As Jewish communal organizations are confronting the imminent retirement of a generation of professional leaders, the JCCs of North America Biennial is responding with a vigorous strategy of inclusion of younger staff. Several groups of new and rising JCC professionals will attend the Biennial in New Orleans, May 6-9, arriving early and interacting with seasoned JCC lay and professional leaders. “We know we need to act now to insure that JCCs have the trained staff they need in place when baby boomers begin to retire,” said Joy Brand, JCC Association associate vice-president, director of training. “The most important asset JCCs have is a knowledgeable, dedicated staff.”
The Merrin Teen Professional Fellows will arrive on May 3 for an intense week-long learning experience. Supported by the Merrin Family Foundation, the Merrin Fellowship’s mission is to give those working with Jewish teens the skills to better serve this critical sector of the Jewish community, to enhance the profile of those working with teens in their respective organizations, to deepen the Jewish identities of the participants, and to build a stronger professional network of teen service providers.
Since 1999, more than eighty professionals have completed this 18-month program and many are now in executive management positions. “The Merrin Fellowship has proven itself to be a powerful executive development platform,” said Lonny Friedman, assistant vice-president, Merrin Center for Teen Services & Camping. The current cohort of Merrin Fellows will also spend significant time with Fellowship alumni, further cementing ties within the movement. “This fellowship has given me a network of professionals that has already provided support and will continue to do so as I progress in my career,” said Rachel Rustin; director, adult & family services, Barshop JCC of San Antonio.
Another group of young professionals at Biennial are JCC Association Graduate Scholars. The JCC Association Graduate Scholarship Program provides merit-based financial aid for students to use towards an advanced degree that will lead to or enhance professional careers in the Jewish Community Center Movement. There are scholarships for both full-time and part-time students, with the latter already working at JCCs. Many current JCC executive directors were JCC Association graduate scholarship recipients.
The newest program to train JCC professionals is JELI, the Jewish Experiential Learning Initiative. Funded by the Jim Joseph Foundation and planned in conjunction with the William Davidson Graduate School of Jewish Education at the Jewish Theological Seminary and the Mandel Center of Jewish Education at JCC Association, JELI is designed as a Jewish educational leadership program for middle- and senior-management professionals in Jewish Community Centers throughout North America to enhance their personal growth, Jewish leadership abilities, and professional skill sets. “We want the most skilled and dynamic people working in environments of experiential education,” said David Ackerman, director of MCJE, “to make those experiences even more powerful for participants.”
All three groups will be meeting with Dr. Erica Brown, renowned Jewish educator and scholar-in-residence at the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington, on Monday, May 7. They will also participate together in a hands-on service project through Beacon of Hope to rehabilitate homes destroyed during Hurricane Katrina.
Another group of emerging leaders at Biennial come from the volunteer sector. The Esther Leah Ritz Emerging JCC Leaders Institute is designed to assist emerging leaders in developing the skills they need to assume top leadership in JCCs. Coming together at the Biennial is a starting point in a long-term relationship among the future leaders of the JCC Movement. The dedicated program for the Esther Leah Ritz Emerging Leaders s begins on Saturday evening, May 5, and continues through Tuesday morning, May 8, with ample time to attend the overall Biennial sessions.
According to Dori Denelle, JCC Association vice-president and staff for the ELR Institute, “This year, all participants have been asked to take on an additional leadership responsibility back in their home communities, to put into practice the ideas they’ve learned and skills they’ve honed through this program.” Additionally, the group will participate in a series of learning opportunities throughout the year following the Biennial.