Designing a J for the 21st century
As a longtime board member of the JCC, Randi Buergenthal is used to fielding questions. Usually, she knows the right professional to ask or where to find information.
But there’s one question that made her stop and think.
“Why should I belong to the JCC? What’s in it for me?”
Today, as the new chair of the JCC board, Randi partners with a board of directors and JCC staff to answer these questions. They recognize the JCC of today and tomorrow must reimagine the JCC experience. Fortunately, the group has done their homework. For several years, Randi worked with other board members and J professionals to take a hard look at what happens when someone participates in the J’s programs, whether at the Weinberg Park Heights JCC, Rosenbloom Owings Mills JCC, Downtown Baltimore JCC or throughout the community.
Today our J is in a better position than ever before to create meaningful stories for individuals and families all over our community.
First stop? Listening to members, guests and employees. “What does it mean to be a member and to be a guest? What is working and what isn’t?” To answer these questions, the board developed a Strategic Planning Think Tank to understand the complete J experience. They partnered with The Associated and reached out to organizations and community leaders and engaged a consultant, seeking to understand other business processes, community needs as well as how to adapt to change. Those insights helped inform creation of a recently announced strategic plan for the J.
“During the next two years, you will see enhancements at the J, designed to respond to demonstrated need for customized programs for families and youth, a robust cultural arts platform with increased programming at The Gordon and beyond, expanded wellness offerings at Park Heights and Owings Mills and increased community partnerships,” Randi shared. (See “What’s Next” below for details) “Today our J is in a better position than ever before to create meaningful stories for individuals and families all over our community.”
Within the next two years, the J will transform into three consumer-centric centers.
• The Center for Youth and Families: A one-stop shop for families and youth ages 0-18, featuring a concierge to create firsthand experiences and opportunities.
• The Center for Arts and Culture: A leading arts destination for Baltimore County featuring The Gordon Center, as well as workshops, lectures, trips and excursions and expanded art classes.
• The Center for Sports and Wellness: An unparalleled wellness program in partnership with LifeBridge Health as well as enhanced fitness offerings; the concept will expand to the Park Heights J to meet the specific needs of the observant community.
As the J repositions itself for 2020 and beyond, Randi reflects on its history. When its second location in Owings Mills opened in 1978, it was met with diverse opinions and curiosity in the community. Some Jewish families leaped at the opportunity and became the Owings Mills JCC’s first members.
For Randi, the history is personal. Her family moved to Owings Mills because her parents heard that The Associated was building a new JCC. And Randi’s J journey began.
“My mother would bring me and my brother to JCC while she worked in the front office,” said Randi. Quickly, Randi found her footing, working at the front desk, helping in the preschool and camps. At 13, Randi began building leadership skills in BBYO, where she eventually became her chapter and Baltimore Council president. She taught classes during the summers when she was in college and always stayed connected to the J. “The JCC was where I met my best childhood friends and discovered my connection to Judaism,” said Randi. “The J was where I fit in, and where I learned that I could make a difference.”
Fast-forward several decades. Married, with two children, Randi and husband John bought a home in Owings Mills, minutes from the JCC. “The J became our second home. We sent our daughters to the ECE. They took tennis and dance classes and had birthday parties in the blue gym. They went to camp, participated in JCC Maccabi.”
Although Randi worked as a marketing consultant, volunteerism remained important. She quickly became involved in the Baltimore community, serving as the president of Beth Israel Congregation, and graduating from ACHARAI: The Shoshana S. Cardin Jewish Leadership Institute, a program for Baltimore’s Jewish leaders. She also completed the Wexner Heritage Program, a Jewish learning and leadership development program for volunteer leaders in North America. She has chaired several committees at The Associated and is past president of The American Marketing Association, Baltimore Chapter. In 2009, she joined the JCC board.
“I joined the board because I wanted to be a part of the excitement at the J, as it had a tremendous influence on a my life and my family’s life. It has always been important to me to give back to the community, as we are all responsible for taking care of each other.” Working closely with volunteers and professionals, Randi has been a part of the evolution of the J. She led the J’s Strategic Planning Think Tank, and chaired numerous committees including Jewish Life, the 4Front Teen Initiative, marketing committees and many more.
It is our mission to create and embrace community in a way that is personal and meaningful to each family we engage.
As the strategic plan comes to life, Randi is enthusiastic about the J’s relevance to the community. “Today’s family is different, and at the J, we embrace diversity, no matter how a family identifies as Jewish or not, or is affiliated with a Jewish movement, or not,” she said. “It is our mission to create and embrace community in a way that is personal and meaningful to each family we engage.”
Just as the JCC expanded 40 years ago, it is prepared to expand services and reach further once again. “Our goal is to create community at the Weinberg Park Heights JCC, Rosenbloom Owings Mills JCC, The Downtown Baltimore JCC and in areas we never considered 40 years ago; areas such as Carroll County, Howard County, Towson, Ruxton, Roland Park, and 1-83 corridor,” Randi shares.
Today’s J is far different then even a decade ago. As Randi collaborates with the J board, staff, volunteers and The Associated, she remains mindful of her overarching goal: To make the JCC indispensible to all.