By Lauren Luedtke-Stafford
On an early morning at the end of March, my teammates and I from the Lawrence Family Jewish Community Center, Jacobs Family Campus, boarded a bus and began our trek from San Diego, California, to Tucson, Arizona. As we made our way into the beautiful Arizona landscape, passing so many cacti I lost count within seconds, little did we know that we were embarking on not only a physical journey but also diving headfirst into an experience that would open our eyes to the endless possibilities of our work as JCC professionals.
For three days, I was part of the of the conference’s Arts and Culture and Jewish Life and Learning cohort and became fully immersed in the subject matter, racing to learn as much as I could from my peers in the time we had together. This “speed learning” became my focus, particularly during the speed networking session, which allowed us approximately seven minutes to meet our colleagues—one of my favorite activities of the entire conference.
In these brief snapshots of time with different peers—whose work locations range from the Bay Area to Los Angeles and all the way east in Minnesota—I learned that we are not alone in our victories or in our struggles and pitfalls. In talking to fellow professionals, I recognized my own experiences in their stories and understood that what we do does not happen in a vacuum. In its simplicity, the speed networking offered an important message: At the end of the day, our work is not only dependent on the community of people we serve with our programming and services but also on the community we build for ourselves with other JCC professionals.
I was particularly struck by this idea when I learned about the relationships that professionals at several Bay Area-based JCCs have formed. They are in frequent contact with one another, share programming, and meet regularly in person to discuss partnerships. Watching them interact, I was blown away not only by their willingness to share ideas and opportunities but also by the degree to which this sharing has shaped their JCCs’ programming in meaningful ways. Their relationships with one another symbolize the significance of the Western regional conference: Our shared experiences as JCC professionals—and sharing those experiences with other peers—can both inform and strengthen the work we do.
I came away from the conference with several thoughts. As my Lawrence Family JCC friends and I and made our way back to San Diego, I had time to reflect on some of them. The relationships we build with each other and our JCC colleagues around North America and the kinship we feel toward one another informs—and will continue to inform—my work in significant ways. I have sincere respect for all my colleagues in the JCC world and the diversity of roles they have within the movement. I recognize and appreciate how, as JCC professionals, we can both share experiences and have our own encounters that allow us to offer our peers a window into our work and our JCC community. Most importantly, I left this conference inspired and grateful for the natural network we created amongst ourselves and for the knowledge that when questions, ideas, and opportunities arise and need to be discussed, our peers are only an email, a phone call, or even a bus ride away.
Lauren Luedtke-Stafford is the assistant director of the San Diego Center for Jewish Culture at the Lawrence Family JCC in San Diego, California.