Since March 2020, the staff at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh has been doing whatever is needed to keep operations running smoothly, according to Brian Schreiber, the JCC’s president and CEO.
That work often includes accepting professional responsibilities beyond job titles to ensure the Squirrel Hill and South Hills centers remain open and safe to the community.
It is because of dedicated staff that the JCC has been able to fulfil its mission of staying rooted in Jewish values while strengthening its members’ physical, intellectual and spiritual well-being, Schreiber told the Chronicle.
Months ago, JCC board members recognized its staff’s dedication and challenged the organization’s senior leaders to demonstrate “better support,” Schreiber said.
On Oct. 15, Schreiber and other JCC leaders will do so by closing the Squirrel Hill and South Hills facilities and welcoming nearly 150 JCC staffers for a day of wellness, renewal and appreciation at the center’s Henry Kaufmann Family Park in Monroeville.
“This staff has been working pretty much around the clock for the past year-and-a-half and has not gathered for almost two years,” Schreiber said. For this reason, bringing people together for a day of “learning, togetherness, some care and maybe even a little bit of fun,” is critical to moving forward and staying strong.
“Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the JCC staff has worked above and beyond,” said JCC board chair William S. Goodman. These individuals are the “linchpin to delivering programs and services to our members and community.
“The board of the JCC collectively decided that the staff needed to take a pause,” Goodman added.
The day of appreciation will serve another purpose as well: There are several staff members who joined the agency after the pandemic started who — either because of distancing or masking — haven’t really met their colleagues, Schreiber said.
Milestones in several staffers’ careers also will be celebrated. There are individuals who are marking five-, 10-, 15-, 20- and 25-year anniversaries with the JCC. Other staffers are retiring or have recently retired. Throughout the day on Oct. 15, each of these individuals will be recognized.
Schreiber doesn’t want to give away any surprises but said several of the Oct. 15 activities would provide a sense of “light and fun.”
Along with a mini carnival and prizes, there will be a state of the organization address, a chance for group study and an opportunity to welcome Shabbat — just as the organization does each Friday.
Fara Marcus, JCC’s director of development and marketing, said she’s looking forward to spending a day with colleagues off-site.
“As an employee of the JCC it is so inspiring and heartwarming to know that our CEO, chair of the board and leadership believe in the wellness of our staff,” she said. The board and leadership’s decision to make this public acknowledgement of appreciation has “helped me and all of us continue doing the important work we do every day.”
Maggie Feinstein, director of the 10.27 Healing Partnership, similarly praised JCC leaders for recognizing the challenges staff have recently faced.
“The experience of needing to close our doors for the safety of our community, and then constantly figuring out how to reopen them safely has been very taxing,” said Feinstein. “To take a day to be together as a work family and connect with each other is such a gift.”
Engagement surveys and conversations with staff have made it clear to Schreiber that the pandemic has taken its toll on the organization, he said.
When people come to the JCC, they’re often seeking enjoyment or an opportunity to promote their own health. While staff members are always eager and ready to oblige, Schreiber said, the challenges of managing and providing services to a community throughout a pandemic, on a daily basis, hasn’t made the agency the “easiest and most fun environment to work in the last couple of years.”
To be told that staffers need greater support isn’t surprising, he said.
“We have a board of directors that doesn’t just manage its fiduciary responsibilities but cares deeply about our professional staff and the role that they play in serving community,” Schreiber added. This type of awareness and commitment, from both the board and the JCC staff, is “part of keeping the agency strong.”
Schreiber stressed the “critical role” the JCC plays in the community and that its board and staff will need to remain cognizant of the work ahead.
“We're investing in our staff so that they can take care of the community,” he said. “That’s what our mission is all about.” PJC
Adam Reinherz can be reached at email@example.com.