By Jane Keller Gordon, Contributing Writer
Westborough – The Boroughs Jewish Community Center (JCC) will close its doors on Friday, July 29, 2016, six years after a volunteer group of parents opened it as an independent, non-profit charitable center on Oak Street in Westborough.
“This is one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. My kids think of this place as their second home,” said Boroughs JCC Board President Stephen Marmor.
The Boroughs JCC’s executive board, dedicated staff, and members—many whose children have attended its preschool, school vacation and summer programs, along with other community activities—also expressed their sadness and disappointment in the decision.
In a letter to supporters dated July 22, 2016, Marmor said, “We have exhausted all feasible donation sources. Our primary source of revenue is tuition from enrollment in the Boroughs JCC Preschool, which, sadly, stands significantly below our expectations for the 2016-2017 school year. We simply do not have the funds to continue operations.”
In an interview with the Community Advocate, Marmor said, “Unfortunately our efforts to have families enroll for summer programs and fall registration did not meet the numbers for us to move forward as in years past. The board made the difficult decision to close the Boroughs JCC and return deposits to families who have registered for the fall for the Boroughs JCC Preschool.”
Also, the board, in conjunction with the Westboro Tennis and Swim Club (WTS), made arrangements for preschool families registered in the Boroughs JCC Summer Program for August to attend Kinder Camp at the WTS at no additional cost.
Marmor, David Crandall, vice president of development, and five other board members have worked tirelessly to avoid closing the Boroughs JCC. They believed in the mission of the Boroughs JCC. They were aware that parents of preschoolers would be upset, and that this closing will have ripple effects within the local Jewish community. The biggest impact will be on Beth Tikvah Synagogue, which has been subleasing space from the Boroughs JCC for the past six years. The congregation has 65 families.
In a congregational meeting July 25, Beth Tikvah’s president, E.J. Dotts, assured members, that they have options.
Those options include the possibility of remaining in the current building, leasing other space, or purchasing land with or without a building.
“We have back-up plans to the back-up plan,” Dotts said.
Fundraising and enrollment fell short
In past years, the Boroughs JCC had raised in the range of $22,000 to $35,000 from its Taste of Boroughs community event. They saw a significant decrease in attendance for this event in 2015. This past year the Boroughs JCC tried to run smaller fundraisers due to a lack of volunteers and funds for advertising. These efforts brought in about $4,000.
The Boroughs JCC board, as part of its mission, felt that it was important to offer tuition scholarships to its preschool families in need —sometimes totaling $40,000 per year. This was done to help parents who were in a difficult financial situation be able to have their children attend the preschool.
At its peak, the Boroughs JCC Preschool had 109 students go through its school. To operate in the black, the school had typically enrolled 80 to 85 students. Currently enrollment was down about 45 percent. Marmor said that this is a problem for other preschools in the area, created to some degree by the launch of preschool programs by many public schools in the area and the change in demographics.
The center was one of the largest preschools in the area, but they did not own their space.
“Our costs are continuous and monthly,” Crandall said, “Unlike preschools that started as a home business our space is leased.”
The Boroughs JCC had already negotiated a fair lease with Chase Realty Trust. To balance the low enrollment they had cut expenses, kept staff numbers lower but in ratio, and attempted to bring in grants and donations. In the end, the board stepped up financially to keep the school open, in order to exhaust all possibilities so as not to close.
“We’ve done everything you can think of,” Marmor said.
The Boroughs JCC’s staff reached out to potential students using social media, lawn signs, ads in a local parenting magazine and on its on-line service, and flyers in local businesses. Thanks to Crandall’s previous job at Google, he enrolled the Boroughs JCC in Google for Non-Profits. Through this program Google donated $9,000 of Google Adwords per month. That brought in some students from families moving in from out-of- state, but not enough.
The center ran Summer Programs hoping that like previous summers the attendance would increase, but when the numbers were about 50 percent lower and preschool tours stopped converting into enrollments, officials knew that it was the end. For their dedicated teachers, many who have been there for more than 10 years, and displaced families, they have reached out to other local preschools who in turn have stepped up to provide job opportunities to the staff and, in some cases, discounts for families who have been affected by the closure.
“The community center and its associated preschool have been part of the fabric of this community for over 20 years,” Marmor said in his letter. “Thank you to all who have participated, taught, built, volunteered and supported it during its duration.”
Community reaches out
Peter Herman, who was board president of the Borough’s JCC’s predecessor, the Westborough Area JCC in the late 1990s, said, “The dedicated volunteers, staff and community are owed great appreciation from the hundreds of parents whose children have passed through this facility and it will be missed by all. My involvement changed my life and my children’s as well.”
“There is no magic formula to operating a JCC. Even with a wonderful mission and an arsenal of passionate and dedicated volunteers, staff, and families, the business model has to be financially sustainable in the long term,” Emily G. Holdstein, executive director of the Worcester JCC, commented.
“Financial sustainability is never easy to achieve and each institution/community has its own set of factors that affect the ability of the institution to sustain itself.”
Officials from B’nai Shalom in Westborough also offered support.
“The JCC has played an important role in providing for the needs of the youngest members of the Jewish community,” Rabbi Rachel Gurevitz said.
“It is important that [B’nai Shalom] helps fill the gap that the JCC will leave behind,” Allison Orenstein, B’nai Shalom’s board president, said.
For more information about the Boroughs JCC, contact Stephen Marmor at [email protected].