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Jewish Journal

JCC Board Approves Major Reform

by Michael Aushenker

June 21, 2001 | 8:00 pm

Bay Cities JCC.

Bay Cities JCC.

Leaders of the area's Jewish Community Centers proposed a series of reforms this week that they hope will reinvigorate center services and help the organization meet the demands of a far-flung and diverse Jewish population.

The changes approved by the Jewish Community Centers of Greater Los Angeles (JCCGLA) will eliminate after-school programs and senior services. The plan might also lead to the dismantling of existing centers serving the Westside and Silverlake/Los Feliz areas.

JCC executives said that they will take the next few months to decide whether to relocate or renovate the Santa Monica-based Bay Cities JCC and the Silverlake/Los Feliz JCC. They stressed that no decision has been made to permanently close down the sites. However, even a temporary shutdown could adversely impact those who have come to depend on the centers as their primary -- and sometimes sole -- link to the Jewish community.

In a 13-4 vote at Valley Cities Jewish Community Center in Van Nuys on Monday, the JCCGLA's board of directors approved a package of initiatives that will reorganize select services in an effort to make programming more cost-effective for the agency, which operates on a $16-million annual budget.

"It was a groundbreaking vote," JCCGLA President Lee Smith told The Journal.

At press time, top brass were still notifying staff and lay people about the motions. While the meeting itself was closed to press and outsiders, participants, including Smith and JCCGLA's Executive Vice President Nina Lieberman Giladi, spoke to The Journal afterward.

The board members ratified suggestions that were presented by the JCC's New Directions Committee, comprised of 15 current board members and past presidents (half of the board of directors' 30-person membership).

The JCCGLA's New Directions Committee, a beneficiary agency of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, has met 25 times over the past six months to plot the organization's future. (The New Directions Committee was formed last October following a centralization of the JCC power structure, intended to streamline operations.) A statement circulated to board members on Monday night said, "The Federation was integrally involved as a partner with the JCC New Directions Committee and concurs with the recommendations proposed."

Among the approved changes:

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• The Santa Monica-based Bay Cities facility and the Silverlake/Los Feliz counterpart will undergo refurbishing or relocation, to be determined at a later date.

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• The discontinuation of the "underutilized" after-school child care at Westside, Silverlake/Los Feliz and Bay Cities JCCs as of July 1. Permits have also been obtained to expand preschools at the Silverlake/Los Feliz and Bay Cities JCCs to accommodate up to 80 students per site (instead of 60 and 51 pupils, respectively) by September.

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• Mommy & Me infant-caretaker programs will be implemented in all JCC locations as of this month.

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• An expansion of summer day care, to be initiated in summer 2002.

Programs for seniors will also undergo major revisions, including the transfer of certain services at North Valley and Valley Cities to "other, more suitable facilities," according to the memo.

That transfer will include JCCGLA divesting itself of operating SOVA Kosher Food Pantry and the Venice-based Israel Levin Senior Adult Center.

JCCGLA will also restructure the physical-education component.

"We will look at outside management to come in and provide programming of the highest caliber," Smith said.

Smith and Giladi said that athletic programs and gym and pool facilities are crucial, as they often provide a gateway for children and seniors into community participation.

The new changes follow recent years

that administrators even acknowledge have not been easy for the local JCC system. The 1999 North Valley JCC shooting threw the organization into the international spotlight under the most undesirable of circumstances. The tragedy continues to create problems for JCCGLA, now the subject of a lawsuit filed by the parents of Benjamin Kadish, a child severely injured during the rampage. Last year, scrutiny of the timeworn Westside JCC forced administrators to accelerate a long-simmering architectural overhaul.

"This agency has been away for at least a decade, operating in a direction that is not future-thinking or future-directed," said Giladi, adding that members had no choice but to initiate "some self-critical analysis."

Smith said that "despite our best intentions, the Westside deserves a better, larger place" than Bay Cities. He also noted that Silverlake/Los Feliz needs "complete renovation or relocation." No decisions regarding the fate of the Bay Cities and Silverlake/Los Feliz facilities will be made until two ad-hoc board committees (which will include members from the respective centers and outside consultants) have carefully evaluated these weakest links in the JCC's eight-center chain.

"We'll continue to move at this very fast but thorough pace," said Giladi, refusing to nail down a concrete time frame.

According to Smith, this week's executive decisions were the culmination of a six-month process. JCCGLA hired consultants to assess the local centers and compare them to a successful Seattle JCC site. They drafted a 300-page report which heavily influenced the New Directions Committee to make the changes announced this week.

The board's support of the changes was not unanimous. One of the four dissenting voters, who asked not to be named, disapproved of the measures because "my concerns are that the plan will not achieve our goal." (Still, the board member remains committed to helping forward the election's verdict).

At this early date, the decisions ushered in by the board have been generally well-received.

Pamela Boro, center director of Silverlake/Los Feliz JCC, told The Journal, "I support all of the new directions that were made." According to Boro, it was logical for the JCC to discontinue the after-school services because area public schools offer them for free."

Regarding any likelihood of her facility closing down -- even temporarily -- Boro said, "I know that this center is very important to the organization and to the JCC as a whole. I don't believe that they would ever compromise our center in any shape or form. That would be letting the community down."

Boro looks forward to the additional preschool class her center will offer this fall. As for upcoming moves to revitalize Silverlake/Los Feliz, Boro said that "some of our advisory board members at this center will, without a doubt, be involved in that process. There is a strong trust between JCCGLA and local members."

David Aaronson, JCCGLA's immediate past president, said the changes were going to move the agency forward. "These are the first steps needed to create the programs of excellence that the communities of L.A. deserve," he said.

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