Your Gift Enriches Lives

This Month’s Inspiring Story

Beloved Counselor’s Memory Lives on Through Recognition Program

Starting the day by dancing helps get camper Tyler and counselor Torie Atkin in the spirit of camp. “Words do not describe how much I love Camp JCC and all the lessons I have learned by being a counselor here,” Torie says.

The nationally-recognized Camp JCC inclusion program affords campers with special needs the opportunity for a fun and fulfilling summer camp experience alongside their typically-developing siblings and friends.

The program also has a profound impact on counselors and typically-developing campers, who learn acceptance, tolerance and sensitivity. As a result, Camp JCC changes attitudes toward inclusion that extend far beyond the walls of our building.

Each year, Camp JCC recognizes its outstanding staff through the R. Andrew Helgeson Heart of Gold Recognition Program. Andrew was an exemplary young man who passed away in 2005, just prior to his high school graduation, from sudden cardiac arrest. He was a Camp JCC counselor whose kindness, warmth, joy for life and love for the campers were extraordinary.

Torie Atkin is a counselor in Kochavim, Camp JCC’s transitional program for teens and young adults with a wide range of disabilities. Torie was chosen by the Camp JCC leadership team as the winner of this year’s Heart of Gold award. Here are her thoughts on receiving the award:

“It is an honor to receive the Heart of Gold award. This is my fifth year as a counselor and I have been hearing about Andrew Helgeson and the kind of counselor that he was for five years. It is an honor to be compared to such a kind, energetic, and caring person. This sounds cliché, but I really believe that everyone in Kochavim and the inclusion program has a heart of gold. They all give 100% of their time and energy to loving our campers. Being recognized by the leadership of the camp is a huge honor and I am so grateful.”

For more information about the Camp JCC special needs and inclusion program, please contact Camp JCC Director Phil Liebson at 301.348.3880 or pliebson@benderjccgw.org.

Dinner of Champions, the Bender JCC’s annual fundraiser for the Camp JCC special needs and inclusion program, will be held on Saturday, November 17. For details, please visit benderjccgw.org/champions.


Read Recent Stories of inspiration

A Place that Completes Our Family

Photo by Paul Macias

The Bender JCC is a place where families are supported and empowered through diverse and inclusive programming, meeting their needs as they grow and change. Perhaps no one illustrates that better than members Melanie and David Bachrach and their children Josh, 15, and Adam, 11.

A Portland, Oregon native, Melanie and her family moved here in 1983. She attended CESJDS and then Kennedy High School, and earned a master’s degree in education. After serving in various teaching and administrative roles with Montgomery County Public Schools, Melanie is now the assistant principal at Garrett Park Elementary School.

David is originally from Baltimore, and his family belonged to the Owings Mills JCC in Baltimore County. He earned a master’s degree in criminology and is currently a human resources consultant to federal agencies and federal contractors.

The Bachrachs joined the Bender JCC when Josh was a toddler and they needed a great preschool option for him. Adam also attended the Bender JCC Preschool, a place to raise children rooted in the same values with which their parents were raised.

“The kids absolutely loved the preschool, and so did we,” recalls David. “The value of having them come home singing songs we knew from our own childhoods was huge. They had a head start on Hebrew letters and vocabulary, and a natural understanding of Jewish holidays as times to refrain from ordinary activities.”

David says that either he or Melanie usually attended Shabbat Sing, the preschool’s weekly musical welcoming of Shabbat because it was such a joyous time. “It was corny and noisy and the same every week. And the absolute best!”

“We came Sunday mornings for Family Gym, our boys took swim lessons here, and they learned karate, how to lift weights and how to play soccer,” recalls David. “We came to probably 100 kid birthday parties.”

“We still socialize with many of the parents and kids from preschool, and the kids attend school with many of their peers from the preschool,” Melanie says.

In the summer of 2017, Melanie went on a Jewish Women’s Renaissance Project trip to Israel. Two of the other women on the trip were coincidentally moms from their preschool days, and Melanie made many new friends affiliated with the JCC.

As Josh and Adam grew older, Melanie and David enrolled them in the Bender JCC’s Kids After School program. The boys attend Camp JCC each summer; this summer, Josh’s role switched from camper to counselor in training.

Melanie visits the Bender JCC fitness center almost every day, taking group exercise classes, swimming, and working out on the cardio equipment and with free weights. Her primary social group in the mornings is the “6 AM crew” from the gym, a special community within the Bender JCC community.

Once an avid group exercise class attendee, David is currently, as he says, in training for the Couch Olympics. (A “no judgment” zone, we will welcome him back to the gym gladly whenever he is ready!) But he has exercised his mental acuities by teaching a class at the Center on how to play poker.

Asked to complete the phrase, “The Bender JCC is a place that…” David responded, “…completes our family.” And having the Bachrach family as active and valued members is what helps make up the rich fabric of the Bender JCC community.

Bender JCC receives funding to start a new program for low-income women

Bender JCC’s pilot program, Strong Women of Independent Means (SWIM), was one of three new programs chosen by the Redwoods Group Foundation, out of 139 applicants, as a winner for their “Innovative Challenge” matching the grant. The national competition was open to Boys & Girls Clubs, Jewish Community Centers, Camps, and YMCAs across the country.

