Life is too short not to be an enthusiastic person," says Steve Allen, new executive director of the YM-YWHA of North Jersey in Wayne. Allen, who began his job in early September, says his "passions" bring him to his new position: working with programming, spreading the word about the Y, supporting federation activities, reaching out to the Jewish community. "I feel blessed, walking into this situation. When I asked some of my friends who work for other federations and non-profits in the Jewish world about switching over to the Y, they said this job description must have been written for me."
Allen is especially enthusiastic about the Y’s nursery school that’s full to the brim and the 90 new members who signed up at the September Open House. "I’m so impressed with the programming staff that I’ve inherited," he says. "I’m a firm believer that programming and personnel are the lifeblood of this organization."
Steve Allen, left, stands with Wayne mayor Scott Rumana at a reception to welcome him as new executive director of the YM-YWHA of North Jersey.
Allen served for nearly 10 years as executive director of Temple Shaaray Tefila in Bedford Corners, N.Y., "the biggest synagogue in northern Westchester, with 1,000 families." He has been married to his wife, Debbie, for ‘8 years, and they have two sons, ‘5 and ‘3, and a 17-year-old daughter. The family lives in Dobbs Ferry, N.Y.
In his volunteer life, he has been president and served on the board of Woodlands Community Temple in White Plains and has been heavily involved in creating delegations to the Maccabi Games for different Westchester and Connecticut JCCs. "Another of my passions is sports, and I like working with teens. Just going to the Maccabi Games and seeing 1,500 Jewish teens it’s an incredible experience," Allen said. He hopes to bring up to ‘0 teens from this area to the Maccabi Games next summer.
On his first day of work, Allen had a "massive meeting with the entire staff. I also toured the facility with the head of maintenance, and I had individual meetings with senior directors on the staff. My MO is to look at everything, digest, listen, observe, and not make a change for 90 days which is hard for me. I haven’t got the patience!"
Allen inherited a dispute caused by the change of the Y’s caf? from kosher to "kosher-style" just before he arrived. He is in the process of evaluating the situation and seeks to resolve it, as several area rabbis have criticized the organization for failing to uphold communal standards.
He feels his strength is his sense of fiscal responsibility, and wants to make people aware of what the Y’s expenditures are. One possibility for increasing revenue is to bring in outside vendors to rent space; Chilton Hospital has already verbally committed to extending its lease at the Y. He also plans to link up the Y with joint programming at area synagogues. "I feel it’s important that we’re exposed to them and vice versa," he said.
What does he see as the weaknesses of the Y? "I don’t see any weaknesses, only challenges. And they are to continue to offer strong Jewish programming, maintaining and growing membership, and developing relationships with the community at large outside of our members. We’re only as good as the programs we present to the Jewish public."
Allen has recently met with the Wayne Chamber of Commerce and many of the heads of major corporations at the Commerce and Industry Association of New Jersey. "They want to do things with the Y, and that’s great," he said. Some of those things include "corporate sponsorships for programs, membership opportunities for their employees, joint communal programming, an overall marketing awareness campaign to learn more about what we do at the Y, and what we have to offer for all segments of the community and beyond, especially our Jewish programming and offerings. I feel a renewed enthusiasm here and in the community."
"People are always welcome to contact me," he says. "Even if I’m in a meeting, the door’s always open."