Gems and geodes fascinate J.J. Hawley.
He’s nearly 4 years old and learned about them in his Earthly Treasures science class at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Orlando, more commonly known as the J.
J.J. and his family aren’t Jewish, but six years ago, when mother Bridget was looking for a preschool, one visit to the Maitland campus impressed her so much that she drove from southwest Orlando for a year until her family moved to Maitland.
“The programs, their philosophy was way beyond other preschools I toured,” she said.
The J says the quality of their award-winning programs remain strong despite significant budget cuts. Last month, the Greater Orlando Jewish Federation announced that it would not allocate funds to most local Jewish organizations for the first time in 50 years. That includes the Maitland JCC campus, the Holocaust Memorial and Resource Center, Jewish Family Services of Greater Orlando and the Jewish Pavilion, which provides services for seniors in nursing homes. The J’s southwest Orlando campus will receive $125,000 as part of a five-year contract to fund the new center, which opened last year.
“The funding cuts were not totally unexpected, and we have been able to absorb them without affecting programming,” said J Marketing Director Amy Schwartz, who said adjustments were made internally to cut expenses and raise revenue.
Last year, the Federation dispersed $400,000 to Jewish organizations, and the Maitland and Orlando campuses of the JCC received almost half of that — $180,000.
“We have a very strong bond with the Jewish Federation of Greater Orlando, which acts similar to the United Way to distribute funds to various Jewish organizations,” Schwartz said. “The critical piece is that the Foundation, which owns the campus, must be able to pay the mortgage so the campus can continue.”
The mortgage on the Maitland campus is $5.3 million.
While her son J.J. is too young to worry about budgets and bottom lines, Bridget noticed that even before the economy weakened, the center had begun to centralize administrative processes with new technology. She expects that the J’s many fundraising events, such as the annual Family Festival held at Cranes Roost Park in November, will take on greater significance in the coming years.
Center grows despite cuts
Shrinking family budgets have spurred applications for scholarship money, but supporters stepped up providing $50,000 more than the previous year. More than $400,000 in scholarships has been provided annually through corporations, individuals, foundations and fundraisers.
Carol McNally, director of the Early Childhood Learning Center, was happy to learn that two families getting back on their feet asked to stop their assistance to free up money for others.
Full-time preschool enrollment is growing at both campuses — the first increase in four years, said Executive Director David Wayne. McNally is making plans for a new children’s resource room including a computer lab, library and quiet areas for reading and homework.
“We definitely have more moms in the full-time programs now and many with older children are taking advantage of our after-school programs,” McNally said of moms needing to work full-time.
Awards coming in
Schwartz said the JCC has received more awards since the economy worsened, including Best Preschool in Orlando by Nickelodeon Parents’ Pick Awards 2009 and 2010 and Best Daycare in Orlando by Orlando Mom’s Guide. This year, they also received 12 national awards by the JCCs of North America, including recognition for the customized summer camp programs and the unique cultural programming of Shayna’s Village.
“When times are tough, community centers become even more important, to provide a safety net and social network,” Schwartz said.
Karen Duncan, director of Shayna’s Village, is building back the volunteer staff.
“We realize many working moms can’t volunteer as much as they would like, so we look for ways they can contribute that works best for them,” she said.
Duncan often meets moms for the first time at parenting classes. Her groups include a blend of experienced and new parents, who provide support and answers and interactions often blossom into long-term friendships.
Tara Harris, a Maitland mother of five, fondly recalls the warm reception she received as a brand new mom 13 years ago.
“It felt like home,” she said. “The staff knows you and your children by name even years later. I wish more people knew how fantastic it is. Even if you have several kids, you can find a way to belong.”