Kaiserman JCC to Eliminate All Fitness Classes

A boomers boot camp class in 2017. (Andy Gotlieb)

The Kaiserman JCC hasn’t yet decided whether to eliminate fitness as part of its business model entirely.

But it is getting rid of personal training and all 11 of its fitness classes.

All but two of those programs have been virtual since the pandemic broke out in March 2020. Only a Sunday boot camp workout, focused on cardio and strength training, and a Saturday dance party were running in person.

Kaiserman’s summer offerings will finish their season, ending Sept. 4.

The fitness programs have been losing money, according to CEO Alan Scher. Last week, he saw two people in a class. He acknowledged that number is pretty standard at this point.

“We’re ending this virtual suite of programs that started with the pandemic,” Scher said. “There’s an opportunity to refresh.”

But for the new leader, who started July 1, the question remains: Refresh to what?

Pre-pandemic, the Wynnewood facility offered 50 fitness classes, youth sports programs, personal training, a gym, basketball courts and a pool. After Sept. 4, though, only some youth programs, the courts and the pool will remain available.

“As a non-profit organization, we make decisions about where our resources go based on how much impact we can make with them,” Scher wrote in a weekly newsletter to JCC members. “Our fitness offerings have not been healthy, and our current attendance levels do not support the costs to continue to run this program.”

Scher said the fate of the fitness center is yet to be determined.

“This is not a decision about the Fitness Center. This is only a decision about our current fitness classes and personal training,” he wrote. “We will be sharing more about the future of our fitness and aquatics center after the Jewish Holidays.”

Dorilona Rose of Ardmore is in her sixth year in Kaiserman’s yoga class. She is disappointed to see it go. But she also understands that Scher needs to come up with a new, modern vision for the aging JCC concept.

“The history of why JCCs started is that Jews couldn’t work out in another location,” Rose said. “But that has shifted.”

Scher believes that a JCC needs three business models to thrive, and Kaiserman has two. Its day camp, Camp Kef, served between 450 and 465 campers this past summer. And the facility’s Robert J. Wilf Preschool will be at capacity this fall with 140 students.

Pre-pandemic, numerous fitness classes were held inside the JCC. (Andy Gotlieb)

But in 2021, fitness is hard, according to the CEO. It requires annual investments to update equipment and retain instructors.

Offering virtual fitness is just as difficult, if not more. To do it well, Kaiserman needs to make the same investments, just in technology instead of equipment.

“We’re not Peloton,” Scher said. “The JCC is not a tech behemoth with endless amounts of money.”

But it can still be a community sports institution, he said.

This fall, Kaiserman will start a new girls basketball league for kids in grades 8-12. The girls league will join an existing boys basketball league, a gymnastics program and several other youth offerings.

Kaiserman is also bringing back its after-school program for the first time since the pandemic began.

For now, Scher wants a variety of programs to fill the fitness void. At the same time, he knows he still needs to find that third business model.

“We’ll use the next several months to consider and expand our program,” the CEO said.

Even without her yoga class, Rose plans on continuing to use the JCC. She has two daughters, ages 12 and 9, who enjoy Camp Kef each summer.

But Rose is hoping that Kaiserman can align fitness with the rest of its vision.

“Looking at fitness as a standalone doesn’t make sense,” Rose said. “You have to look at the JCC as a whole.”

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