A fresh chapter is unfolding at the JCC of Central New Jersey, with new leaders in both lay and professional roles. Jennifer Mamlet of Westfield took over as executive director in January, and Erica Needle of Scotch Plains has been named president for the next two years.
Addressing the annual meeting at the JCC in Scotch Plains on June 10, outgoing president Suzanne Tucker said the toughest part of the past year was looking for someone to replace Barak Hermann, who announced last summer that he was leaving after five years.
With associate executive director Robin Brous and assistant executive director Mike Goldstein holding the reins in the interim, the leadership embarked on a lengthy search process. “We had to find the right person to steer us through the next few years,” Tucker said. They found that person, Mamlet, among their own members; she had joined the center two years earlier after settling in Westfield.
The JCC, an agency of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ, has adopted the tagline: “Community is at our Center,” and both Mamlet and Needle pledged to expand efforts championed by Tucker to promote that concept.
While not trying to be “everything to everyone,” Mamlet said, “we must be exceptional and intentional in everything we do…and offer truly outstanding services,” both to enrich the experience of the 1,100 families who are already members, and to attract more.
The center is also expanding its international scope. Next year, it is sponsoring its first trip to Israel.
Coming from her own sense of Jewish identity rooted in a close relationship with her grandparents, Mamlet said she also wants to create “opportunities for inter-generational experience to connect our community to a tradition not always reflected in our lives.”
That inter-generational experience, she said, can be fueled by the center’s highly successful seniors program. But the program runs at a deficit, and both leaders stressed the need to come up with additional funding — for programming and to maintain the building on the Wilf campus. And both bring experience to the challenge. Mamlet worked for many years as a professional fund-raiser, and Needle, a school psychologist, is a recent president of the Women’s Campaign of the former Jewish Federation of Central NJ.
Needle is also a member of the board of trustees at The Wardlaw-Hartridge School in North Edison, which her children attended, and which — in partnership with the JCC — will be hosting a new Maccabi Sports Camp this summer.
Another example of the outreach connection is a preschool program the center is starting this fall in partnership with Temple Beth-El Mekor Chayim in Cranford.
The Needles joined the JCC 19 years ago. “When I moved to New Jersey, many thought it was a fate worse than death,” she recalled with a grin. “It turned out to be this gem of a community — because of the people, because of you.”
As usual, awards were presented to volunteers and to staff members. The Hineni Award for exemplary leadership and service was given to Gavin Handwerker, who also joined the board of directors. The Volunteers of the Year Award went to Bob Simon and Larry Pargot, who also — as it happened — won the top raffle prize, a $2,500 “shopping spree.”
A number of staff members were recognized for long service, including Brous and executive assistant/office manager Connie Oley, both of whom have been at the JCC for 20 years. Narges “Nona” Bernaba was recognized for her 25 years, cooking the much lauded kosher meals served to the members of the seniors program. “I have made so many good friends here,” she told the crowd.