Neighbors helping neighbors. That’s what makes a community strong.
As they reach a 25-year milestone in December, the Shimon and Sara Birnbaum Jewish Community Center (JCC) in Bridgewater has been working to make life better for people in the immediate community as well as far away.
“Part of our mission is that we are here for everyone—no matter who they are—and we want the entire community to have access,” says Paige Silberfein, associate executive director.
Each year, the JCC focuses on a number of initiatives that help them give back to the community. In a nod to March Madness, the Division I men’s basketball tournament, the JCC staff celebrates “March Mitzvah Madness.” “‘Mitzvah’ means ‘good deed,’” says Laura Friedman, executive director. “We select six or seven organizations each year to support.”
The leadership invites staff to suggest ways to help a local social service agency, a national organization or agencies in Israel. Sometimes, they select an organization that has a personal connection to staff or a JCC member. “We post signs in the building, use social media and eblasts to promote calls for charitable donations of funds or goods,” says Debbie Golden, special projects and marketing director. “So, we may raise funds for an organization like the Make a Wish Foundation or collect items like toiletries for a local non-profit. One of our goals is to take care of the community as a whole.”
The JCC also actively raises money throughout the year through events like its annual Golf, Tennis and Pickleball Outing and sponsorships that fund scholarship support for their various programs. On average, the JCC gives out over $350,000 in scholarships annually.
“We are a social service agency that helps individuals and families as well as supports other social services agencies,” Friedman says. “Our goal is to make sure that no one is ever denied services or programs because they can’t afford it. Whether you are a JCC member or not, you are eligible for scholarship assistance to help with programs like child care, camp and special needs.”
The JCC also partners with local social service agencies like HOME in Somerville, which helps families that are unhoused by providing free services. “We want every child to have an opportunity to have a fun experience, as well as every parent to have the opportunity to have a daycare, even if they cannot afford it. It is one of the things we are most proud of. Our board of directors has made it very clear that even if we deplete our scholarship funds, we will not turn someone down who needs our help.”
Throughout the year, the JCC partners with Bridgewater Township and Bridgewater Commons on large-scale free events, which provide an opportunity for the community to come together as well as to raise money to support JCC programming. “In the fall, thousands of people enjoy our Family Fun Day held outdoors at Bridgewater Commons. This event features about 75 activities, including the popular Touch-a-Truck, which allows children to experience various trucks and emergency services equipment up close,” Friedman says. “In the spring, we partner again with Bridgewater Township and Bridgewater Commons for our annual Spring Carnival, also held at the same location.”
The JCC also opens its doors during times of need. For weeks after Hurricane Sandy, it provided people with assistance of shelter and use of its facilities. During the pandemic, it helped the food bank by providing extra food storage in the gymnasium. In addition, every week, they open their doors to give groups and programs like Alcoholics Anonymous a safe, comfortable space to meet.
“The JCC is not about our building,” Silberfein says. “It’s about what we do for the community. We work to serve any person in need, regardless of religion and financial ability.”
They proactively reach out to agencies to assess needs rather than wait for them to contact the JCC for help. “For example, since our building is completely ADA accessible, we reach out to the area group homes to invite residents to events like our annual Prom for Adults with Special Needs. We want everyone to know that they are welcomed, that our doors are open,” Golden says.
“We cannot do what we do without the community’s help,” Friedman says. “We are always looking to form new community partnerships so that we can continue doing what we’re doing and do even more.”
Learn more about how to help the JCC and about the programs it offers at ssbjcc.org.