID-19.
“We set up bins in a spare closet at the Banner Children’s Oncology Clinic with our Admit Bags. It has everything a parent would need because they don’t have anything on them when they’re suddenly told their child is being admitted to the hospital.
“For example, we have contact solution, toothbrushes, hair brushes, hair ties, shaving cream and razors, cell phone chargers, socks, and personal hygiene products. Since COVID, I’ve not been allowed in the clinic, so I’m unsure if it is still full, or items are needed. I hope I can get back there soon.”
She and her husband have lived in Ahwatukee four years and she appreciates how the community has rallied around her as she helps local families.
Two community sales, one just last month were successful in fundraising, and the foundation’s first golf outing Oct. 4 sold out.
One of the largest contributors to Armer Foundation for Kids has been her husband and the business they own, Armer Air AC.
“My husband Matt is the driving force and he’s the reason I have the ability to do this,” she said, adding that he encouraged her to establish the foundation.
“We’ve always done as much as we can to give back to our community, and with the Foundation, we’re able to do even more. Armer Air installs indoor air purifiers in the home of the children that are neutropenic, and he volunteers his time to make sure that gets done,” she said.
“I’ve had several Ahwatukee businesses that always donate gift cards or raffle prizes. Horizon Chiropractic did a Christmas in July so that we could drop off new toys for the toys closet at the Banner Children’s Oncology Clinic.
“Kevin Harper of CPR Cell Phone Repair in Ahwatukee recycles and refurbishes cell phones for us so a child can stay in communication with their friends. They’ve also donated several laptop computers for the kids to use while in treatment,” she said.
“Fred Astaire Dance Studios - Phoenix did a huge event Dancing with the Ahwatukee Stars; Goodman Taylor Team is one of my biggest donors and James Goodman is always first when I need money for a project,” she said, adding that she could not list everyone who helped but loved trying.
“I had a request for air mattresses at the Cardon Children’s Hospital and James Goodman donated the funds so we could do that. Trattoria D’Amico is always on board to host raffles and donate gift certificates. There are so many other businesses that I know I can always count on for this community to help,” she said.
“The Ahwatukee Foothills News has also had a huge impact on making sure that the stories get told. Ahwatukee 411 and Diana Lopez allow me the freedom to make sure that everyone on social media knows what is going on in our community.”
With the holidays coming, the needs become even greater and Armer said she’s hopeful more businesses, churches and civic clubs will get involved by helping with gift card donations or hosting a grocery store gift card drive for the holidays.