SWIM was selected for its hopeful impact on systematic change for women and their families, and for its collaborative approach with businesses, educators, financial institutions and other leaders within the community.  Matching support is generously being provided by the TD Charitable Foundation, on behalf of TD Bank, and The Marius and Minna B. Koster Foundation, Inc.

 Taught from the foundation of an ESOL class, SWIM provides direct support to low-income, immigrant women by increasing their knowledge and competence in financial and computer skills while offering individualized career counseling and coaching that is not available to these women in their current workplace environments. SWIM addresses the root cause of financial insecurity through leveraging the students’ desire to learn English speaking, listening, and reading skills through the study of topics that will open the doors of opportunity.

Bender JCC has been teaching ESOL for more than 25 years through programs related to the students’ real-world interests and needs. SWIM grew out of our ESOL classes for foreign-born “front-line” workers in the health-care industry and support services. Launched in partnership with Charles E. Smith Life Communities the ESOL workforce program is now offered to Bender JCC front-line facility and housekeeping staff.  Proud of his staff’s professional growth, Bob Layman, Bender JCC Building Superintendent, remarks, “There is nothing that they cannot do. The only thing that was restricting them was their lack of English speaking skills.” (The hands-on interactive nature of our ESOL training and its positive impact on the development of program participants is illustrated in this podcast, https://soundcloud.com/user-925841514/esol)

Gary Musicante, an ESOL workforce instructor, saw the impact happening outside the classroom and beyond the job as well. Students reported participating in their child’s school activities and teacher conferences for the first time, and even practicing English in the home with their families. There was an overwhelming enthusiasm by the students to continue learning and increase their marketable skills. Out of this desire, the SWIM program was born.

In January 2019, the SWIM program will launch at Bender JCC, providing these women the opportunity to dive into ESOL classes that support their financial goals and develop new competencies. Our goal is that they also achieve independence, confidence, and fulfillment.

Together, at Bender JCC, we are building Strong Women of Independent Means.

Mary Jane Alexander is 87 and Going Strong

Bender JCC member Mary Jane Alexander says that as a child, she was “the most uncoordinated, un-athletic kid” who couldn’t jump rope or ride a bike. But in those days, she recalls, girls were not encouraged to be involved in athletics.

More than making up for lost time, Mary Jane, 87 years old, takes a Pilates class once a week and also comes to the Bender JCC five days a week to work out. On two of those days, she works with trainer Pete Matthews.

Ice skating always fascinated Mary Jane, so she took it up at age 50 when she moved to the DC area from Texas in 1968. “I was the ‘old lady’ with all the little kids taking lessons,” she laughs. She later took private lessons, then became an ice dancer.

When Mary Jane gave up ice skating at age 81, she was looking for another activity to take its place.

Enter the Bender JCC.

Mary Jane had friends who belonged to the Center, but she didn’t realize non-Jews could join (Mary Jane isn’t Jewish) until she came to an open house about six years ago.

“This feels like home,” Mary Jane remembers thinking when she attended the open house. She joined on the spot.

When her daughter suggested that she might benefit from weight training, Mary Jane began training with Pete. She says she knew right away that Pete knew what he was doing. “He’s analytical, and makes sure I’m doing each exercise the right way.”

Mary Jane holds a bachelor of music from North Texas State University and a masters in music theory from Eastman School of Music at the University of Rochester. She played clarinet professionally until the age of 40, including performances with the San Antonio Symphony and various chamber music groups.

Enter the Bender JCC, again. Upon joining, Mary Jane was made aware of the Center’s Polinger Artists of Excellence Concert Series, now in its 47th season of offering our community magnificent chamber music performed by rising stars and renowned artists. Mary Jane enjoys attending these concerts, another way to maintain a healthy way of living.

When Mary Jane moved here from Texas, she taught music for Montgomery County Public Schools for 26 years. Now technically “retired,” Mary Jane teaches piano lessons five days a week to a roster of 22 students.

Training with Pete and working out at the Bender JCC have changed Mary Jane’s life in a good way, she reflects. “It has made me much stronger. I am able to function better in life.”

Mary Jane also comments on how important it is to stay involved with people, which she has the opportunity to do at the Bender JCC. “I love the atmosphere, just being here, meeting friends. The people I interact with are super nice,” Mary Jane relates. “I feel very comfortable here.”

From Romania to Rockville

Originally from Romania, Anamaria Caliopi Alexa (Cali) came to the DC area in 2003 when she immigrated with her family. Cali has a degree in public health and is currently a stay-at-home mother to daughter Sydney, almost two years old. Cali’s husband, Bethesda native Michael Rappaport, is a mortgage banking executive.

Cali joined the Bender JCC in September 2016, when Sydney was almost three months old. She and Sydney are regulars in the Bender-Dosik Parenting Center Mommy & Me class and playgroups. “It has been great meeting families with kids the same age as Sydney.”

An interfaith family (Michael is Jewish; Cali is not), the couple is raising Sydney Jewish. Attending classes at the Bender JCC has helped Cali to understand and experience more about the Jewish religion, culture, and traditions.

