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JCC recovers from flood but needs to stabilize

By - Last modified: September 21, 2012 at 6:40 AM

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Last fall’s flood forced temporary closure or relocation of some programs at Harrisburg’s Jewish Community Center. Photo/Submitted
Last fall’s flood forced temporary closure or relocation of some programs at Harrisburg’s Jewish Community Center. Photo/Submitted

Harrisburg's Jewish Community Center is rebranding for dear life.

The name's not changing, but leaders are emphasizing that the JCC is for the whole community, not just Jews.

The building's not changing either, but staff have added new programs and adjusted scheduling to appeal to a younger audience.

And organizationally, its leader wants it to run "more like a business."

"My belief is people's willingness to give should be based on the Jewish Federation and the JCC providing services that they want and need," said Steven Roth.

Roth, chief information officer and vice president of infomatics with PinnacleHealth System, is board president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Harrisburg, of which the JCC on Front Street is a major program.

He said it has been clear to him for several years that, based on financial trends, JCC was on an unsustainable path. And then last fall's flood hit, forcing temporary closure or relocation of some programs and hard discussions about its future.

Money problems

Carl Braunegg, the federation's CFO, said it, like other nonprofits, has seen annual campaigns trending down, dropping from $1.6 million in 2007 to $1.4 million in 2009 to $1.2 million this year.

Total federation revenue, which includes campaign funds, also fell from $4.6 million in 2007 to $3.5 million this year. Expenses decreased, too, but not as fast: $4.5 million in 2007 to $4.06 million this year. And when the flood hit, JCC membership dropped from 730 to 595.

Restoration and replacement necessitated by the flood damage cost about $1.6 million, Roth said, noting that the JCC has been unable to replace racquetball courts, saunas and hot tubs. After insurance and federal disaster funds, JCC is responsible for about $600,000.

Roth said donations came in, but slowly. As operating plans began to come together, so did agreement that if funds didn't materialize, the JCC would have to close Aug. 31. A significant gift from an anonymous donor prevented that, Roth said, but JCC still doesn't have long to "right the ship" — about two years.

"We really are focused on the

next 12 months, on making the organization more stable and viable," he said.

If that doesn't happen, "There is certainly a possibility in months 13 to 24 that we would need to start making provisions for some of the services within JCC itself to find alternate homes."

Planning ahead

A bright spot in the story, Roth said, is that 78 people stepped up to serve on committees in the task force he directed with three other volunteers — Dan Schwab, Ron Plesco and Sandy Cohen. Their focus was how to make the JCC more relevant to the people who will sustain it in the future — particularly 35- to 50-year-olds.

Fifty years ago, Roth said, there were fewer options for children's activities, so parents would bring them to the JCC for dance classes and the like, then become regulars themselves. But through the years, other options increased, and the JCC clientele grew older.

Roth said the committees deserve a lot of credit for their hard work, and the JCC's success depends on maintaining the momentum they established.

"We still have the same programming that we had in the past, only we've added a lot more," said Andrea Weikert, director of programming.

The changes include adding fitness classes such as BodyPump; emphasizing programming such as prenatal and Mommy & Me classes; expanding adjusting schedules to better fit the needs of working people, with more evening and Sunday classes; and offering babysitting in the mornings.

"Our biggest problem is trying to find enough space in our building, just because we have so much going on," Weikert said. "We encourage people to come and take a tour to see what we have to offer."

Heather Stauffer

Heather Stauffer

Heather Stauffer covers Lancaster County, nonprofits, education and health care. Have a tip or question for her? Email her at heathers@cpbj.com. Follow her on Twitter, @StaufferCPBJ.

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