JCC Reopens Fitness and Aquatics Center, Kids Return to Camp

The Mandell JCC has reopened its fitness and aquatic centers in West Hartford. Courtesy photo

The Mandell JCC’s summer camp programs began June 29, and the fitness and aquatics operations reopened at the West Hartford campus on July 1.

Camp Shalom opened for the season on June 29. Courtesy photo

Submitted by Michelle Bonner

Three and a half months after closing its door because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Mandell JCC was excited to reopen its fitness and aquatics centers Wednesday, after kicking off its summer camps on Monday at its three locations.

“Six weeks ago, we weren’t really sure if we’d be making this announcement today,” said David Jacobs, Executive Director of the Mandell JCC. “But we are so grateful to our staff for their extraordinary efforts to make our members return to the J the safest and best experience possible.”

During the first phase of its reopening, the JCC will be following the guidelines provided by the State of Connecticut and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Some of those guidelines include spacing fitness equipment 12 feet apart to ensure proper physical distancing while working out and limiting the number of people working out at one time.

“The phrase, ‘We’re all in this together,’ has been a simple thought during this pandemic, but it’s vital that we all really work together to mitigate any health risks,” Jacobs said.

Reservations will be required to use the fitness and aquatics center, and everyone, including staff, will have their temperature taken upon arrival. Masks are mandatory while moving throughout the building, but do not need to be worn while working out or swimming.

Dennis House works out at the Mandell JCC, which has reopened its fitness and aquatic centers in West Hartford. Courtesy photo

“I’m really looking forward to working out at the J again,” said longtime JCC member Barbara Fink. “The instructors did an amazing job the last 3 ½ months putting their classes online, and I will continue doing some of them, but I miss my community. Working out at the J is a return to some normalcy in my life, and that feels really good.”

Fink, who enjoys many of the group fitness classes, will be working out outdoors at the JCC. The open space will allow more people to participate while physically distancing.

“I’m really looking forward to teaching my classes, in person again,” says Carmen Erian, Group Fitness Director for the Mandell JCC. “Things will certainly look different, but what will not change is the quality of our fitness programs and the dedication of our instructors.”

The Mandell JCC has reopened its fitness and aquatic centers in West Hartford. Courtesy photo

Indoors, the 7,000 square foot state-of-the-art fitness center will be operating with limited hours and will close from noon-3 p.m. each day for a thorough cleaning of the equipment and facility. Despite the reduced hours, the J will still be offering 86 group fitness classes between its outdoor space, live indoor “On-Demand” classes and online.

“Our doors may have been locked over the last three months, but the JCC never really closed,” said Jacobs. “Our staff quickly moved us into another space, an online platform where we were able to connect with our members and our community every day with our programs and events.”

Within hours of closing its doors on March 13, the JCC turned to a virtual platform to continue offering programs and its fitness classes. In fact, they produced more than 40 LIVE fitness classes on the Mandell JCC Fitness Friends Facebook group each week. The virtual platform became so popular that they will continue to offer fitness classes to the group which increased from 300 to more than 1,000 group members during the last 12 weeks. The classes have been viewed more than 10,000 times.

Even more popular than the fitness programs, is the weekly LIVE Bake-Along offered on the J’s main Facebook page. Hosted by chef Lindsay Perkins of Lindsay Culinary, the baking classes have been viewed nearly 17,000 times during the same time.

“There are always lessons to be learned during challenging times,” said Annie Keith, chief operating officer of the Mandell JCC. “Those challenges always come to us to make us better. In the face of adversity, we learn to be more resilient, compassionate, and grateful.”

Many parents are feeling grateful after the JCC opened The Swim & Tennis Club, located in Bloomfield, two weeks ago, as well as their summer camps in three different locations: Camp Shalom in South Windsor, Sports Jams at The Swim & Tennis Club, and Arts & Science camps at the Bloomfield Avenue location in West Hartford.

Camp Shalom. Courtesy photo

“To see the faces of the campers brought tears to my eyes,” said Keith. I wish I could just bottle up their happiness of being with their friends and seeing their favorite counselors.”

Of course, the decision to open summer camps was not made lightly. The summer camp ritual for many children, also a lifeline for working parents, was in doubt much of the spring. Following the guidelines from the American Camp Association (ACA), a detailed expansion of the guidance issued by the CDC, the JCC was confident it could provide both a safe and fun environment for children.

“The health and safety of our campers and counselors and directors is paramount,” said Keith. “We have a process for arrivals and pick-ups, with some being staggered, as well as staggered meals at Camp Shalom, smaller group activities, regular hand-washing, and sanitizing.”

In addition, campers have their temperature checked upon arrival and there is a meticulous routine cleaning of all outdoor equipment after each use and campers are provided with their own equipment for different activities like tennis and archery.

“Our decision process included sending out several surveys, and what we learned is people want camp.”

While physical distancing is the opposite of what camp is supposed to be like, the opportunity for children to socialize with their peers was a huge factor for Grae Sibelman, whose children are attending camp at the JCC. “If it can be as safe as possible, these kids need it. REALLY need it! The isolation has been rough.”

Another parent, whose children are attending Camp Shalom in South Windsor, echoed Sibelman. “We are so grateful to the JCC for providing our children with a summer camp experience. During these challenging times, the JCC has gone above and beyond to make this summer as normal as possible for our children. It was awesome to hear them enthusiastically describing their first day at camp – from meeting new kids to engaging in fun activities – camp at the JCC has renewed their spirit- thank you!”

There is still space available for the JCCs summer camps, and with the financial impact of the pandemic affecting so many, the J is committed to ensuring that no one is denied a summer camp or JCC experience due to the inability to pay the full price.

“We are aware that the costs of membership and programs may be a challenge for some people,” added Jacobs. “Our programs have always been valuable and essential – and we know that they will be needed, now more than ever. Asking for help can be difficult and uncomfortable – and for many, this may be the first time such a request is being made. We have developed a process that is streamlined, respects confidentiality and is as generous as possible.”

Three and half months after the COVID-19 pandemic necessitated the closing of the JCC building, compelling the staff to re-imagine the J community, they are reopening stronger together, now and always.

The video below provides a look at the first week of reopening.

“Our members just bring so much life to this place,” said Jacobs. “The Mandell JCC has always stood for community, and these unprecedented times have revealed our mission at its best and demonstrated that we truly are strongest together. Our community has reminded us that the JCC is so much more than a building. We are thankful now more than ever for our magnificent JCC and the many things we can offer our community.”

For more information on the reopening of the JCC or for information on summer camps, www.mandelljcc.org.

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Camp Shalom began on June 29. Courtesy photo

The Mandell JCC has reopened its fitness and aquatic centers in West Hartford. Courtesy photo

The Mandell JCC has reopened its fitness and aquatic centers in West Hartford. Courtesy photo

The Mandell JCC has reopened its fitness and aquatic centers in West Hartford. Courtesy photo

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