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Mandell JCC in West Hartford is a ‘Virtual’ Success

Mason Fink takes virtual karate lessons through the Mandell JCC with Sensei Dave. Courtesy photo

The Mandell JCC has found success and a sense of community through virtual programming that began as soon as the COVID-19 pandemic impacted its regular operations.

Mandell JCC Group Exercise Director Carmen Erian during her Mat Pilates class. Courtesy photo

By Michelle Bonner, Director of Marketing, Mandell JCC

With our community more than a week into social distancing, many people may have expected to feel “distant.” But after the Mandell JCC immediately began transforming their organization into a virtual platform, some members say they feel just as connected to the J.

“We get so busy with our everyday lives that I can be guilty of running to the gym to get my workout in and running off to the next thing on my list,” says longtime JCC member Barbara Fink. “This week, we’re all gathering online for our favorite fitness classes and engaging in ways we might not normally during the actual class. It’s been amazing that I am able to stay connected to the JCC like this. It’s such a big part of my family’s life.”

Ten days ago, the JCC, like many businesses, closed its doors to its building and instantly began opening windows to new online experiences. “We have many opportunities beyond our physical spaces to continue building community in healthy, creative and meaningful ways,” says David Jacobs, Executive Director of the Mandell JCC.

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“Our work is rooted in community and our incredible staff have been working tirelessly to create a ‘virtual’ JCC for our members and the entire community to help all of us stay connected.”

The JCC’s expert fitness staff have been live streaming the most popular classes, which has led to a boost in new users and engagement. In the span of five days, the Mandell JCC Fitness Friends Facebook Group page tripled the number of its members.

“The response has been overwhelming,” says Carmen Erian, the JCC’s Group Exercise Director. “Imagining all the people from my classes doing the workout with me is what motivates me while I am teaching. Knowing how much people are appreciating my live classes makes it so worth it.”

“We are living in unfamiliar and unsettled times,” says JCC Fitness Director Farrah Mead. “We recognize that people are anxious right now and working out is a healthy way to lower and manage that anxiety. Being able to livestream our fitness classes has really given our members, and some new friends, a sense of normalcy and that’s so important right now.”

In addition to fitness classes, the JCC is bringing many of its programs to the community, virtually.

Mason Fink takes virtual karate lessons through the Mandell JCC with Sensei Dave. Courtesy photo

“It’s a work in progress,” adds Jacobs, “but we have something for everyone. We are curating a variety of content for our Family Room friends (ages birth to 5 years), arts & culture, youth sports and rec, activities for senior adults, which includes chair exercise classes, and providing Jewish opportunities for those looking to stay connected to their culture.”

Some of the content includes creating your own Jewish Film Festival. The JCC’s annual Hartford Jewish Film Festival was interrupted by the recommendation to not hold large gatherings. Mandell JCC Arts & Cultural Director Jill Ziplow established a new partnership with Menemsha Films, a prestigious US distributor specializing in Jewish and Israeli cinema, to offer movie lovers the opportunity to stream the entirety of the Menemsha Films catalog online.

The JCC is also connecting community through a variety of Facebook Live events, including a Bake-A-Long with local chef Lindsay Perkins of Lindsay Culinary. Chef Lindsay, along with her daughter Valerie, will bake simple scones with the community on Tuesday, March 24 at 11 a.m. via the Mandell JCC Facebook page. (@MandellJCC).

Mason Fink takes virtual karate lessons through the Mandell JCC with Sensei Dave. Courtesy photo

On Wednesday, March 25 at 10 a.m. the JCC will host a Facebook Live event with The Clever Crayon’s Courtney Ewing who will teach a “Clever Kids Yoga for Toddlers” class.

“This is what we do,” says Annie Keith, the Mandell JCC Chief Operations Officer. “We serve our community. Social distancing is our new normal right now but being social doesn’t have to be distant.”

The JCC will be adding new content daily via its “Engagement Page.”

“Being connected to the J like this has really given me a sense of normal during an unnormal time,” adds Fink. “It’s been great for my son to stick to some of his extracurricular routine and be able to do his karate lessons with Sensei Dave. It’s been comforting having the people we see every day at the J ‘in our home.’”

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