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The Mandell JCC opens a satellite in the Farmington Valley

CANTON – The new Mandell JCC Valley Sports and Community Center officially hung out its shingle – as well as a front-entrance mezuzah — on Jan. 3, as a celebratory crowd of some 700 community members looked on. The satellite of the Mandell JCC of Greater Hartford, located in West Hartford, occupies the former Valley Sports Center at 310 Albany Turnpike, which closed in June 2015.

valley ribbon cuttingThe new facility is among a handful of amenities that serve the growing Jewish community of the Farmington Valley, and is located in a 10-mile radius that also includes Chabad of the Farmington Valley in Weatogue and Farmington Valley Jewish Congregation – Emek Shalom in Simsbury.

The new JCC was made possible in part by a significant grant from the Jewish Community Foundation of Greater Hartford.

“The Mandell JCC has been an exceptionally effective portal through which members of the Jewish community can engage with the community,” says Michael Johnston, president and CEO of the foundation. “So as we think about how we can serve the community more effectively, we think about the many individuals who are perhaps unaffiliated or less engaged in the Jewish community. From our perspective, the Mandell JCC serves as a great way for people to enter and engage with the Jewish community.”

A Jewish population study conducted by the Jewish Federation of Greater Hartford in 2000 indicated that the Farmington Valley was experiencing a steady increase in Jewish residents, especially young and interfaith families. Today, according to Johnston, as much as

25 percent of the Jewish community in the Greater Hartford area resides in the Farmington Valley.

valley baseball“So the new Mandell JCC Valley facility provides the Jewish community an opportunity to put boots on the ground and have a real facility to serve the Farmington Valley community,” he says.

Seeds of the new JCC were planted in 2004, when the Jewish Federation of Greater Hartford opened CHAI: The Center for Jewish Life, based in rented space on Route 44 in Avon. Soon, demand exceeded capacity, and the center became a “JCC without walls,” holding programs at public facilities throughout the area and at Farmington Valley Jewish Congregation–Emek Shalom. Many of its programs were co-sponsored with the Mandell JCC, as well as Greater Hartford-area synagogues, day schools, and other organizations.

By 2012, with some 600 participating families in its reach, the Chai Center was taken over by the Mandell JCC and renamed “Mandell JCC Farmington Valley.”

The Chai Center was helmed by Elana MacGilpin, who also served as director of adult programming at the Mandell JCC. MacGilpin is now director of the Mandell JCC Valley Sports and Community Center.

valley girls gymOpen to the entire community, the facility continues to provide similar sports and fitness programming as that offered by the Valley Sports Center, with additional activities like youth and adult sports leagues, personal and small-group training, youth vacation programs, and drop-in play. Cultural and community-based programs, include children’s enrichment classes, current-events discussion groups, book clubs, and arts programs.

The Chai Center’s legacy remains via Jewish programming that includes a weekly Shabbat Club with Cantor Marian Kleinman from Farmington Valley Jewish Congregation. The Mandell JCC Valley hosted a Taste of Tu B’Shevat tasting, featuring the seven agricultural species that are native to Israel, and there is a PJ Library Purim Party and Passover charoset tasting in the works. In addition, the center is planning a community-wide event on May 15 as part of the Mandell JCC Israel Festival and a spring Jewish adult-education series in collaboration with Dr. Avinoam Patt of the University of Hartford Greenberg Center for Judaic Studies.

In its first month, “business has been great,” says Jacobs. “There are over 200 children participating in afterschool programs, and 50 in our vacation programs. We’ve hosted birthday parties; soccer, lacrosse, and volleyball practices; daily drop-in basketball, and weekly drop-in nights for adult basketball and volleyball. We hosted a corporate rental and have our first bar mitzvah booked.”

“For years, the [Greater Hartford] Jewish community has been offering programming in the Farmington Valley, formally and informally,” says David Jacobs, executive director of the Mandell JCC. “But the lack of a dedicated space has limited our ability to provide quality programs and build community. The Mandell JCC Valley Sports and Community Center provides us with an opportunity to serve the community in a much more holistic and meaningful way. The JCC is in the business of building community and enriching lives, and this is happening in a whole new way in the Farmington Valley.”

CAP: At the Jan. 3 grand opening of the Mandell JCC Valley Sports & Community Center: (l to r) Michael Johnston, Jewish Community Foundation president/CEO; Dan Gottfried, JCC board member; David Jacobs, JCC executive director; Elana MacGilpin, JCC Valley director; Richard Fechtor, JCC president; Frank Resnick – JCC CFO; Karen Tuvin and Eric Zachs, JCC board members; Annie Keith, JCC associate executive director; Bonnie Hittleman-Lewis, JCC recreation & wellness director; Jodi Schwartz and Henry Zachs, JCC board members.

Photos from the Jan. 3rd Grand Opening Day at the Mandell JCC Valley Sports & Community.

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