Jennifer Mamlet often spends time walking through the halls of the JCC’s preschool, where children’s artwork lines the walls. She especially loves to hear them singing beautiful songs about havdalah (the beginning of the week and the end of the Sabbath) on Monday mornings, she told TAP. Credits: Jackie Lieberman
New Executive Director Calls JCC of Central NJ “Home”
Thursday, February 28, 2013 • 1:14pm
SCOTCH PLAINS, NJ—When Jennifer Mamlet and her family decided to move from Manhattan to Westfield a few years ago, the first phone call they made was to the Jewish Community Center of Central New Jersey. But it wasn’t until last spring that she thought of becoming the executive director there.
“I saw the email that [previous executive director] Barak Hermann was leaving and a little light went off,” said Mamlet, who had spent the previous 10 years as Senior Vice President of Development for the Ad Council.
Mamlet knew that her expertise in social work and fundraising would be valuable to the community center, but even she didn’t know how much she would want the job until she was in the middle of the search process.
“There’s that tipping point where you say,” (whispering), “‘I really want this. What if they don’t want me?’” she said.
But they did want her. Mamlet officially took over as executive director in January, though she was already attending staff holiday parties and budget and board meetings back in December.
Mamlet isn’t just head of the JCC—she’s also a member. Her five-year-old daughter and two- (soon to be three-)year old son will attend Camp Yachad there this summer, and her son will attend preschool there next year.
Her’s is a big job, and one with a steep learning curve. “My perspective is evolving,” said Mamlet. “The role that this JCC can and does and should play becomes a little bit clearer every day.”
The JCC of Central New Jersey’s reach goes farther than Scotch Plains and Westfield, she explained. It’s a place where people from all around gather to be part of a community.
Whether it’s the parents who sit together for a cup of coffee in the café after dropping their children at the preschool, the seniors who attend programing together three days a week or people who come to the fitness center to take a class or work out, Mamlet believes the JCC’s slogan—“Community is at our Center”—holds true.
The staff is a big part of that, Mamlet said. As families walk in each morning, they’re greeted by staff members who know them by name, and many of the children run to hug workers as their parents lead them down the hall. “I’ve never seen anything like it. People genuinely, genuinely care. I’m always proud to see the level of engagement,” she said.
Throughout the interview process for her job, “I kept seeing this line that we want this to be a home away from home,” she said. She agrees that it is.
“I’m incredibly excited to be part of this. It feels like my home, professionally, which is very nice,” she said, adding, “And I feel incredibly humbled.”
She spoke of the strong Jewish values at the core of the center, such as “Giving and respect and taking care of each other.”
Right now, she is spending much of her time getting to know local rabbis and people at the Jewish Federation.
She sees helping members connect with a Jewish congregation that’s right for them as a key role that the JCC can play. “It’s about opening our doors to the synagogues and letting them do programs here. The more access we can give members to meeting their clergy, the better.”
There are other organizations she plans to meet with, as well. “There’s no shortage of people to get to know. There’s a lot to learn and a lot of conversations to have,” she said.
“There’s a whole hub of Jewish communal service organizations, of which this JCC is just one,” said Mamlet. And, she added, “There are other secular organizations that we partner with. We have to be a leader in our community and we have to be visible as a non-profit in our community.”