JCC’s Jason Kunzman honored for work during pandemic
COVID-19Jason Kunzman

JCC’s Jason Kunzman honored for work during pandemic

Though named an 'Emerging Leader' for his recent efforts, Kunzman credits colleagues with doing “whatever it takes” to help the community

Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh
Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh. Jason Kunzman

Jason Kunzman, the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh’s chief program officer, was honored by the Greater Pittsburgh Nonprofit Partnership with its Emerging Leader Award for his work helping the community during the pandemic. The GPNP, a project of The Forbes Funds, announced the award at its annual meeting on Dec. 8.

Other recipients of the award were Ray Nell Jones and Verónica Lozada. Nell Jones is founder and CEO of the Allignment Chapter Corporation, a nonprofit committed to helping low-income single mothers and families in 22 states and 83 communities; Lozada is deputy director of programs and community engagement at Casa San José, a group that helps immigrant Latinos thrive in Pittsburgh.

Kunzman said that Jones’ and Lozada’s efforts, along with those of his JCC colleagues, demonstrate the various ways frontline workers have put community first throughout the pandemic.

In March 2020, when the JCC was mandated to shutter, senior leaders began strategizing how best to aid local residents, Kunzman said. They quickly determined that the JCC, at both its Squirrel Hill and South Hills locations, should begin hosting blood drives.

At that point, the typical places people could donate blood had closed. Throughout March and early April of 2020, the JCC opened its doors to Vitalant and blood donors for nine drives, Kunzman said. Those efforts resulted in the JCC broadening its partnerships with health providers across the region. Through work with the Squirrel Hill Health Center, UPMC, AHN, the Latino Community Center and Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance Pittsburgh, the JCC became a center for not only blood drives but free COVID testing and vaccination.

COVID-19 vaccination occurs at the Squirrel Hill JCC. Photo courtesy of Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh

In utilizing its space for public health, the JCC has aided thousands, JCC representatives said.

Since March 2020, the JCC has hosted more than 65 blood drives, with 1,770 donations helping nearly 5,319 patients; and approximately 3,000 COVID tests and 11,115 COVID vaccinations have been administered on the JCC’s premises.

Those numbers are remarkable, Kunzman said, but it’s the JCC’s staff that keeps the organization running on a day-to-day basis.

As soon as the JCC was permitted to reopen after the initial mandated closure, staffers returned with renewed dedication. That commitment continues today, Kunzman said, and from morning until night, the JCC is filled with professionals who are working with members, partnering with stakeholders and serving the community at large. The numerous individuals who put in long hours for the greater good deserve recognition, he said, adding that the award he received reflects that team effort.

The entire staff is willing to do “whatever it takes” to help the community, and that isn’t something that just began in March 2020, Kunzman said. Since Oct. 27, 2018 — the date of the antisemitic attack at the Tree of Life building — JCC staffers have worked tirelessly to maintain a space that promotes the community’s health and wellness.

“There are countless staff that are there at crazy hours to make sure the end product gets delivered on time, and to the highest extent possible,” Kunzman said.

Masked JCC pre-kindergarten students incorporate unmasked dinosaurs into their play. Photo courtesy of Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh.

JCC president and CEO Brian Schreiber echoed Kunzman’s praise, and said, “While this award could only be presented to an individual, we know that this award also recognizes our entire JCC community, who have been the most passionate individuals I know in pursuit of mission and excellence.”

Still, the organization continues battling the financial scars of COVID. It’s 2,782 paid membership units represent just 67% of pre-pandemic levels.

Thankfully, Kunzman said, several agencies and donors have stepped up to ensure the JCC can continue its work.

The Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh provided $1.3 million in COVID relief. The Jewish Healthcare Foundation delivered an additional $2.5 million. Individual donors have given $1.3 million to help with recovery, and the government — not through the Paycheck Protection Program — has provided another $900,000.

“The JCC appreciates the community’s investment in it,” Kunzman said, “and it is our responsibility to provide a significant and meaningful return on that investment.

“Every day when our staff wakes up, that’s what gets us out of bed and into the Center, at the two locations. It’s something we take very seriously and are wholeheartedly committed to.”

Schreiber agreed and said that Kunzman’s recent award recognizes an entire staff’s dedication.

“We do not engage in the work for the accolades,” Schreiber said, “but we deeply appreciate those external experts who have recognized the power and impact of our work.” PJC

Adam Reinherz can be reached at areinherz@pittsburghjewishchronicle.org.

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