Kaiserman JCC CEO Alan Scher started his role in July and said it would take three functioning businesses to sustain the institution.
More than four months into his tenure, though, the leader of the last true JCC in Southeastern Pennsylvania is expanding his vision.
“Our strategic plan has multiple business and revenue streams, so we can be the thriving JCC that is the only game in town,” Scher said. “We want to serve our little corner of the Main Line but increasingly serve beyond, too.”
The Wynnewood facility already has two thriving business models. Its camp, Camp Kef, welcomed between 450 and 465 kids this past summer, its highest number in years, according to Scher. And the JCC’s preschool, the Robert J. Wilf Preschool, has more students than ever in 2021-’22.
In addition to those models, Kaiserman has a deep bank account right now, Scher said. Thanks to Scher’s predecessor, Amy Krulik, it got generous donations from longtime benefactors during the pandemic. It also received a chunk of state and federal aid.
Going into the new year, JCC officials don’t need to worry about just paying employees and covering operating costs next month. That means, as Scher explained, the leadership can think big.
“We can pause and ask our stakeholders who we want to be 5-10 years from now,” he said.
The first part of that answer is the camp and preschool. The second part starts in a place that used to define the JCC: fitness.
But the new fitness model is not like the old one. Instead of operating as a workout facility, Kaiserman is focusing on fitness classes for older adults.
In the fall, a group of older area residents told Scher they weren’t being served by local gyms. He responded by adding classes in senior fitness, strength and core training and functional fitness for everyday living.
He said all three are at capacity with 20 people in each class. The JCC is even turning people away, Scher added.
“Older adults are coming in every day and saying Life Time (Fitness) isn’t for me. The Haverford Y isn’t for me,” he said.
In-person classes are not the only workout options at Kaiserman. There are youth basketball leagues for boys and girls, adult basketball leagues and a seasonal pool.
Beyond fitness, Scher is investing in cultural events and local partnerships.
On Nov. 21, Kaiserman hosted a talk by a Jewish children’s book author. On Dec. 4, the JCC will hold a Chanukah festival.
Between now and the spring, the Wynnewood facility will revitalize its baseball fields. Then, come spring, it will partner with the Lower Merion Little League to host games and practices.
That alliance should deepen the JCC’s existing reputation for youth development in person, beyond screens. And so will two others, Scher said.
The Diller Teen Fellows program will teach teens how to be leaders and how to connect with their Jewish roots. And a New York-based group called K’ilu Kit will use theatrical methods to help families teach Jewish values in the home.
“We’re increasingly positioning ourselves to serve youth and families,” Scher said.
But to truly expand beyond the three-business model approach, the CEO knows he’ll have to appeal to more people. That’s why, in partnership with the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, Kaiserman is starting up J on the Way, an initiative to spread the word about the JCC beyond the Main Line.
Scher said the Jewish Federation identified the regions in the area with the most Jews and the least amount of Jewish programming. The search pinpointed West Philadelphia and northern Delaware County.
The JCC is going to send a representative to those communities to talk to residents and to figure out “how we can serve them,” Scher said.
If it works, Kaiserman will become more than just your neighborhood JCC — it will become a regional institution.
It’s an ambitious vision, but one that Scher embraces.
He said he wants multiple preschools and more field renovations, fitness classes, community partners and member populations. He might even bring back the workout room at some point.
“A year from now, two years from now, maybe we will have rebuilt our soccer field, our tennis courts, our splash pad at our pool,” he said. “In that scenario, what will it look like to have a gym?”
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