Wayne YMCA keeps Jewish soul

Wayne YMCA keeps Jewish soul

Facilities get facelift

Jewish holidays remain on the curriculum at the Wayne Y nursery school. Courtesy of Wayne Ymca

A year after a network of YMCAs took over operations of the YM-YWHA of North Jersey in Wayne, the institution is boasting increased membership and capital improvements to the facility – even as it continues its commitment to Jewish programming.

“We’re showing that we can keep a Jewish curriculum in a previously standalone JCC, even if we’re a combined integrated entity,” Larry Lev said. Lev is the chief operating officer of Metro YMCAs of the Oranges, which has been operating the Wayne Y – now the Wayne YMCA – since last September.

The Wayne YMCA’s partnership between the Jewish Y – the nonprofit, founded in 1914 as the YMHA of Paterson, still owns the building – and the chain that includes five other Ys is the second such partnership. The first is in Toledo, Ohio, where the Jewish community center came under Y auspices in 1999, when Lev was leading the Y there.

The Wayne Y is maintaining its Jewish curriculum in the nursery school and day camp and its Jewish-focused senior programming, and “we’re looking for new areas” for Jewish programming, Lev said. (In contrast, the other Ys Lev supervises do not have any specifically Christian component to their programming.)

The COO’s Jewish background and knowledge is helpful for the umbrella organization.

“Because I’m a little more aware of the culture and holidays, I’m able to share that with our staff team,” Lev said. Despite his modesty, Lev actually is very well connected Jewishly, and he is a member of the board of his shul, the Jewish Congregation of Kinnelon.

The Metro Y chain is the largest Y organization in the state of New Jersey, “both in finances and the number of people we serve,” Lev said. “2013 will show that we have a $30 million budget.”

These resources have enabled the Y to invest in the facilities, where maintenance and upgrades had been deferred for years.

“We put in about a million and a half dollars in renovations,” Lev said. Renovations range from fixing a leaking roof and upgrading the heating and air conditioning to remodeling the social hall, adding new lights in the swimming pool, upgrading the lighting throughout the building, and installing new cardiovascular equipment in the health center.

Along with the financial influx have come a flurry of new programs designed to make the Y an integral presence for all of Wayne’s families.

The Y offers free swimming lessons to any second grader in town.

“It’s part of our being a community responsible organization,” Lev said. “The statistics are scary in terms of young kids who drown.”

Similarly, it has begun offering free membership to seventh graders, an offer it has been promoting in the town’s schools.

And next month, the Y hopes to offer an afterschool program that would pick students up from Wayne public schools and bring them to the Y for supervised homework, recreation, swimming, archery, and the like until as late as 7 p.m.

In the past year, Lev said, the Y has boosted membership from 1,500 member units – individuals or families – to 1,850.

The Y has continued its role of being a center for the area Jewish community, hosting the Hartman Institute’s Engaging Israel program, which is led by area rabbis.

Reflecting its role as a Jewish institution within a broader non-Jewish enterprise, the Y has launched a “Building Bridges” program that invites participants from the five other Metro Ys – in Livingston, East Orange, Maplewood, and Hardyston – to experience Jewish events, including an interfaith seder for senior adults, a Yom Hashoah program for teen leaders, and Jewish holiday events that brought other Y nursery children to the Wayne Y’s sukkah.

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