“I wanted to attend classes at a Jewish venue so I can learn and experience more about the Jewish traditions and religion and at the same time, expose Sydney to the Jewish faith. I find the Bender JCC to be a very welcoming place for all faiths.”

The Mommy & Me teacher, Family Engagement and Parenting Center Director Lauren Dworkin, is incredible and engaging, Cali states. “And I love the festive nature of the JCC as well as the Jewish religion as a whole. Attending these classes has been a great learning experience for me and I have welcomed the Jewish religion and, of course, the traditions into our home.”

Lauren says that is has been so much fun to have Cali and Sydney in her class.

“Cali and Sydney started coming to the Bender-Dosik Parenting Center when Sydney was barely three months old. Her first baby and a preemie, Cali was both nervous to go out and also eager to make new friends. Over the past year and a half, it has been a pleasure to watch both of them grow, learn and build their community. I am thrilled to see them walk in every week and now Sydney even recognizes me with her special Syd smile.”

Asked to complete the phrase, “There’s something about the Bender JCC…,” Cali responds, “…that makes me feel at home. I am from Eastern Europe and whenever I come in I see a lot of people from Eastern Europe taking different classes at the JCC.  It reminds me of where I came from and it makes me feel safe and welcomed.”

For more information about the Bender-Dosik Parenting Center, please visit benderjccgw.org/parenting or contact Lauren Dworkin at 301.348.3837 or ldworkin@benderjccgw.org.

Connecting with Other Young Families at the Bender JCC

Amy Pickard and her older daughter Juliette (2) first became aware of the Bender JCC last fall while participating in local J Play* playdates, such as Challah Tots, where preschoolers and their families meet at local Whole Foods markets on Fridays to make challah, do an activity, and hear a story. Amy and Juliette have also attended bowling playdates for preschoolers and Shabbat Shalom playgroup.

Late last year Amy and her husband, Steven Wellner, began looking for local gyms that offer childcare, “which is pretty much the only way we’d be able to use a gym,” states Steven.

“We had never been members at a JCC before, and one random day in late December, we decided to come by the Bender JCC to check it out. After getting a very helpful tour, we made the decision on the spot to join, and we’ve been thrilled with our experience so far. The staff has been so friendly and welcoming, and the babysitting has helped Juliette get acclimated to being around other adults and kids without either parent around,” Steven says. “We’ve particularly enjoyed the Sunday morning open gym for kids, which Juliette loves.”

Amy is from Syracuse, New York. She has a degree in studio arts from SUNY-Oswego. Steven grew up in Charlotte, North Carolina and Atlanta, Georgia. He is an attorney at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which regulates wholesale electric and natural gas markets. He got his law degree from Georgetown University Law Center and his undergraduate degree from Rice University.

The family moved from DC to Kensington last summer “for all the usual reasons, such as more space, a yard, and good schools,” Steven says.

The couple’s second daughter, Katherine, born in January, will soon join Juliette in J-Club babysitting when their parents come to exercise.

“As our kids grow, we’re excited to take advantage of other opportunities that the Bender JCC offers, and to get to know other families.”

*J Play is a Bender JCC family engagement program in partnership with PJ Library (an initiative that sends free award-winning books that celebrate Jewish values and culture to families with children 6 months through 8 years old). J Play welcomes Montgomery County families for fun Jewish experiences both inside and outside the walls of the Bender JCC. Through playdates, community events and holiday celebrations, families connect and build friendships in the geographic area where they live.

Meet Member Jennifer Chen

Jennifer Chen’s sister Carolyn had occasion to visit the Bender JCC for the first time recently when an organization she belongs to rented meeting space at the center. Carolyn was impressed with the facility and thought that it may be a good place for Jennifer, 41, to take fitness classes. Learning that the Bender JCC is open to all, Jennifer became a member.

If you ask Jennifer, who has mild learning disabilities, what classes she takes here, you better have a lot of time on your hands; she’s got a long list. Jennifer is often here three days a week participating in such classes as gentle yoga, cardio fusion, stretch, and balance and strength.

“The people are nice and they give clear instructions,” Jennifer says about some of the reasons she enjoys the classes.

Jennifer has belonged to other area fitness centers but, according to Carolyn, this is the first one where Jennifer feels she is truly part of a community. It’s not as intimidating here as other fitness centers can be, Carolyn says. Her sister feels comfortable going at her own pace and asking for help when necessary.

Jennifer has also trained with Obi Ikwuakor when Obi was a Bender JCC personal trainer (Obi is now a Bender JCC membership sales representative).

“As Jennifer’s personal trainer, my favorite part of our workouts was our basketball-inspired warmups. It was so much fun taking her through different shooting, dribbling and passing drills. She never complained, even when it became really challenging; she would keep trying until she got it,” Obi says. “It was the same in the weight room. Everything was new to her but she was open and willing to learn and try. She was a dream client and I am so excited to watch her grow within the center.”

Carolyn says that the fact that there is a gym at the Bender JCC is a big benefit for someone like Jennifer, who loves to play basketball.

Jennifer was a bowler with the Special Olympics, and she also enjoys swimming. When she takes a break from exercising, Jennifer works at a local grocery store. She also volunteers as an usher at Olney Theatre Center (and hopes to usher at Strathmore in the future).

