JCC/Federation Staff Engage, Support Community Through COVID-19

by Adam Grobman

It is a brisk Monday morning as Spring weather has not yet fully blossomed. Cheerful chirping birds are some of the few occupants that still call the JCC grounds home during these times.

Chana Tillman is organizing food packages donated by local businesses– Dunkin Donuts on Linglestown Road, Panera on Route 22, and Bagel Lovers on Paxton Street. The food donations are distributed to Brenner Family Early Learning Center families in need –some pick up the packages at the JCC and others are carefully delivered to a convenient location.

“We want to let everyone know we are here for them if they need anything,” says Chana, the director of the ELC. “So far, just a small group of people have utilized this food donation service. Those numbers may change as the weeks go on.” Until the need becomes great enough to utilize all food donated, extra food is being shared with a local food bank.

The ELC staff has been hard at work making sure that families have what they need. Teachers and staff reach out daily via email and communication app Kinderline and make weekly phone calls to ensure that parents have the resources to occupy their lively and curious children with activities and knowledge.

The Early Learning Center also hosts live programming each week as part of the JCCatHome initiative, in which both children and parents are able to interact and learn with their teachers as if it were a regular school day.

“You can see and hear the excitement and recognition in the kid’s faces during the live Zoom story times, music times, and Shabbat sing-along,” says Kirsten Lambert, a teacher at the ELC. “For parents of young children, this situation is undoubtedly a difficult balancing act and we’re hoping to help support them in any way we can.”

While students are learning from their homes, teachers are doing the same. Many educators are using this time to take additional trainings to better serve the children and families in the learning center.

And the children (and parents) do love their teachers. Popular social media posts last month have featured ELC staff sharing tips on favorite snacks, DIY crafts, and bedtime stories with families and community members. The team has created a Facebook Group specifically for ELC families to share and keep in touch.

“Parents have told me that their child has watched videos of the staff time and time again,” says Cutter Weisberg, an ELC teacher who shared a video about quarantine-friendly snacks. “Keeping in touch is important now more than ever. First and foremost we are a community, so it’s important to make sure everyone in the community is doing well during these unusual times.”


Though the physical JCC building, which hosts space for fitness and recreation in nearly every corner, is currently closed, the Sports, Fitness, and Recreation Department is continuing to share its expertise and guidance with community members throughout this crisis.

“Working out can be a stress reliever,” says Terri Travers, Sports and Fitness Director. “If we are able to assist in people connecting or helping them to establish or continue a regular activity in their schedule, then we are doing our job to help serve the community.

The fitness team is conducting many programs each week, including group and personal training, senior programming, and youth programs like basketball and yoga.

“For some of our members, a connection on zoom workouts or calls is one of the few chances they have to see friends,” Terri says. “It can make life seem a little more normal.”

The team is also sharing virtual resources on a regular basis. The Jewish Federation Facebook page is posting numerous workout routines and videos, including instruction of a daily exercise shared by Sports and Fitness Coordinator Jeremy Kreiser.

Behind the Scenes

In addition to programming staff, the business office has been active since immediately following the temporary building closure. The team is available for questions and resources, and has been hard at work securing government funding to alleviate financial effects of the closing, as well as ongoing business tasks like processing payment and payroll and conducting the Annual Campaign.

“I am thankful for the amazing team that I work with at the J,” says Jennifer Ross, President/CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Harrisburg. “Everyone has used their talents to help engage and support our community during this incredibly challenging time.”

With revenue flow slowing and programming still active as ever, the community’s buy-in is more important than ever before.

“We need not only the community’s participation, but their support,” says Amanda Kohn, Development Director of the Jewish Federation of Greater Harrisburg. “We want to ensure that we are in a strong position to continue virtual programming, but also to confidently re-open our doors once there is a return to the ‘new normal.’”

Amanda says that Giving Tuesday Now, an effort to mobilize the world through giving that will take place on May 5, is a great opportunity to both participate and support, with more info available at www.now.givingtuesday.org.

“We are looking forward to feeling support from the community on Giving Tuesday,” Amanda says. “We know that generosity is at the heart of this community.”