On a recent Sunday morning, things were buzzing at the Ruth Hyman JCC of Greater Monmouth County in Deal.
As smartly dressed people gathered for the opening of an art show in the adjoining Gallery on Grant, in the fitness wing others were doing laps in the indoor pool, working out in the exercise room, or playing basketball in a gym.
In the shade outside, Chabad families were celebrating Lag Ba’Omer while inside a kid’s birthday party was under way and, next door, a women’s group was holding a study session.
It was just the kind of scene executive director Aaron Rosenfeld enjoys — and wants to see more of. He was there with his two children, Daniel, nine, and Linda, four, and they played with the favors they had received at the party while he talked to NJ Jewish News.
“The JCC is a critically important institution for the community,” he said. “For all aspects of Jewish life, we’re here. But we need the community to help us stay strong.”
Despite the tough economy, he said, “we’ve managed to keep going without reducing what we offer, and there’s been no decline in membership. But we need to have growth, to make up for the drop in donations, and the increase in the number of people needing scholarships. We want to bring in more people, not just as donors — though we appreciate them very much — but as participants, to really take advantage of what we offer here.”
Still, the economic downturn has taken its toll.
The center has reduced staffing by a few positions, and it has made cuts and adjusted spending wherever possible. “We have made minor adjustments where appropriate,” JCC president Steve Levy said. That has included opening at 6 a.m. instead of 5 a.m. and closing an hour earlier, at 6 p.m., on Sunday evenings. Some classes with low enrollment have been cancelled, and the cafe hours have been reduced.
“A key issue for us as a community agency is to also serve those who don’t have,” Levy said. Providing camp scholarships has been a big part of that. “In other years it was a lot easier to say yes,” he said. “This year, with the economic downturn and the membership flat, the challenge is just that much greater.”
Levy and Rosenfeld share enormous pride in the array of programs and services the center continues to offer. Over the past few years, as executive vice president and before that as treasurer of the center, Levy has had an active hand in coping with the tightening budget and that determination to keep the center vibrant.
That has been made possible in part by the commitment from the Jewish Federation of Monmouth County, which has itself faced a drop in donations. Federation president Elise Feldman announced earlier this year that despite severe cuts to its own operations budget, funding to the JCC and its other beneficiary agencies would be sustained. But she, too, stressed the need for the community to step up its support.
Levy is the CEO of a risk management insurance and consulting firm. He said, “I try to run the JCC as close as possible to the way I run my own business, except — of course — for the fact that this is a nonprofit.” With his lay leaders and professional staff, his main goal has been to “as widely and comprehensively as possible stabilize the agency, without diminishing any of the services we offer.”
That includes the cultural and fitness programs, and also the services to the organizations that share the building, including an infant-toddler program, a preschool, a yeshiva, a bikur holim group that cares for the sick, teen programs, the kosher kitchen that provides 20,000 meals a year for the elderly, and the upcoming summer camp that takes in 1,000 kids.
Levy said that summer camp enrollment is running late this year, with more people requesting scholarships, but they hope that more families will still sign up, and that the influx of short-term summer members will help replenish coffers depleted by rising expenses.
“We are in competition with the private, for-profit camps,” he said, “but we want people to remember that we have the best camp infrastructure in the region — with our indoor and outdoor pools, and two gyms, and plenty of classroom space. The summer people can get all the same classes they could get in the city — yoga and spin, etc., etc.
“The difference is that what they pay to the JCC directly benefits the community. It fuels our scholarship program, and meals-on-wheels, and our senior programs.”
That Sunday, people viewed Florence Weisz’s collages and then went into the adjoining Axelrod Performing Arts Center to watch Revital, a troupe of Israeli dancers, offer a rollicking picture of Israeli culture. Coming at the end of the month will be Once Upon a Mattress, put on by the kids of the JCC’s Rising Stars Youth Performing Arts Academy.
Rosenfeld himself has been a member of the Deal JCC from birth. He made the transition from lay leader to professional staff member in 2001, and last year took over as executive director from Jess Levy, who now heads the Axelrod center, which houses the art gallery.
“I’ve got great faith that we have a wonderful future because of what we do and the people whom we serve,” Rosenfeld said. “We just need more people to join and support us in our mission.”