“I really appreciate how inclusive and welcoming the Bender JCC is to all ethnicities and abilities,” states Carolyn. “Everyone with whom Jennifer associates knows her name and greets her when she comes in. It seems like a small thing, but it makes a big difference in making her feel comfortable and welcome.”

Obi says that by the same token, Jennifer puts everyone with whom she comes in contact at ease.

“Jennifer is one of my favorite people at the Bender JCC. She is so friendly and warm and greets everyone with a smile. It’s always a good day when Jennifer walks in the door!”

Senior Satellite Program Offers Winter Warmth

The winter months can be an isolating time, which is one of the reasons that the Bender JCC’s Selma Sweetbaum Senior Satellite Program is such a vital asset for senior adults in our community.  Offering opportunities for nutrition, socialization, entertainment, exercise and education, the program meets in Rockville at the Bender JCC and Ring House, in Wheaton at Har Tzeon Agudath Achim, and in Silver Spring at Young Israel Shomrei Emunah Congregation. Results from a recent survey indicate that we are meeting our goals of providing better nutrition, socialization and quality of life for seniors.

90% said that the program has significantly improved their quality of life
80% said they were eating better
92% rated the social environment as good or very good.

The Bender JCC collaborates with community partners to fill critical gaps in needed services for seniors. Partners include The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington; Meals on Wheels of America; Montgomery County Health & Human Services and Recreation; Melvin J. Berman Hebrew Academy and Charles E. Smith Life Communities; Leisure World; and Jewish Council for the Aging’s Senior Community Service Employment Program.

We also partner with local hospitals and healthcare professionals to offer free wellness programs and health screenings— including blood pressure, bone density, and glaucoma testing—to Montgomery County seniors year-round. Partners include Adventist Healthcare; National Parkinson’s Foundation Center of Excellence at Georgetown University Hospital; and Shady Grove Adventist Hospital.

Infusing Jewish Spirit through Partnerships

Rabbanit Chava Evans recently joined the Bender JCC staff as director of Jewish life. Through this position, Rabbanit Evans hopes to build personal relationships and work collaboratively across departments, with a variety of constituencies and with partner organizations, to enrich Jewish life and infuse Jewish spirit throughout the Bender JCC and the communities it serves. 

The Bender JCC is grateful to Yeshivat Maharat, Aviv Foundation, Mayberg Foundation and Sharon and Steven Lieberman for helping to fund this position. Through funding partnerships, we are able to offer valued resources such as this to our community, enabling individuals and families to explore Jewish heritage and culture.

Please read on to learn a little bit about Rabbanit Evans.

Please tell us where you’re from.
I am from Boston, and I moved with my mother and siblings to a small town in Vermont when I was in 7th grade. When I was 18, my family moved to Europe and I spent my vacations from school with them in Germany and Italy. Eventually they moved back to the States, but I moved to Israel for several years in my early 20s. Since then, I’ve been gradually making my way down the East Coast — Boston, Providence, Philadelphia, Baltimore, New York and finally, Rockville.

Please tell us about your family.
My husband, Mark, is a computer science professor at Johns Hopkins. We have three children: Gilah Channah, 7, Hadar Chasyia, 4, and Micah Lev, 21 months.

What is your educational background?
I initially trained as a painter and worked in children’s illustration and educational publishing for nearly a decade before going to rabbinical school. I have a dual degree in Illustration and religious studies from Brown University and the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD). I then went to Betzalel Academy of Art and Design in Jerusalem for a year, but transferred to an atelier (also in Jerusalem) run by painter Israel Hershberg.

While there, I also studied Talmud and Halacha at Nishmat: Center for Advanced Torah Study for Women. Then I came back to the US and got my MFA at the Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia.  I worked in Philly for five years in a great illustration/toy design studio before we had our first child and moved to Baltimore. I worked for another four years in Baltimore as a free-lance illustrator and studio artist before matriculating at Yeshivat Maharat in the Bronx. Yeshivat Maharat is the first Orthodox institution to grant semikah (rabbinic ordination) to women. There are about 20 graduates now working in Jewish leadership, education and Jewish communal service worldwide.

In what other positions have you served?
I have served as rabbinic intern at Pearlstone Center, B’nai Israel in Baltimore, and the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale in the Bronx. I have taught Torah at numerous institutions in the Baltimore and New York areas.

What are some projects you’re working on at the Bender JCC?
In the three months since I began working at the Bender JCC, I’ve worked with the preschool and school-age children, Women’s Connections (a group for women), senior adults and the health & fitness department to enhance Jewish life and infuse Jewish spirit at the Center. Two projects I’m currently working on are Noah’s Art and the Jewish Ethical Wills Project.

What is the Noah’s Art initiative?
Noah’s Art is an intergenerational art project conducted in conjunction with JCC Budapest. Bender Preschool children learn about Noah, and meet with senior adults from our Tuesdays @ the J program to work on art projects inspired by Noah’s Ark. The pieces they create will be made into a mural. The JCC Budapest is simultaneously working on the same project, and the two centers are communicating about their experiences via Skype. The joint venture will culminate in a brochure — written in Hungarian and English — documenting the works and experiences of both JCCs.

