Bergen Y in transition

Bergen Y in transition

Strategic planning panel to report next month

The leading source of program revenue for the Bergen County Y is its early childhood department. Courtesy Bergen YJCC

With a decline in income, a community with changing needs, and a milestone anniversary upcoming, the Bergen County YJCC has begun a strategic planning process that will reinvigorate the facility and keep it responsive to its audience, leaders say.

The strategic planning committee began its work last month. It is expected to make recommendations to the Y’s board by the end of next month. This self-evaluation comes as the Jewish community center nears the 25th anniversary of its move to Washington Township. The Bergen Y, which was founded in 1917, had previously been located in Hackensack.

“The Jewish community is different than it was 20 or 25 years ago,” said Bruce Mactas, immediate past president of the Y and co-chair of the committee. “We’re in a dynamic and fast-changing environment,” he said.

The mandate for the committee is “to figure out what the Y is going to be for the community and how we can best accomplish our mission,” he said. He added, “We need to take a comprehensive look at everything, rather than just staying with the old model and trying to improve.”

“This is about reinvigorating the Y to serve our community for the next 10 to 15 years,” said Jeffrey Tucker, the committee’s co-chair.

The YJCC strategic planning committee is being facilitated by David Gad-Harf, chief operating officer of the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey.

Northern New Jersey’s two other JCCs are in the midst of transformations of their own. The Kaplen JCC on the Palisades has undergone a significant renovation and is in the midst of a major capital campaign.

More controversially, this fall saw the Wayne YM-YWHA being functionally taken over by a chain of YMCAs based in Livingston.

The YJCC committee discussed the Wayne model, said Mactas, but rejected it. “For various reasons, that was just not an avenue that we decided to go down,” he said.

As for renovations, Tucker acknowledges that the YJCC has “an aging facility that needs renewal.”

“The facility needs to be refreshed and upgraded,” he said.

It is not only locally, however, that JCCs are in flux. “JCCs and Ys across the country are facing new challenges,” said JFNNJ’s Gad-Harf. “People are much different than they were 20 or 30 years ago. People are acting as consumers rather than members.”

“There’s more of an emphasis on a la carte programming and people paying for what they want, rather than belonging to a Y because it’s the best thing for their community,” said Mactas. “Everybody wants to have a Y, but not necessarily everybody wants to fund it.”

“If you look at a $4 million budget and see that a million comes from fundraising, there’s quite a subsidy that comes to the operation,” he said.

When it comes to providing services rather than membership, JCCs do not have the competitive advantage in the market they had 100 years ago – or even 25. Jews are much more comfortable in joining institutions that are not specifically Jewish. And local for-profit health clubs, while lacking the large swimming pools and gymnasiums that are the mark of JCCs, offer greater convenience.

According to its public tax forms, the Y in recent years has seen a decline in membership revenue. In 2009, revenue from dues came to $1.04 million, down from $1.19 two years earlier. In 2009, as well, there was a significant decline in contributions, to $1.48 million.

“The economy has made it very difficult for us to operate and do all the things we want to do,” said Mactas.

More stable was program revenue, at $2.6 million in 2009, down from $2.8 million in 2007. The leading source of program revenue is the Y’s early childhood department, which accounted for nearly half.

“We do a lot of wonderful things for the community, but funding those things becomes more and more of a challenge over time, because of the membership challenges we’ve had and also the economic environment,” said Mactas.

“We’re looking for better ways to improve our programming, so our revenues can go up in that area,” said Mactas. “We’re looking to make the proposition to our community to become members better. We’re looking for ways to improve our fundraising.”

Tucker said that even as the committee is working to find “the right mix of programs and services that our community is going to value,” it is keeping its eye on the mission of the Y, “and therefore ensuring that the agency continues to provide the essential services to the folks in our community that depend on the Y, such as seniors and the special needs programs.”

Gad-Harf is optimistic that the committee will be able to move the Y forward and place it on a stable footing.

“We have an opportunity to create a new model that’s particularly responsive to the situation in Bergen County,” he said, “and to test some new approaches that can help the Bergen Y be more successful in reaching more people and help put it on a more solid financial footing for the future. We’re trying to anticipate the needs of the future and create a model Y that will be cutting edge for decades to come.”

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