She’s only been on the job for a few weeks, but Amy Krulik, CEO of the Kaiserman JCC in Wynnewood, has already made significant changes to her wardrobe to accommodate two members of her new constituency.
They tell her to wear purple shoes one day, or pink items the next.
“They are my new best girlfriends who are my fashion consultants,” says Krulik. “They give me fashion advice every day” — fashion advice that Krulik follows, even though these JCC Anna Wintours are only 3 years old.
“One of the preschool parents said to me, ‘Why are you listening to them?’” Krulik recalls. “I said, ‘They’re members!’”
That, in a nutshell, is Krulik’s philosophy.
“Everybody has a voice,” she said of Kaiserman’s patrons.
Krulik took the Kaiserman job after 10 years as executive director at Jewish Relief Agency (JRA), a decade that was incredibly meaningful for her both professionally and personally. In addition to improving food service delivery to people in need, Krulik learned a great deal about building bridges; JRA worked with some 200 organizations per year.
“What I learned from that is that there’s tremendous strength and benefit when you’re working with other people,” she said. “Trying to go it alone, you can be successful, but only up to a point. But when you’re working with others and you are creating broad coalitions and partnerships, the entire community benefits and is strengthened by that.”
It’s one of the many things she hopes to do at Kaiserman: create a skein of connections to other regional organizations through which Kaiserman could share resources. It’s a bold idea — taking Kaiserman programs outside of the building — but one that JCCs nationwide are implementing.
“We’re taking the best of what we do and bringing it to other parts of our community for whom maybe coming to Wynnewood is not exactly in their regular driving circle,” Krulik said.
Krulik has plenty of experience with multi-venue planning. Back in the late ’90s and early 2000s, she ran the Jewish Book Festival for the JCC, bringing as many as 60 authors in a single week with readings in 30 different locations — synagogues, bookstores, community centers and the like.
“That is certainly my goal for this November, National Jewish Book Month, to be able to offer programming like that that is being generated by the JCC but isn’t necessarily happening in Kaiserman’s building,” said Krulik, who in past years served as Kaiserman’s PR and cultural arts director; membership director; site director; and VP of marketing when it was part of the now-defunct JCCs of Greater Philadelphia system.
Outside programming of the kind she envisions may, Krulik said, be the source of the rumor that Kaiserman JCC is planning to move — a rumor that Krulik debunks with Snopes-like finality.
“I can tell you right now, we’re not going anywhere,” Krulik said. “There are no immediate or future plans for Kaiserman to be moving anywhere. But we do have a worldview that’s bigger than this campus.”
Broadening the programming aperture won’t compromise Krulik’s attention to that campus, however.
“We as organizations spend a lot of time thinking about delivery of service and delivery of program and we don’t always spend as much time as we need to thinking about our facilities,” Krulik said. “That is a big priority for me — making sure that the quality of our facility matches the quality of our service and our program.”
For instance, Kaiserman’s summer camp, afterschool program and preschool, Krulik said, are all exceptional. “I would put them against any other program in the country and I think they would come out on top,” she said. “I want to make sure that our facility matches that.”
It’s not an easy task when dealing with a preschool, to cite one example, which was built in the 1940s.
“It was a convent school of Sacred Heart Church and the good sisters made some great choices; the terrazzo floors will be there forever,” Krulik said. But there are elements of the preschool that are functionally and aesthetically dated — a stark contrast to the contemporary approach taken by the preschool teachers.
“You go into the classroom and you go, ‘This is so cool. I really want to be 3.’ Right? Being 3 is really, really cool here.”
But the windows in the preschool, she said, could be used as the subject of a historic study on 1940s architectural design in the pre-energy-efficient building era.
That’s one of many changes she’s looking to make.
“We put in all new batteries into the exit signs,” Krulik said of one of the smaller changes. “That’s not on the scale of super exciting, but from a use and operation and a public safety perspective, which is a huge priority for me, I wanted to make sure that we took care of that.”
One of the bigger changes Krulik hopes to make is enclosing the outdoor pool. There was considerable tsuris when the previous pool, which was enclosed, was shuttered in 2013 due to a buckling ceiling. Repairs were estimated at $2.3 million — far more than Kaiserman could afford. So walls were torn down and the indoor pool became an outdoor pool, limiting its use to the summer.
In an ideal world, Krulik said, enclosing the pool would be done with a retractable roof. “You could enjoy the benefits during camp and in the summer of having an exceptional outdoor pool,” said Krulik, “and when it’s 20 degrees out and snowy, there’s that delicious, awesome moment where you get to go swimming in a really nice, warm indoor pool.”
Krulik’s own children learned to swim in the Kaiserman indoor pool, and as a longtime area resident, she sees that there’s a need.
“There are not enough indoor lap lanes in this community for the number of people who would like to swim,” said Krulik.
But the issue of the pool goes beyond utility. It’s also, Krulik said, about being able to fulfill the mitzvot of teaching another generation of kids how to swim. “Enclosing the pool is an immediate priority.”
Krulik would also life to beef up the JCC’s programming around adult education, Israel education, books and authors and Jewish arts and culture. She’d like to have more family programming outside of preschool, and create programming that sustains engagement with special events like the JCC Maccabi Games. She also talked about paying significant attention to Philadelphia’s graying population, which was the subject of a session at a recent national JCC conference Krulik attended.
Most of all, though, she wants Kaiserman JCC to function as a community center.
“We really like to think of the JCC as the town square for engagement and thought in our Jewish community,” she said. “That’s the role that I’m looking for Kaiserman to play.
“If you spend a lot of time worrying about who’s a member, you lose sight of the mission of the JCC, which is, at its heart, about convening conversation and elevating that conversation and giving people the opportunity to connect Jewishly in a way that’s meaningful for them.”
It has certainly been meaningful for Krulik and her husband and children, all of whom have been familiar faces at Kaiserman for many years.
“My kids grew up here, they went to preschool, camp, to the afterschool program. They learned to swim here. They were on the gymnastics team and the swim team.” Krulik said. “We live very close by. My husband and I are regulars in the gym.”
The years of connection made taking the position as CEO even more special for Krulik.
“For me to be able to come back now with more professional tools in the toolbox, to be able to come back to an organization that holds a place near and dear to my heart, I was ready for my next challenge, so that’s how I got here.”
As she tells people who ask about her new job, “There’s no place like home.”
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