Please tell us about the Jewish Ethical Wills Project.
Through a grant provided by the Jewish Theological Seminary and in collaboration with the JCC Manhattan, the Bender JCC is one of three pilot JCCs involved in this initiative. I am being trained on how to assist others in creating an ethical will, which describes a moral legacy shared through favorite stories, life lessons and blessing for the future. When I complete the training, I will offer an ethical wills class at the Bender JCC designed for the baby boomer generation.

J Play: Connecting Families within Neighborhoods

For decades, the Bender JCC has served as a gathering place where families with young children can connect with each other and the larger community. In response to the growing trend of young Jewish families moving throughout the county, we have established J Play, a partnership with PJ Library. Through Jewish-themed programming that is geographically accessible, this family engagement initiative helps to build cohesive Jewish communities within neighborhoods.

Participant Cindy McAllister says that she and her daughters love going to JPlay events because there are always fun crafts to make, and everyone who runs the programs is so warm and friendly. She appreciates that it provides the chance to spend quality time with current friends, and the opportunity to make new friends.

Cindy says that anytime she receives notice of an upcoming J Play activity, she eagerly signs up. “I know it will be a good time for my kids and me, and a way to create meaningful memories.”

Family Programs Coordinator Jennifer Radosh says that J Play is a great opportunity for Montgomery County families to come together for fun Jewish experiences outside the walls of the Bender JCC.

“J Play offers the chance to make new friendships or strengthen old ones. It can introduce people to the Jewish community or deepen one’s Jewish identity,” Jennifer states.

Through J Play’s program Challah Tots, held approximately twice a month at area Whole Foods Market stores, young children and their parents read stories about Shabbat and braid challah dough to take home and bake.

“My girls love Challah Tots; it’s one of their favorite activities,” Cindy says. “They get excited to go, and they have fun at Whole Foods. At home, they brush on the egg wash, sprinkle on sesame seeds, and watch the challah rise. Then we enjoy sandwiches on it all week!”

In our outreach efforts, we are pleased to partner with many community organizations such as The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington, Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School, the Jewish Community Center of Northern Virginia, Strathmore Hall, Montgomery Parks/M-NCPPC, Meadowside Nature Center, Locust Grove Nature Center and congregations Beth El, B’nai Israel and Shaare Torah. In addition, we have joined forces with businesses such as Barnes & Noble Booksellers, BounceU, Butler’s Orchard, Dawson’s Market, The Fresh Market, Menchies, Pinstripes, Rockville Town Square, Stella Barra Pizzeria, Strathmore, Tutti Frutti Frozen Yogurt, Whole Foods Market and ZBounce.

For more information about J Play, please visit www.benderjccgw.org/jplay or contact Jennifer Radosh at 301-348-3848 or jradosh@benderjccgw.org.

Inclusion at Camp JCC

The nationally-recognized Camp JCC inclusion program has afforded campers with special needs the opportunity for a fun and fulfilling summer camp experience alongside their typically-developing siblings and friends. 

The program also has a profound impact on counselors and typically-developing campers, who learn acceptance, tolerance and sensitivity. As a result, Camp JCC changes attitudes toward inclusion that extend far beyond the walls of our building.

In this article, Torie Atkin and Marc Silverman reflect on their experiences as counselors in the Camp JCC inclusion program.

For more information about the Camp JCC special needs and inclusion program, please contact Camp JCC Director Phil Liebson at 301-348-3880 or pliebson@benderjccgw.org.

Dinner of Champions, the Bender JCC’s annual fundraiser for the Camp JCC special needs and inclusion program, will be held on Saturday, November 18. For details, please visit benderjccgw.org/champions.

Torie Atkin (top) with her camper, Camp JCC 2016

Torie Atkin: “As I walked into Eva’s [Eva Cowen, director of Kochavim, Camp JCC’s transitional program for teens and young adults with a wide range of disabilities] office four years ago for my camp interview, I had no idea how much it would change my life.  When I applied, the only jobs left were working in the inclusion program with teens with disabilities. I had no experience but said that I was willing to learn and try my best. That was good enough for Eva.

As I went through my first day, I was surprised at how easy it was to connect with the campers.  They liked movies and sports and cheesy jokes and before I knew it, coming to work felt more like hanging out with my friends than a job.  I came home every day with stories about my campers, like how one camper jumped on stage to teach a Zumba dance and how another taught me to speak a different language. I fell deeper and deeper in love with the campers.

That isn’t to say that my job isn’t hard at times. There have been countless times where I have felt frustrated, confused and even sad at camp. But one of the best things about our program is that you are surrounded by other counselors who can step in and help you, so you are never facing anything alone.

After that first summer, I became addicted to camp and to working with people with disabilities. It has changed my life.  I started college as a journalism major but after my first summer at camp, I changed my major to exercise science so that I could become an occupational therapist and work with people with disabilities for the rest of my life.”

“I started working at Camp JCC in 1993. I have cerebral palsy and wanted to work with children with special needs. My second summer, I was a counselor-in-training with a small group of children who would eventually become part of the inclusion program the following year. From 1995-2001, I was a counselor for the teen program, which served adolescents with special needs from the ages of 14-21.

