Six months to a year. That’s how long some gave KleinLife before it shut down for good.
But 10 years after becoming an independent organization, the center says it is not only surviving, but thriving.
President and CEO Andre Krug said things were in rough shape when KleinLife separated from the Jewish Community Centers of Greater Philadelphia on Sept. 1, 2009, but today the organization is financially stable, finishing its ninth year in a row with a surplus.
“It feels great, especially given the fact where we came from,” Krug said. “We were, frankly, at the brink of extinction in terms of our finances and the number of people in the building. Everything was down and gloomy. And we’ve managed to turn this agency around. The building right now is as busy as it’s ever been.”
KleinLife is the largest senior center in Philadelphia, providing a variety of social, cultural, therapeutic, fitness and nutrition services to thousands of underserved low-income seniors. The two-floor, 110,000-square-foot building in Northeast Philly sees more than 2,000 visitors on a daily basis for its wellness facilities, after-school programs, summer day camp, fitness classes and leagues, cultural programs and adult education classes. The center also hosts Jewish programs, with thousands in attendance for Shabbat and High Holiday services.
Originally named Klein JCC, it was founded in October 1975 by Raymond Klein and his wife Miriam, who provided the initial $1 million gift to establish it.
Their son, Stephen Klein, remembers the cold winter day all those years ago when his father drove the two out to a vacant lot. It was there he laid out the plans showing his vision across the car’s hood.
The center was created to serve the Northeast’s Jewish population, mostly second- and third-generation Americans. It later shifted gears to meet the needs of a number of Russian immigrants who moved to the area between the late ‘70s and early ‘90s.
Krug became its program director in 2000, then president and CEO in 2009. He said financial troubles were constant at the area’s JCCs then, but Klein JCC had it the worst. After the breakup of the JCC of Greater Philly, there was concern that Klein JCC would run out of money in six months and close shortly thereafter.
When Stephen Klein heard of the organization’s struggles he sprang into action.
“It was my mother and father’s great joy and so, when the opportunity came or need arose, it was my duty and pleasure to go up there and try to turn things around,” Stephen Klein said.
Today, he serves as chair of the board of directors. Krug said becoming independent allowed the organization to regroup and take advantage of additional resources. In 2013, Stephen Klein hosted a fundraiser for the center at his Center City home raising $300,000 from about 300 donors. In addition, then-Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia President Leonard Barrack presented him at the gala with a surprise $100,000 check. The one-time grant was made in conjunction with the Abramson Family Foundation.
Brian Gralnick is the director of Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia’s Center for Social Responsibility and has worked in collaboration with KleinLife for the past decade. He said there’s much to celebrate.
Over the years, the facility has continued to expand. KleinLife recently embarked on a $3 million capital campaign project to make improvements to its theater, parking lot, lighting system, lobby, roof, pool area, fitness center and lunch room.
“Andre, to his credit, and to the board’s credit, has done a great job of bringing different resources that older adults and people in the Northeast Philadelphia neighborhoods could need in a one-stop shop,” Gralnick said. “There’s just so much there in terms of resources that Andre and everyone has brought there. There wasn’t a dentist’s office. There wasn’t physical therapy. There wasn’t a Russian-Hebrew school, which is another great gem that Andre created. So there’s just so much more programs and services.”
In 2015, Klein JCC rebranded itself as KleinLife, and today operates satellite branches in Rhawnhurst, Center City and Elkins Park. The center will commemorate its 45th anniversary next year and host a celebration sometime in fall 2020.
“My mother and father were so enthusiastic to undertake this project in 1975,” Stephen Klein said. “Today, they’d be very proud of the kinds of services and programming that we’re providing, well beyond what they ever contemplated.”
[email protected]; 215-832-0751