In a turn of events that has shocked the entire Bay Area Jewish community, the Contra Costa Jewish Community Center board of directors abruptly announced on Thursday that the 35-year-old center was closing its doors.
And just like that, on Friday, the Contra Costa JCC was no more.
The closure of the Walnut Creek institution means more than two dozen staffers have lost their jobs and the parents of the JCC’s 80 or so preschool students suddenly have no place for their children.
It also means the JCC’s Millman Center, which offered a host of adult day care and Alzheimer’s caregiver respite programs, has folded — along with all other Jewish culture and education programs.
The property at 2071 Tice Valley Blvd. will be sold, officials announced.
In a letter sent to preschool parents on Wednesday, JCC board president Robert Rich blamed lagging fundraising and membership for the center’s financial problems.
“The only course to take was, and is, to suspend the activities of the Millman Adult Day program and the JCC preschool and all other on-site programming,” he wrote in the letter. “We deeply regret that this action has become necessary. There were simply no other alternatives that were affordable at this time.”
The letter noted that the course of action was decided “at an urgent board meeting last week,” where “it was determined that we are now at a point where the current offerings and corresponding fundraising activity cannot guarantee sufficient cash to cover the programs at the Tice Valley facility.”
The Contra Costa JCC was founded in 1976 and, according to the Contra Costa Times, spent 27 years at its Tice Valley facility, where it drew members from throughout not only Contra Costa County, but also from Alameda County cities such as Pleasanton and Livermore. In addition to childcare, camps and adult services, the JCC offered annual events such as the Jewish Book Festival; the most recent book festival, the 22nd annual, was co-presented by the CCJCC, the Jewish Federation of the East Bay and the Center for Jewish Living and Learning.
The Contra Costa JCC also helped start a small film festival 16 years ago that has grown into the East Bay International Jewish Film Festival — “the largest Jewish cultural event in the Contra Costa/Tri-Valley region of the Bay Area” according to its website. The 16th annual festival was presented by the Jewish Federation of the East Bay in 2011, according to the website, and the CCJCC was listed as one of nine major sponsors.
Until early last year, the CCJCC had been a department of the federation. At that point it incorporated as a separate 501(c)3 nonprofit with its own board.
“They did this at the urging of their leadership,” federation CEO Rabbi James Brandt said in an interview Friday, “because they planned to build a new facility, and began a large-scale capital campaign.”
Brandt added that once the JCC self-incorporated, the CCJCC’s financial records were not monitored by or disclosed to the federation.
“The decision to close the facility and its programming was proposed and adopted by the CCJCC board,” Brandt wrote in an email sent out Thursday evening to federation and CCJCC supporters (see below for a copy of the letter).
In an interview, Brandt added, “While JCC has had ongoing financial struggles over the years, federation leadership was surprised by the abruptness of the closure. As recently as two months ago there was a communitywide meeting looking at how to strategize the JCC moving forward.”
One preschool parent wants to fight to keep the school going somehow. Samantha Balboni has had two children in the preschool, including a daughter currently.
She says parents are in shock and “really, really angry. They should have come to us three months ago and said ‘We’re in serious trouble.’ We hope the Jewish community help us put the school back together.”
Balboni does not know yet if that’s possible.
JCC Adults Program Director Shoshana Eliahu first heard about the closure at an afternoon meeting on Wednesday — a mere two days before the center shut down.
Prior to that she had heard no rumors of impending closure.
“We knew there were financial straits and tough times,” Eliahu said, “but we never knew it was coming down. I’m very sad and a little angry because the board should have sent out communications to the community telling them we’re in such dire straits.”
The senior nutrition program she ran served up to 80 seniors twice a week, with meals supplied by the Reutlinger Community for Jewish Living in Danville.
“It created an environment for people to come together and meet socially,” Eliahu added. “We did get county funding, some private donations and the JCC picked up the rest. As of July 1, we became totally dependent on the County.
Jan Corran, executive director at Reutlinger, said she is saddened by the JCC’s closure and will do what she can to help those stranded.
On Dec. 21, the JCC was to host 90 seniors for a special Chanukah lunch and celebration. Corran has invited the attendees to move the event to Reutlinger that day. “We plan to send our buses to the parking lot of the JCC at to pick up at least 32 attendees and bring them to Danville, she said.
Brandt said the federation has been working with the community partners to respond to the conditions of this closure.
“We are working with Jewish Family and Children’s Services and Jewish Vocational Service to provide counseling and career counseling for staff laid off abruptly,” he said. “We have worked with our synagogues and preschools in Contra Costa to find spots for the children. The response has been so heartening. The community is pulling together.”
He added that the federation has opened a help line for parents whose children have been displaced. The number is (510) 318-6438.
In addition, according to the Contra Costa Times, concerned parents have set up an email address (email@example.com) for people to stay in touch, donate services and get information. Also, a Facebook page dedicated to memories of the CCJCC has been started (Click here to access it).
According to Patch.com, Walnut Creek officials have assured the public that the Tice Valley Gymnasium, located adjacent to the JCC, will remain open and continue schedules as programmed.
Many JCC members use the gym, and people often think of it as part of the JCC, but actually the city holds the lease of the gymnasium site, Patch.com reported. The gym was built in 1995 on land owned by the JCC, according to the Contra Costa Times, in exchange for JCC use privileges.
Also, the CCJCC three years ago won the right from the Walnut Creek City Council to submit plans to develop an 80-unit condo complex next to the center. However, the development, which JCC leaders had said would help them raise money for a $40 million planned expansion or new facility, was never started.
Corran said the closure offered a hard lesson to the community.
“It points out the importance of monitoring our Jewish institutions and being aware how important a cohesive Jewish community is, so that we’re not up in arms when we lose something. It was a wake-up call for the entire Jewish community, to remind us how vulnerable we are and consider our viability.”
Here is a copy of the letter sent via email by Rabbi James Brandt, CEO of the Jewish Federation of the East Bay, on Thursday evening:
December 15, 2011
Yesterday the Board of Directors of the Contra Costa Jewish Community Center (CCJCC) informed its members and preschool families that it will be closing its Tice Valley Blvd. facility and ceasing programming at that location, including the preschool and senior respite center, effective tomorrow, Friday, December 16. CCJCC sources cited insufficient income from fundraising and program fees as reasons for the facility’s closure. As you may know, the CCJCC, formerly a Federation agency, became self-incorporated in early 2010 at the recommendation of its staff and lay leadership and has since been an independent organization. The decision to close the facility and its programming was proposed and adopted by the CCJCC board.
In response to this urgent situation, Federation staff and leaders have been meeting with the leadership of our agencies, synagogues, and preschools in order to provide resources to CCJCC families, as well as the emotional support needed at this time. This afternoon, I will be meeting with the staff of the CCJCC to offer the support of our community. We are currently working with Jewish Vocational Services to identify employment opportunities and counseling services for staff and teachers. Tomorrow morning, Federation’s Director of Early Childhood Education, Michelle Tirella-Green, and I are meeting with preschool families to provide program referrals and support. A Federation hotline for preschool families has been set up and will be announced at the meeting.
It is heartening to see our Federation and Foundation, along with local agencies, synagogues, and preschools, come together to support the families and staff of the CCJCC during this time of transition.
The Federation will provide additional information as it becomes available.
Rabbi James Brandt
Federation and Foundation CEO