The campers with whom I worked had a diverse range of developmental disabilities.  Some had autism, as well as hearing and visual impairments. For several summers, I was a one-to-one counselor for an adolescent who was legally blind and had a developmental disability.

I worked with Eva Cowen and Sara Milner [former Camp JCC director]. Their support was the best. If there was a challenge or difficulty, I always felt comfortable confiding in my colleagues and superiors. Eva and Sara provided thorough and excellent training.

Working at Camp JCC as a special needs counselor definitely influenced my career choice, helping to solidify my goal of wanting to help people. I loved working with both campers and the staff.  It truly was a warm and nurturing atmosphere, one that I remember with great fondness.

I graduated from the University of Hartford in 2001 with a major in sociology and a minor in human services.  I attended Columbia University School of Social Work, graduating in 2003 with a master’s degree. I am a licensed clinical social worker, working in the field of domestic violence in a high school setting.

The Camp JCC special needs and inclusion program is an excellent program.  It allows campers with special needs to be part of a larger community.  It was a great thrill to see my campers year after year and watch their progress.  My heart is always with the program and the campers.”

Letting Children Be Children

Parents Neelam Singh and Samir Qadir say the Bender Early Childhood Center provides the best balance between learning and letting children be children.

It’s often said that the Bender JCC is for everyone “from babies to bubbies.” But Sahil Qadir, a 5-year-old Bender Early Childhood Center student, started at the Bender JCC even before birth.

In 2010, Sahil’s parents, Neelam Singh and Samir Qadir, joined the JCC. They lived close by and often used the fitness center, especially the pool. When Neelam was pregnant with Sahil, she started experiencing leg pain and nothing helped except swimming regularly in the JCC pool. “I would go to the pool after work, sometimes really late in the evening; the JCC being next door made it very convenient,” Neelam says. Thus began Sahil’s journey at the Bender JCC.

Neelam and Samir are both from India, and grew up in and around New Delhi. They came to the United States for graduate school, and settled in Rockville for work in 2006. Neelam is a senior associate at an environmental nonprofit, and focuses on climate change. Samir is an environmental engineer at a consulting firm that provides environmental services to state and federal agencies.

When Sahil was born in 2013, the family started to take advantage of the Bender JCC’s programs for infants. It was a natural progression, then, for Neelam and Samir to enroll Sahil at the Bender Early Childhood Center when he was old enough.

Neelam and Samir say that the preschool staff is wonderful. “We have always felt that we are treated as a part of the preschool family. Everyone is very friendly and helpful and smiling, and always welcoming.”

“We looked into other preschools, but felt that the JCC provided the best balance between learning and letting children be children,” explains Samir.

“We like the Bender preschool’s philosophy of child-centered education, where teachers facilitate learning through exploration,” adds Neelam.

Because Bender JCC preschool students have access to a variety of classes and activities during the day, Neelam and Samir don’t feel the need to enroll Sahil in outside activities on weekday afternoons or weekends. “That gives us an opportunity to enjoy more family time,” Neelam states.

Sahil says his favorite part of preschool is the sandbox in the new front playground. “But Sahil also loves all his teachers, his sports and swim lessons, story time, doing art and experimenting with new materials and objects in his class, and just being able to play with his friends and be silly!” Samir reports.

Neelam says that she and Samir enjoy learning about Jewish culture and traditions, and Sahil has often been their teacher in this respect. “We love that so many Jewish holidays and activities are centered around the earth and nature, and by extension, food!”

“Very importantly,” Neelam adds, “we are totally worry free when Sahil is at his preschool because we know he is happy and safe there.”

“On some days, it feels like we live at the JCC,” reflects Neelam. “Sometimes I even sit and work in the JCC lobby instead of going to my office. It’s like a second home.”

A Fighting Spirit

As a new year begins and many of us resolve to live a healthier lifestyle, Bender JCC member Darryl Weiler is an example to emulate. Since retiring in 2014 after a career as a software quality assurance engineer and systems analyst, three-day-a-week workouts have become an essential part of Darryl’s routine.

Why is the Bender JCC Darryl’s choice of fitness centers? “The staff is nice and they listen to you. The fitness center has the equipment I need and the atmosphere I want,” he remarks. Asked to elaborate, Darryl says that individuals who exercise here are accepted for who they are and for what they can do. “There’s an appreciation that whatever you do, it’s better than doing nothing. Just being here is half the battle.”

As for the other half of the battle, having lost 65 pounds since Darryl started working out here is evidence to the fact that it’s going in his favor.

The Jacksonville, Florida native has been involved in many sports — karate, judo, fencing, soccer and baseball among them. But boxing is the one that is in Darryl’s blood. His father, grandfather and uncle were boxers. Darryl fought Golden Gloves (annual competitions for amateur boxing) in high school, and he sparred with pros in college.

The best part of working out, according to Darryl, is how much better he feels when he’s finished. “After I start warming up, my aches and pains are gone.” Asked if he has days when he just doesn’t feel like exercising, he says that that happens all the time. How does he handle it? “I just do it. I don’t quit.”

