Q & A with Elana MacGilpin: Mandell JCC expands into Farmington Valley

Elana MacGilpin

By Eli Freund ~

The Mandell Jewish Community Center in West Hartford last week announced that as of July 1 it would absorb the Chai: The Center for Jewish Life located in Avon. The Chai Center, which was previously under the auspices of the Jewish Federation of Greater Hartford will be renamed the Mandell JCC Farmington Valley. The Federation will continue to provide funding support for the Center.
Established in 2004, Chai: The Center for Jewish Life was originally conceived as a way to connect interfaith families to their Jewish roots.
“Overall this is a great step for the community,” David Jacobs, director of the Mandell JCC, told the Ledger. “ Excellent work has been done in the last eight years to offer Jewish community programming that brings people together in the [Farmington] Valley. With the continued leadership of Elana MacGilpin and an advisory committee, and the ongoing support from the Jewish
Federation, we plan to expand programs and activities using the resources from the JCC, from the community and especially from people who live in the Valley.”
Elana MacGilpin has been director of the Chai Center since 2006, splitting her time as director of the JCC’s adult programming. She was named a Mover & Shaker by the Jewish Ledger in 2012. Recently, the Ledger spoke with MacGilpin, the Center’s director, about the Center’s mission and what lies ahead for the Mandell JCC Farmington Valley.

Q: How did Chai originally start? What was the original and continued purpose of Chai in the past and up until now?
A: The Chai Center opened its doors on Route 44 in Avon in the fall of 2004. The original mission of the Chai Center was to be the Jewish “welcome center” in the Farmington Valley – to reach out to Jewish individuals and families and provide programs and services that meet their needs. We also strive to build a sense of the Jewish community in the Farmington Valley, along with connecting and exposing Valley residents to the wider Jewish community in greater Hartford. The current mission has evolved to be a Jewish community center without walls, serving the Jewish community in the Farmington Valley.
Q: How was the original organization formed?
A: The Jewish Federation sponsored a Jewish population study in 2000 and found that there was an increasing Jewish population in the Valley – especially among families and interfaith families. The Federation was and still is committed to serving these families and connecting them with each other as well as to the agencies and services in the greater Hartford Jewish community. The Chai Center provides programs for families, middle school students and adults in various capacities. The original director was Nancy Krisch, and I became the second director in May 2006.

Q: What does the merger mean for the future of Chai and its programs? Will programming remain the same or will there be a new way of doing things?
A: Many of our successful ongoing programs and collaborations will remain in place – PJ Library Story times at Barnes and Noble and at local playgrounds in collaboration with the Mandell JCC Family Room, a Speakers Series with the Jewish Community Relations Council, The Mother’s Circle for women of other faiths raising Jewish children, Chanukah Activities at Simsbury Celebrates and family holiday activities like Sukkot, Chanukah and Purim parties. New programs will be developed based on the recommendation of our newly formed committee and will grow with expertise and resources from the staff at the Mandell JCC. A new partnership is also planned between BBYO [B’nai B’rith Youth Organization] Connect, Yachad and Mandell JCC in the Valley to do expanded programming for Jewish middle school students in the Valley.

Q: Was the merger a cost-saving move? Will the newly formed “JCC Farmington Valley” have more programming now that it has the Mandell JCC brand?
A: The partnership is not a cost-saving move but is more of a transition from a fundraising agency to a program-providing agency. The Mandell JCC in the Valley will still be receiving most of its funds from the Jewish Federation’s Annual Campaign along with program revenue, grants, fundraising events and individual donors.

Q: What will the new JCC Farmington Valley be like?
A: As much as possible, we want to create the feel and the environment of a JCC in the Valley. For many people the JCC on Bloomfield Avenue in West Hartford is a major destination for people of many ages and stages. We would like to take the success of the Chai Center and continue to evolve into that same kind of destination although our programs will be held in various locations throughout the Farmington Valley. We would like to invite anyone who would like to get involved in helping us to expand our reach.

To find out more about the Mandell JCC Farmington Valley, contact Elana MacGilpin, Director of Community Engagement at the Mandell JCC, or 860-231-6327.

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