Facing changes of various kinds, the leaders of the JCC of Central New Jersey focused firmly on current successes at the annual meeting on June 11. There was no mention of the federation merger that will change its agency affiliation on July 1 — from the Jewish Federation of Central New Jersey to the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ, and for the most part participants referred to the departure this fall of executive director Barak Hermann with laughter and teasing.
“There’s no way you’re going to have as much fun in Baltimore as you’ve had with us,” said JCC president Suzanne Tucker, referring to Hermann’s new role leading the two JCCs of Greater Baltimore.
But she and JCC assistant executive director Robin Brous were serious too in crediting Hermann, who joined the staff five years ago, with forging a strong member and staff partnership, and leading the effort to upgrade the appearance, the facilities, the programming, and the financial health of the center.
Over the past four years, income has increased by $2 million, at a time when three JCCs in the state have closed. The building is now open seven days — or 92 hours — a week, with 24,000 member visits a month.
“But as well as we’re doing, it doesn’t mean we don’t face challenges,” Tucker said. “It will take $3 million over the next 10 years just to maintain the building as it is, to keep the status quo.” Faced with cuts in the funding it received from the Jewish Federation of Central NJ, the board has decided to launch its first annual campaign this summer.
Losing Hermann, she said, presents another challenge, “but it is also an opportunity to find the person who will steer us through these next few years.”
The focus of the evening was on honoring volunteers. Hermann attributed the JCC’s strength to the “incredible level of volunteerism.” Those involved with the JCC have agendas, he said, but they are communal, not personal. By way of example he cited the budget review process; 25 professionals worked on it, and 80 volunteers went over their figures.
The center has the highest membership retention rate of any JCC in the country — 85 percent — but to achieve financial stability, he said, it has to “recruit more and more members to this bandwagon.” To do that, it’s essential that people be given “memorable experiences and group experiences that affect how they live their lives.”
That must be done in the context of its primary mission, “taking care of the Jewish community.” With two YMCAs in its vicinity, Hermann said, it is crucial that the JCC “exude Jewish values.”
Expansion will require going beyond its walls. With the building already fully utilized, the leadership is establishing collaborations with likeminded organizations in the local community and looking for new opportunities to share space.
Hermann attributed his own success as executive director to four factors: a strong senior management team, a great partnership with Brous, the help of his executive assistant Connie Oley, and a supportive spouse. He told those present, “Stay strong. Be an enduring convener and connector. We have a strong infrastructure and we can continue to grow.”
The Volunteer of the Year Award went to Sharon Roitman, who came up with the idea of doing a yearbook for the JCC preschool and has taken most of the photographs for it over the past four years. The award recognizes a person who “imagines, implements, and completes an important piece of work that benefits the whole community.” Brous, who also serves as director of early childhood services, presented the award to Roitman, describing her as “the quintessential example of efficiency and capability.”
The speakers all paid tribute to the young leaders emerging in the JCC community and recognized graduates of its Haderech leadership class of 2011-12. “Turn to these people for help on any project, and you’ll see what incredible people they are,” said Stacie Friedman, who cochaired the program with Mark Lindenberg.
They also welcomed two new teen members onto the JCC board, Ross Hankin and Alyssa Leyden, both juniors at Scotch Plains/Fanwood High. Asked if he had had his arm twisted to join the board, Ross said, “No, I’m really excited about doing it.”