An illness in June — during which he spent a considerable amount of time in the hospital and at a rehabilitation facility — only strengthened Darryl’s determination to get back on the bike, literally. By September, Darryl had returned to the Bender JCC health & fitness center, going through his usual circuit which includes riding the recumbent bike, hitting the punching bag and doing reps on many of the strength-training machines. By December, he had climbed back almost to the level he had reached prior to becoming ill.

What does Darryl consider the worst part of working out? After all he’s been through, he says there is no worst part; he’s just glad to be here. “If I had to choose a worst part, it would be the traffic on the way.”

For information on starting your journey to health and wellness at the Bender JCC, please contact Dahhia Smith-Johnson at 301.348.3894 or djohnson@benderjccgw.org

Having the Courage to Start

If you had asked me 10 years ago if I would become a running coach in my retirement, I would have said that you are crazy!”— Karen Craney

An instructor in the Bender JCC’s Couch to 5K program, Karen Craney, 61, started running 14 years ago. She has since completed all major running distances—5K, 10K, 10 mile, half marathon and marathon—and has participated in overnight running relays such as the Ragnar Relay (having recently completed one in Niagara Falls, Canada).  Karen finds that the running community is comprised of supportive and wonderful individuals. “I am proud to be a part of this community.”

A New Jersey native, Karen is retired from Montgomery County Public Schools after 33 years as a special education teacher and then a pupil personnel worker. Keeping active in retirement, Karen’s hobbies include running, walking, hiking, rollerblading and biking. She also loves to travel. “Every year I take a biking trip to Italy, visiting a different region of the country. My most recent trip was a hiking/wine tasting/safari in South Africa.”

Upon retiring, Karen became a nationally-certified running coach. She is a member/volunteer of Montgomery County Road Runners Club and the race director of Run Under Lights 5K, which takes place every November in Seneca Creek Park, Gaithersburg.

In the spring of 2016, Karen began teaching the Couch to 5K program at the Bender JCC. It was repeated in the summer of 2016 along with a “next step” component for runners who had completed the Couch to 5K program. “A number of runners from that first next-step program have gone on to running longer distances such as 10K, 10 miles and even a half marathon, which has been very exciting!”

Sue Winarsky, a runner who has been in Karen’s programs for a few years, remains impressed that Karen is knowledgeable and invested in ensuring that all her participants have a good experience, regardless of their starting fitness level. “Karen works with each runner to help them reach their personal goal. She promotes camaraderie and works to bring out the best in those who participate in her programs. And, she makes it fun!”

Karen says that it is a thrill to see people do something that they never thought they would be able to do—complete a 5K run. The program starts off with walk/run ratio intervals (3 minutes walking, 1 minute running) and slowly progresses to the point where participants are doing more running than walking and eventually, all running.

“The program is so gradual and supportive that it surprises people who often approach it with apprehension and anxiety. They discover that they actually can run a 5K,” Karen remarks.

The program has an educational component, addressing topics such as running gear, nutrition, hydration and injury prevention.

“My coaching experience has included 5K, 10K, 10-mile, half-marathon and full-marathon programs, but my heart lies with the Couch to 5K program and seeing people become runners,” Karen reflects.

For individuals who are thinking about taking a beginning running program, Karen advises, “Just do it! You will be surprised at how much it will change your life.”

Karen’s favorite quote is by John Bingham, a nationally-known running coach: “The miracle isn’t that I finished. The miracle is that I had the courage to start.”

Are you interested in running in the JCADA (Jewish Coalition against Domestic Abuse) 5K on October 22? Then now is the time to sign up for Couch to 5K!

Camp JCC Changes Counselors Too

Mark Silverman

With Camp JCC in full swing, we reflect on the profound effect our nationally-recognized Camp JCC inclusion program has on campers with disabilities by offering them the opportunity for a fun and fulfilling summer camp experience alongside their typically-developing siblings and friends.  The program also has a strong impact on counselors and typically-developing campers, who learn acceptance, tolerance and sensitivity.

Marc Silverman, a licensed clinical social worker, was a Camp JCC counselor from 1993 through 2001. He has cerebral palsy and wanted to work with children with disabilities. The campers with whom he worked had a wide range of developmental abilities. Some had autism, as well as hearing and visual impairments. For several summers, he was a one-to-one counselor for an adolescent who was legally blind and had a developmental disability.

Marc says that the Camp JCC inclusion program is an excellent program that allows campers with disabilities, who might otherwise be isolated, to be part of a larger community.

“Working at Camp JCC as a counselor for children with disabilities definitely influenced my career choice,” Marc asserts, saying that it helped solidify his goal of wanting to help people. He graduated from the University of Hartford in 2001 with a major in sociology and a minor in human services.  He then attended Columbia University School of Social Work, graduating in 2003 with a master’s degree. Marc currently works in the field of domestic violence in a high school setting.

Camp JCC changes attitudes toward inclusion that extend far beyond the walls of our building. The support of our generous donors helps to make that happen.

Music for the Soul

Jeanette Greenberg at the piano

Jeanette Greenberg looks forward to every Tuesday at the Bender JCC when she sings and plays piano in the senior adult chorus.

“It feels very comfortable when I am with people who also enjoy singing,” says Jeanette. “It’s a very sociable thing to do.”

