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Harrisburg's JCC turning 100 and, it says, the corner

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Harrisburg's Jewish Community Center had a year, maybe two, to chart a new path to viability after the twin wallops of dwindling support and devastating flood damage, its leaders said.

That was in September 2012.

Today, the center's new leader says the longtime fixture of Harrisburg life has, indeed, turned that crucial corner but nonetheless still has a way to go. And on that continuing journey, two upcoming stops loom large.

The first is a challenge gift from The Alexander Grass Foundation, which is named after Rite Aid Corp. founder Alex Grass. The late philanthropist was president of the United Jewish Community of Harrisburg, or UJC, now known as the Jewish Federation of Greater Harrisburg, of which the JCC is a major program.

The federation is in the midst of its annual campaign, and the foundation has committed $500,000 — with another $500,000 to come if the community raises $150,000 in new or increased gifts by June 30.

The second is that the federation and JCC will turn 100 in 2015, and a year of celebrations is being planned that will start this fall.


Margie Adelmann became CEO of the federation in July 2013. She came with more than 30 years of experience in nonprofits, much of that at the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.

Mark Maisel, CEO of Commonwealth Packaging Co., became president of the federation in December and credits much of the new energy at JCC to Adelmann and her talents as an administrator.

"The last year or so, I think we're making tremendous progress — membership is up, more activities are being offered, there's a general enthusiasm and excitement that I haven't seen in years," Maisel said.

JCC membership, which fell from 730 to 595 when the flood hit, is now above 750 and, Maisel says, most of the newcomers are not Jewish.

"It's very convenient," he says of the draw for corporate types who work in Harrisburg and non-Jewish members of the neighborhood. And, he says, "I think being open on Saturdays has helped as well."

The board made the decision to open on Saturdays — the Jewish Sabbath — about a year ago, Adelmann says.

According to Maisel, the change was one he and many others had wanted for years.

"It became a business decision," he says. "Fortunately, the more observant Jewish community has accepted it."

"We truly are a community center, and everybody is welcome," Adelmann says. "We are working to educate people that we're here. Thousands of cars drive past here on their way to work."

She notes that the JCC also has updated its equipment and programs and expanded its early-learning center. The list of offerings now includes everything from Zumba, yoga, spinning and BodyPump fitness classes to babysitting, summer camp, swim club, massage therapy, a basketball league, senior adult classes and trips and a variety of cultural events.

The JCC volunteer leadership has been significant in the aftermath of the flood, she says, and it has landed grants totaling about $388,000 for a flood-mitigation project that will protect the building up to 30 feet.

"The only flood in history recently that was more than 30 feet was Hurricane Agnes in 1972, and that was 32 feet," Adelmann says.

Past and future

In a news release announcing the challenge gift, Elizabeth Grass Weese, director of The Alexander Grass Foundation, says she knows her father "would be pleased to see the community galvanized and working together to achieve its goals."

What the federation hopes to do with the funds, Adelmann says, is build capacity and strengthen existing programs.

"We're still struggling financially, although moving in the right direction," says Maisel. The gift is, he says, kind of a life preserver, a real shot in the arm, and he hopes people step up to the challenge. And, he says, the timing is fortuitous as the 100th anniversary celebration will remind members both near and far-flung of the role JCC has played in their lives.

"So many friendships began and were further enriched at the JCC," he says. "It just puts a smile on people's faces. The building's still there, and you look on the walls and see pictures of people you grew up with."

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