For 126 years, the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh has evolved to meet communal needs. This summer, the organization will continue to do so by offering a range of programming designed to bolster wellness — while simultaneously working to recover from pandemic losses.
“We are really looking to build a compelling, impactful and meaningful suite of services and experiences for existing and new members,” said Jason Kunzman, JCC’s chief program officer.
Those opportunities will relate to personal training, early childhood education, summer camp, volunteering and engagement with the Center for Loving Kindness. The aim, said Kunzman, is to improve “the quality of life for individuals and the broader community.”
Since the coronavirus crisis began in March 2020, the JCC has continued to address new needs while operating according to Centers for Disease Control guidance. Despite periods of closure, said JCC spokesperson Fara Marcus, the organization has served, distributed or delivered 76,215 meals to older adults and school-aged children; been the site of more than 1,500 COVID tests; provided COVID vaccinations to almost 10,000 people; and collected 1,520 blood donations. JCC staff and volunteers also addressed social isolation among seniors through more than 16,994 telephone wellness checks.
With COVID-positive cases decreasing and the number of vaccinated individuals rising in Allegheny County, the JCC is functioning in a unique moment, said Brian Schreiber, the organization’s president and CEO. Although the JCC will continue providing many of the pandemic-related services members have grown accustomed to, such as virtual programming — the JCC operates 211 live online group exercise classes per week — there is a push to bring people back into the building, he said.
In the coming weeks and months, members will see a resumption of familiar JCC activities and a reopening of communal meeting spaces, offerings “that have been part of the JCC fabric that we have not been able to have,” said Schreiber.
On June 28, the JCC will no longer require that vaccinated people 12 and older wear masks, and indoor group exercise classes will restart. By September, said Schreiber, the JCC hopes to welcome seniors back for daily lunches at J Cafe.
These upcoming milestones follow other programming that has returned to pre-pandemic normalcy. On May 29, the JCC Family Park in Monroeville reopened to members. On June 1, the Squirrel Hill Centerfit platinum locker room reopened with wet-area modifications. On June 14, open lap swimming — limited to three swimmers per lane — returned to both the Squirrel Hill and South Hills pools.
Prior to each decision regarding reopening, the JCC relies on CDC guidance and assistance from the Pittsburgh Regional Health Initiative, said Kunzman. Whether it concerns reopening strategies or operating Emma Kaufmann Camp, every step is “pressure tested” by PRHI. It’s an approach that’s proven successful and will be relied on in the days ahead.
“Improving the quality of life for individuals and the broader community, that’s our path forward,” Kunzman said.
While JCC members are excited to resume favorite activities and try out new programs, the organization isn’t yet out of the clear, according to Schreiber.
The pandemic is not yet over, he noted, and the devastating financial effects of COVID-19 remain. Between requested freezes and cancellations since March 2020, the JCC lost approximately half of its paid membership units.
Nearly $1 million dollars in funding from the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh’s COVID Relief Program has helped the JCC operate and address expenses pertaining to various pandemic-related protocols, such as paying for health screening apps or increasing the number of buses so that children can be appropriately distanced traveling to summer camp.
“In this interim period, that support is really valuable,” said Schreiber. “We’re still at a place where our revenues are not in pre-COVID levels by a longshot, and we’re still running significant expenses to serve the community.”
Despite financial hardship, the organization is striving to meet communal demands much the same way it has for 126 years.
“It’s going to take some time to rebuild the core base of the agency, but the only way you rebuild the core base is by providing as much as you can and then evaluating what the community needs look like,” Schreiber said. PJC
Adam Reinherz can be reached at email@example.com.