Scholarships can be the determining factor for participation at the Bender JCC. 132 seniors, like Jeanette, receive financial assistance so they can a part of our community and participate in the many activities here.

Click here to listen to Jeanette’s inspiring story!

Fitness for All

Joanie Steinberg

Joanie Steinberg is a participant in the hybrid fitness class — a mix of strength, yoga, Pilates and balance work-geared toward improving flexibility and enhancing state of mind for those with Parkinson’s.

Among the many fitness programs offered by the Bender JCC are classes like hybrid fitness for the Parkinson’s community. Held in partnership with MedStar Georgetown University Hospital as part of The Edmond J. Safra National Parkinson’s Wellness Initiative of the National Parkinson Foundation, the program is designed to improve the lives of those impacted by Parkinson’s disease through fitness, support, education and socialization.

“The people running the program and the instructors are extremely dedicated and interested in making it a successful and helpful experience for all involved,” Joanie states. “I think it’s awesome that the Bender JCC offers this program to the community.”

Dawn Hubbard-Powell, Health & Fitness Director. says that our Parkinson’s Wellness Initiative classes are highly valued by those we serve. ”The chance to connect with others who are going through similar experiences helps our participants realize that they are not alone. They show us that it is possible to thrive with Parkinson’s. It’s inspiring to be a part of this initiative!”

This story is one of many examples of how the Bender JCC provides a warm and welcoming place for those of all abilities, and is committed to improving the quality of life for all.

Building Families at the Bender JCC

Jauss Family Photo

Lindsay and Fred Jauss joined the Bender JCC when their older son. now 7, was 2 years old and they were looking for a preschool.

“The biggest selling point for us is how loved and safe our children feel in the community. The JCC is a truly inclusive and welcoming place for a diverse population. The teaching staff is second to none.”

As an interfaith couple [Lindsay isJewish and Fred is Catholic]. Lindsay says that they appreciate  how the preschool weaves Judaism into the everyday.

“Children are taught the foundations of Judaism- kindness. caring…things we all can strive for. The tone and language used by the staff focus on inclusiveness for all sorts of families.”

This story is one of many examples of how your support enriches lives and enables us to embrace and welcome the diversity of our community. There’s something about this place.

Support for All to See

Lee Greenwald

“Just because I’m blind doesn’t mean I can’t see what’s important,” says Lee Greenwald, 91, a regular participant in Bender JCC’s senior adult programs.

A Bethesda resident, Lee used to take public transportation to the Bender JCC. Now that it’s harder for her to get around due to her vision impairment, she appreciates the specialized “door-through-door” transportation service funded by Bender JCC that enables her to attend activities here twice a week.

Lee enjoys all aspects of the Bender JCC’s senior adult program, from chair exercise to a delicious hot kosher lunch to entertainment by talented performers. She’s also thinking about taking a ceramics class here. For Lee, it’s really about getting out of the house and meeting new people.

This story is one of many examples of how your support enriches lives.

Generations of Inclusion at the J

Zac Tolin Shooting Hoops

Zac Tolin claims that he has shot more baskets in the Bender JCC’s gym than anyone else.

“Let’s see…100 baskets a day x five days a week x 52 weeks a year x 44 years = 1,144,000 baskets.”

Zac is part of a four generation family that calls the Center a second home. From his grandfather participating in Bender JCC programs when he lived at the Hebrew Home to his parents standing at the grand opening ceremony in 1969 to meeting his wife while working out in the fitness center in 1993, and now his kids regularly taking part in classes, Camp JCC, swimming and much more.

Zac’s story is one of many examples of how your support enables us to be a place of celebrations, connections, education, friendships and healthy bodies…for life.

Mom's Group

Mom’s Group

For Ali Levingston, becoming a parent for the first time was an exhilarating experience. It was also overwhelming, which is why it is often helpful to have other new parents with whom to celebrate and – occasionally – commiserate. The Bender JCC’s Bender-Dosik Parenting Center is proud to serve as a catalyst for so many young families in our community to form lifelong connections, offering experiences to grow as Jewish parents. Ali found her community here three years ago when she formed close and lasting friendships with several other moms.

“I am grateful to the Bender JCC for bringing us all together. When we were first-time moms, it was so important to have other mothers to share experiences with and offer support, advice and humor.”

This story is one of many examples of how your support enables us to be a place of celebrations, connections, education, friendships and healthy bodies….for life.

A Special Place for the Most Special People

Chiara Jaffe & son, Jake

“My 8-year-old son, Jake, has Down syndrome and requires additional support to address his special needs. Jake has limited opportunities for interactions with typical peers during the school day.

That all changes after school when Jake attends Kids After School (KAS) at the Bender JCC. Here, Jake is fully included in all activities thanks to his amazing counselors, and the wonderful director of special needs and inclusion who keeps on top of anything going on in his life that may impact his after-school experience. All of the counselors, not only Jake’s assigned ones, go out of their way to get to know Jake and to promote interactions between him and his typical peers.

When I pick Jake up from the Bender JCC in the evenings, he has a huge smile on his face. As we say goodbye and I help him into the car, I say to myself, ‘I love this place.’” ─Chiara Jaffe