New CCJCC director jumps right in to rally the team

Carolyn Amacher knows Jewish community centers. From camps to preschools and adult services to arts programs, there's not much she hasn't done as either a participant or a staff member.

Now it's her turn to run the show.

On Sept. 1, Amacher took over as the executive director of the 1,000-member Contra Costa Jewish Community Center in Walnut Creek.

"I thought it would be a great opportunity, personally and professionally," said Amacher, who left her job as assistant executive director of the JCC of Richmond, Va., to move to the East Bay. "What really drew [me] was the opportunity to provide leadership in a community that had all the ingredients for success."

Although Amacher has been in the Bay Area for only a few weeks, she is already the head cheerleader for her staff and the CCJCC.

"I feel like I'm rallying the team," she said. "I'm having to motivate them so they feel good about what they're doing and feel good about their mission."

And if there's one thing Amacher has, it's passion for Jewish life and the role the JCC plays in it.

"Part of our job is to collaborate with other Jewish agencies," she says. "Ultimately we want people to get involved in synagogue life. We bring in rabbis, refer people to synagogues and [arrange] synagogue tours. We can be the vehicle to become affiliated."

She also said that often the JCC is the first Jewish agency newcomers contact. She has some first-hand experience in how the institution can help someone get situated in a new community.

"I know what it feels like to be a newcomer here," says Amacher, adding that through people at the CCJCC, she has been able to find all the services she needs — from a synagogue to go to during the High Holy Days to hairdressers and everything in between. "The JCC is a family environment. It helped with the adjustment. People here have been terrific."

With a new gymnasium on the CCJCC site, built in conjunction with the city of Walnut Creek, and the initial phase of the facilities renovation completed, now is a prime time for program expansion.

Some of the directions Amacher would like to explore are expanding summer camps, athletic programs and youth teams, classes and teen activities. She also hopes to form liaisons with local businesses and make the CCJCC a true center of Jewish and community life.

Although she has lots of ideas, she's counting on the CCJCC's board of directors and strategic planning committee to provide the road map.

She hopes to make the center a home for everyone from preschoolers to seniors by offering services and programming that fit each age group's needs.

With a successful preschool program already operating, Amacher wants to explore the feasibility of offering an afterschool program for older children. Her ambitious plans include transporting children from school to the CCJCC and, when necessary, to Hebrew school.

She would also like to work closely with college students through local Hillels, also keeping in touch with those youths who have participated in CCJCC programs and then go away to college. Maintaining a connection with students through their teens and early 20s is essential to keep them in the Jewish community, she said.

"Once they leave, it's hard to get them back."

According to Amacher, the greatest challenge facing the CCJCC is the geographically widespread population it serves.

Many members drive a considerable distance to come to the center. "It's up to us to provide a quality service to make the commute worthwhile," she said. "When the Jewish neighborhood becomes dismantled, it's up to us to create a Jewish neighborhood."

Amacher brings a background in journalism and social work to the position. After graduating from college with a journalism degree, she went to Israel and worked for the Jerusalem Post and United Press International. She then attended graduate school at Yeshiva University in New York, earning a degree in social work. For the past 12 years she has worked at various JCCs, starting with the JCC of Greater Washington, D.C. — the same JCC she attended growing up.

The 35-year-old Amacher describes herself and her husband as a family of the 90s because, along with their 3-year-old son Ezra, they moved to the Bay Area because of her job. But husband Richard isn't complaining. Not only can he enjoy an outdoor lifestyle that includes biking and hiking but there are plenty of professional sports teams.

"My husband was starved for professional sports," says Amacher of life in Virginia. "On our honeymoon in Florida, we visited every minor-league training game that was going on."