2017-06-07 / Columns

20 years and counting: Looking forward to our next chapter

FRONT & CENTER
LES COHEN
Katz JCC Executive Director

Twenty-seven years ago, I came to Cherry Hill to interview for the executive director’s position for the Katz Jewish Community Center. The Search Committee showed me around, introduced me to people to engage with to assess whether I was the right one for the job. I remember they were most interested in my experience with new facilities: Did I have fundraising experience, strategic planning and facility design experience? Did I ever build a new building? They were very impressed by the fact that I was on the staff as a community consultant of the JCC Association, the national organization for JCCs around North America. What I remember most is how nice everyone was. Even today, I still see some of those same people who interviewed me all those years ago. And people around here continue to be so nice.

It took us about five years after my initial meeting here until we broke ground and finally moved onto the new Weinberg Jewish Community Campus in June of 1997. It’s remarkable that we moved in over one weekend so that we could be ready for the start of Kindercamp that coming Monday. It literally took a village to help unload the trucks and move things into the new offices. We worked all weekend and somehow we were ready on Monday morning. As I look back, I remember feeling proud as members of the community started coming in that very first day. The interest in being a member of the Katz JCC exceeded all our expectations and we have been busy every day since.

Fast forward 20 years. So many great experiences and memories. We grew and grew. Our membership base has increased from 2,100 families to 4,400…more than double.

And throughout these past 20 years, the support and involvement of the community for our JCC has never wavered. The business has changed over the years, but our mission remains constant. Each day, I still come to the JCC excited and ready for the challenges of the day. And I’m not the only one—our exceptional staff delivers programs and services that are exemplary models for other JCCs to adopt.

So here we are, 20 years later. Our story is one of service and success, building community and becoming the “Center” of our Jewish community. But what’s next? The Board and staff are committed to continuing the excellent programs and activities that we do every day. There are new initiatives and projects recently completed and on the horizon.

• Richard M. Klein Center for Wellness is designed for people of all ages and is utilized for a variety of programs and events with a focus on wellness of the mind, body and spirit. Offerings include group wellness classes, cancer recovery training, weight loss programs, nutrition counseling, educational seminars and wellness lectures.

• The Miriam Isdaner Cafe at the J has been renovated and the new equipment allows for a more diversified and more delicious menu. Come enjoy a soul-warming macaroni and cheese, matzah ball soup, quiche, or a good, old fashioned grilled cheese. There’s something for every palate.

• Parking Expansion is finally moving forward. The Board of the Diocese of Camden has approved the sale of four acres of land adjacent to the JCC. Once completed, this property will be home to over 100 additional parking spots. The staff will utilize these spots, freeing up an equal amount in the front lot for our members.

• Outreach to Underserved Groups is under way with a series of focus groups. Our goal is to obtain a better understanding of what various groups within our community need and want from the JCC and our programming.

• Developing the BELONGING philosophy: if you are a member of the Jewish Community, you belong here.

Join us as we celebrate the 20th Anniversary of this wonderful Campus. The JCC, the Jewish Federation of Southern New Jersey, and all the other agencies are coming together to bring to you a yearlong celebration, appreciation, and new initiatives to better serve you, our beloved community.

Although our agencies may be older than our 20-year-old Campus, we have to remember to think back past 1997—this Campus is thanks to the visionaries and the support of so many generous donors and the Raymond & Gertrude R. Saltzman Foundation. They have all made this community better in so many ways. Get involved, join us, get healthy, learn something new and have fun. We are who we are because of YOU.

I look forward to seeing you around the JCC. 

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