Bridging The Divide, St. Paul, Sabes JCCs Take Steps Toward Unity

After several years of debate and discussion, the St. Paul and Sabes Jewish Community Centers – currently two separate agencies – will formally begin the next steps to combine into one agency with two campuses.

The boards of directors of the respective agencies – the St. Paul JCC on Wednesday and the Sabes JCC on Thursday – each voted to authorize the creation and implementation of a combined JCC entity. An e-mail was sent to the staff and the wider community on Friday morning.

The JCCs will continue to operate as is until there is a vote to approve the formal legal combination.

“This is all about growth”, said Michael Waldman, the CEO of the JCCs. “For the past 3 or 4 years, the JCCs have been exploring as many ways to work together as we could,” said Michael Waldman, the CEO of the JCCs. That work started with the Twin Cities Jewish Film Festival, the merging of the two agencies’ marketing departments, and reciprocity of fitness center memberships. We’re stronger and better when working together.”

Starting on Jan. 1, 2019, Waldman – the St. Paul JCC CEO since 2010 – became the CEO of both the Sabes JCC  and St. Paul JCC  under a management agreement. Later that month a JCC Steering Committee made up of community members from both sides of the river and co-chaired by Stephanie Chauss and Hillary Feder – the board presidents of the St. Paul and Sabes JCCs, respectively – began the investigative work.

The committee studied six critical areas: Communications, Organizational Culture, Real Estate and Capital Investment, Strategic Business Planning, Fundraising, and Governance. The steering committee found that a combined JCC with multiple campuses will serve more people with greater impact, and mitigate operating and performance risk by providing additional funding to invest in program innovation and growth; facilities and people through scholarships and professional development.

“It was a very thorough, thoughtful, data-driven, unbiased process,” Waldman said. “In each of those areas, they didn’t start with ‘We want to prove at the end that this is a good idea’. They started with ‘We’re exploring this concept, so let’s look at all the data and then take the information and decide what it tells us.’

“The steering committee was charged with exploring if a Twin Cities JCC with two campuses could serve more with greater impact. If that didn’t happen at any of the areas of study, that would have ended the discussion.”

In the area of culture, not only was internal agency culture studied but so was external, community culture.

One of the things that we learned through the culture study is that both JCCs are aligned around the exact same values,” Waldman said. “No matter who we talked to, they talked about the JCCs in the same way – serving others, inclusivity, building community, mutual respect, excellence, and innovation.”

Externally, Waldman said the committee learned that separate Jewish communities are not a vision for the future.

 “There is a ton of pride in the history of each community and what it has done and how it was built, but a vision for the future is that we’re better together,” he said. “Not just the Jewish community, but the whole Twin Cities community is coming to this realization. At the same time, we know that we have to build upon the legacy of the past to create a strong future.”

When asked about the timeline for completion, Waldman said the work would determine the timeline, not the other way around.

“We want to be thorough and we want to be thoughtful, but we also want to be efficient,” he said.” We’re going to move through every step. Last year was ‘should we’ work, and this year is ‘how to’ work.”

There are no shortage of examples in the Twin Cities of large community organizations combining. Red Cross, United Way, YMCA, NCJW, and Planned Parenthood all had separate entities in both Minneapolis and St. Paul before merging.

During this past fall, the JCCs held four different information sessions where Waldman updated the community on the process of the committee’s work. One of the major questions at each one was how is the programming going to be affected.

“The community wants to know that the programs they love will continue to serve them and the community,” he said. “People want to know that if my kids love this camp or this ECC, or my parents come for chair exercise classes, are those programs going to continue now that there is one organization?’ And the answer is yes. If anything, we have the opportunity now to continue to evolve and grow. We are excited about what the future brings, believing that a combined JCC with multiple campuses will serve more people with greater impact.”