The pandemic had a major impact on nearly all businesses and organizations.
How did the Harry & Rose Samson Family Jewish Community Center of Milwaukee remain afloat and what did they learn? Also what’s the future of the organization?
President and CEO Mark Shapiro joins WTMJ’s Libby Collins on this week’s episode of WTMJ Conversations.
Listen in the player above.
A portion of the conversation was transcribed below, courtesy of eCourt Reporters, Inc.
LIBBY COLLINS: So, what’s the future? Post‑pandemic, hopefully we are getting to the end of this, what’s the future of the JCC?
MARK SHAPIRO: Well, I’ve always said one of the reasons I’m blessed to get to be the CEO of the JCC is even if I make mistakes, the JCC is going to exist long after I’m here. The community will never let this beautiful thing that they built, that I’ve been honored to get to care for over the last 17 years — hopefully for many more years, but it’s never going to disappear. The community, it’s their asset, they’re never gonna let it go away. That doesn’t mean we get to just, you know, be willy‑nilly with what we do.
What do I think the future is? I think that we have to stop saying the words that we’re going to get back to normal. I hear it way too often.
One, I don’t want to go backwards. Our job is to go forwards, it always has been.
Two, I’m not exactly sure we were normal before the pandemic started. I think if we really stop and remember what the world was looking like January and February of 2019, I’m not sure normal is what we would have used as a word to describe it. And I’m not even talking politically, I think the world was as, if not more, divisive than even what the pandemic has done. That’s not a normal we’re looking for.
So, at the JCC, now that we have kind of stabilized our business model, we’re moving to visualizing what’s next, what we call the post‑pandemic new reality. And then we’re going to actualize that as we go along.
In some cases, our business model might shrink a little. I’ve gotta tell you, this staffing issue that everyone seems to be shocked by has been forecasted for quite some time. The boomers retired about three or four years earlier than expected, but this was coming down the pike one way or another, and so it’s not going away. We learned that when everyone kept thinking that when the federal government stopped paying the unemployment stipend, that everyone would come back to work and, well, that didn’t happen. Not really catching us completely off guard, anybody who’s been looking at the staffing challenges ‑‑ I didn’t expect it to be as bad as it is, but we knew we were heading down the path of this. There’s ‑‑ you know, I don’t know what the exact number is, but we’re going to call it at least a million people around the country who are just not going back to work because they realize that going back to work and paying for childcare costs more money than just staying home, and they’re living an easier lifestyle by one of them not working. So, you’re looking at a huge population that’s not coming back to work.
So, our businesses all need to start thinking about what are we going to do if we can’t find staff. So, the idea of what truly creates a sustainable future may not be through growth, it may be through a little bit of contraction for awhile while we settle into a new reality and then grow.
And so that’s going to be one of the things that the J is looking at. I’m not telling you that we’re shutting down programs, but we have to all be prepared for that idea. Our board of directors adopted a ‑‑ at a big retreat we did in September, adopted a three‑point agenda for the JCC to focus on for at least the next year or two. We’re uniquely looking at investing in our future, which is a theme about our culture of philanthropy, how we treat the people who are philanthropic to the JCC, that we’re innovating our services, recognizing that we’re not going to be doing the same things that we did the same way.
The fitness world, some of these things have changed pretty dramatically, and we need to think about where we fit into the future of fitness and wellness. We have a great partnership with Froedtert and the Medical College. I think it’s an innovative idea that we have looking very much to grow the comprehensive sense of wellness. We’re a trusted provider of health services to our community. The people who come to the J trust us for their fitness and some of their wellness journey, and partnering with probably one of the most reputable names in the healthcare world is a big, innovative opportunity for us going forward.
And then the third agenda item is about inspiring justice and equity, which I’m not ‑‑ I’m not sure that anybody would be surprised to hear the impact of what DEI has had on our world and our community. And the JCC is very dedicated to justice and equity, not just being us talking about giving food out at a food pantry, right. In that one case we’re solving hungry. We’re not even solving hunger, by the way, we’re only solving hungry. Solving hunger is to break up the cycle of poverty.
So, those are the three things that the J is going to be focusing on, inspiring justice and equity, innovating the services that we have for our members in our community, and investing in a new future.