One night, Kenny Goldberg was walking out to the parking lot after a meeting at the Jewish Community Center. He’s president this year and had almost forgotten that a JCC member had asked to speak to him afterwards – probably wanted something fixed, the temperature of the pool adjusted up or down. Everybody involved loves the JCC, but there are always chores to be done, little and big.

“Now this was a guy I’d known here about 10 or 15 years,” Goldberg says. “I’d played ball with him – all he’d really known about JCC was playing basketball – until he married and had a child that became one of our special needs children.

“By the time we got to talking in the parking lot, it was kind of dark…he had written down some things to say, and he almost had to read them, because he was to the point of being so emotional he just couldn’t say it.

“What he wanted to tell me was what a difference JCC had made in his family, because of his child – the brightness they see when they talk to their child about the day at JCC or the look on their child’s face when he runs up to hug his teacher,” Goldberg recalls, his own voice becoming thick.

Only one of many striking aspects of JCC is the group’s special needs program; children here are not placed in “special needs classes” or “special needs programs.” All JCC children learn and play together in the same environment. The belief, basically, is that children need to pick up coping skills with each other to become whole adults.

“One of these (special needs) children was in the two-year-old classrooms,” says JCC Executive Director Karen Stern. “And watching two-year-olds help this child…that they understood at their level that another child needed more help, and that they were reaching out.

“You don’t need some kind of psychological study to realize that is innate in us, to help each other. Something bad has to happen to us to teach us not to do that.”

And so go innumerable stories about this almost overwhelming organization that for 120 years, has served not only the Jewish community here, but anyone in our neighborhood. A group that strives to strengthen the Jewish family and further an appreciation of shared Jewish heritage stresses in the next breath, that everyone is welcome – regardless of religious affiliation. One of the group’s primary goals is to “contribute to the common good of the general community.”

“Family” is a word repeated almost as often as “community” by Goldberg and Stern.

“And if they don’t have a family, we’re their family,” Stern says.

The 19 acre campus JCC occupies originally was the group’s day camp. Today more than 8,000 members use approximately 130,000 square feet of facilities for cultural, educational, social and recreational activities (see sidebar). All United Way agencies use the facilities, as well as countless other civic organizations.

Throughout this year, JCC is continuing with a capital campaign aimed at raising millions to advance the group’s efforts, the most recent being the building of a new sports complex. On June 19, the 13th annual Bank United/JCC Scholarship Golf Tournament will take place at Columbian Country Club to benefit the JCC Pre-school, Camp and ChildCare Scholarship Fund. (For information, contact Joanie Weinstein at 214-739-1737, ext. 211.)

In cooperation with Medical City, the group’s Health Fair will take place in the fall and, later, the Senior Olympics will be held. (Goldberg says the darts tournament at the Senior Olympics is the only even he balks at judging.)

Many JCC members, such as Goldberg, have spent their entire lives here – some have said their first hellos within these walls with a baby’s smile, their last good-byes shining in eyes dimmed by age. Goldberg’s own eyes twinkle continuously as he talks about his days growing up at JCC, telling wonderful spirited stories – although too many he won’t allow us to print, including one about Mike Ditka. (Also, if anyone at the Houston JCC has ever wondered about a certain long-ago basketball tournament…Goldberg’s holding out on you.)

“The memories I have are for a whole lifetime,” Goldberg says. “I can never repay the Center for everything.”

It is a humbling experience to stand in front of JCC, to stand in front of the Holocaust Museum next door – to watch families with small children and grandparents laughing side-by-side on this sunny day – and think about Goldberg and Stern’s heartfelt testaments to “the innate goodness of people.”

Looking around, the waste and laziness of cynicism are all too apparent, the value of hope and effort even more apparent.

“One of my favorite stories is about a kid at day camp that got the lead in the play,” Stern says. “It’s a big deal here. And this child has trouble reading…but because the counselor spent time with him, he was able to learn the part.

“The child was such a failure at school, semester after semester. Camp, it was one place where he could succeed. And the mother – we almost had to carry her out of there, she was crying so hard.

“It was one of those ‘moments in time.’”

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