From camps to JCCs to Reutlinger, new exec takes charge

Rest assured, Stephen Makoff won't subject the folks at his new job to a riotous birthday ritual from his past.

That celebration dates back to the 1970s, when Makoff was director of Camp Swig, the UAHC children's camp in Saratoga.

After dinner on most evenings, Makoff would lead the camp in a boisterous announcement of a camper's special day that was followed by a wild parading of the cake through the dining hall. It ended with the tossing of the seated birthday kid up in the air as campers counted each year.

"I invented part of it," said Makoff, chuckling at the memory. Like an urban legend, "It just kind of grew."

While great fun, the celebration isn't particularly appropriate in Makoff's new position. Starting this month, he's the executive director of the Reutlinger Community for Jewish Living, a Danville-based center for the elderly.

He promises that little, if any, of that blood-racing tradition will be extended to residents at Reutlinger. "I can guarantee it," he said.

But Makoff does plan to bring to his new job some 30 years of expertise with Jewish agencies, ranging from resident summer camps to Jewish community centers.

"They were looking for someone who had my kind of experience, and it looked like a wonderful opportunity," said Makoff, who served as executive director of the Addison-Penzak JCC of Silicon Valley for the past six years.

At Reutlinger, Makoff will oversee a private management firm that runs the center. He will also direct fund-raising campaigns and community partnership efforts.

The 180-bed facility opened in 1999, replacing the aging Home for Jewish Parents in Oakland. The 110,000-square-foot facility offers independent assisted living, Alzheimer's and memory-loss care, and skilled nursing.

"Selecting him was easy," said Judy Greif, president of the 27-member board. "He was the best candidate for the job."

Greif, whose 89-year-old mother-in-law lives at Reutlinger, cited Makoff's organizational background and contacts in the Bay Area.

Makoff will be the center's first executive director because those functions were previously handled by the management company, Greif said.

"He's going to do good for us," she said. "He's going to be our face to the Jewish community."

High on his list of responsibilities will be soliciting grants to make up for pending cuts in state funding, higher insurance costs and to subsidize elderly residents unable to afford fees.

Given the current economic slump, raising funds is "certainly a big challenge," admitted Makoff. He envisions a two-pronged campaign that solicits donations for ongoing social, recreational and spiritual activities at the center and that also funds an endowment for the future.

Makoff also wants to bring in more adult and children volunteers to work with residents at Reutlinger. He hopes to develop more programs, for instance, that provide help with computers. He wants to expand art, culture and lifelong learning opportunities.

The center also can draw visitors from the community wanting to tour its on-site Jewish museum or hear guest speakers.

"It's a wonderful facility," said Makoff, who grew up in Bakersfield and holds a master's in education from California State University Northridge.

Makoff's career also includes work at Jewish summer camps in Los Angeles, Michigan and Pennsylvania. A decade ago, he was hired to direct the United Jewish Community Centers, a now-dissolved organization that once managed West Bay JCCs, Camp Tawonga and a San Francisco senior center.

Though he said he was familiar with senior programs through his work in JCCs, for Makoff, this is a first job directly overseeing a senior center.

"For me, this is kind of a natural step," he said. "I'm very happy to be here."