JCC must reach out to members

The Jewish Community Center of San Francisco may finally be on the right track. After months of trying to solve problems themselves, board members are reaching beyond their internal resources for help.

In mid-May, the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation stepped in. And now, two experienced Jewish activists have taken center stage. Longtime local leader Larry Myers, who is known for his fund-raising skills, has been nominated as new board president. And trouble-shooter Zev Hymowitz, who has worked as a consultant to JCCs in about 30 cities, has been hired as new executive director.

While no one should look to Myers or Hymowitz as wonder workers, perhaps this pair can offer sorely needed perspective to this financial and organizational disaster.

No one yet is sure whether the JCC in its current form can or should be saved. Some argue that health clubs should no longer be run by non-profit groups. Others fear turning away from JCC's track record as a non-threatening entry point to Jewish life.

The new board and director will be forced to predict the future of community needs. If they make the wrong decisions, the community will have wasted even more money, time and effort.

There are two ways, however, in which the new leaders might be able to avoid problems of the recent past.

First, they must turn to and include average members in the decision-making. It became obvious over the past few months that leaders had little idea what JCC users were thinking. When the members tried to speak, they often were ignored.

This effort must include reaching out to the constituency of all the JCC programs. The JCC is more than a health club with Nautilus equipment, sports leagues and aerobics classes. It also offers meals to senior citizens, classes to new Russian emigres, and preschool to families with youngsters. These groups must be tapped for their insight.

Second, these new leaders must avoid the secrecy now embedded in the organization. When members were asking tough questions, JCC leaders treated them as if they were out of line or had no business inquiring. Officials failed to remember that although the JCC isn't a public agency, it relies almost exclusively on memberships and donations. That means it must still respond to the masses or be doomed to drive them away.

If the new leaders can keep these suggestions in mind, perhaps the JCC's future will turn out to be as bright as it looks at the moment.