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The MJCCA's Impact

Impact Stories

Preschool Dads Go Camping

"The MJCCA has fostered a sense of community and belonging that I didn’t have prior to my involvement." - Greg

The great outdoors has become something much greater to one group of families, thanks to a camping trip-turned-tradition. When a group of dads decided to introduce their children to camping in 2011, they had no idea how enjoyable the excursion would be, or that it would double in size and become an annual weekend adventure with a special group of friends.

It all began at The Weinstein School at the Marcus Jewish Community Center of Atlanta. Some of the dads in the initial group had met before, but most were introduced through their kids. Greg Green says, “I didn’t know any of these people before my son started at The Weinstein School in 2006.” Now, more than 15 boys and girls, along with their respective fathers, get up close and personal with nature and each other at their yearly campout reunion.

Craig Kaplan explains, “The Weinstein School brought a community together that shared interests; playdates developed into friendships, which then evolved into personal and family connections. The parents I met through The Weinstein School still have an annual family Hanukah party, tailgate at college football games, attend concerts, and of course go camping together six years after our kids graduated. As our children have grown, the friendships have endured.”

“It’s great for the kids to get together; many of them attend different schools now,” Greg shares. “And many of the dads don’t see each other often.” Fellow camper Jeffrey Lapp agrees, “This trip lets us pick up where we left off. When we’re together, it’s like we just went camping last week.”

Jeffrey further reflects on how the MJCCA has helped his own family thrive, “After preschool, both of our kids continued to grow up at the JCC playing sports, attending day camps, and then going to Camp Barney Medintz. I enjoy walking in and seeing all the familiar faces; it’s like an extension of our home.”

Greg agrees, “Much of my family’s current social fabric is a result of the relationships formed, particularly at the preschool. It’s an environment that fosters a sense of community and belonging that I didn’t have prior to my involvement with the MJCCA.”

Camp Barney Medintz Turns Siblings into Friends

“In total, I spent only 10 months at Camp Barney, but its impact on my life has been immeasurable.” - Josh

Josh D’Agostino and his younger sister, Gaby Sussman, were close during their formative years, despite a five-year age difference. “When my sister and I were young we were the best of friends,” Josh explains. Gaby adds, “Josh was always protective and loving, and we had a good relationship; but I was a typical younger sibling, always wanting my brother’s attention, egging on fights, and trying to be cool around his friends. ” Josh admits that as he got older this quibbling led to some distance between him and his little sister.

The siblings credit their intersecting summer at Camp Barney Medintz in 1996 as the catalyst for strengthening their bond; Gaby was one of 54 rising tenth- grade campers under the tutelage of Josh and other counselors in the Junior-in- Training (JIT) unit. “I will always remember my JIT summer as one of the best of my life, and my brother was a part of that,” Gaby beams. “I got to see him more as an equal and less as an older sibling. It was amazing to be able to experience our love of camp together. It is a connection we will always cherish.”

Josh agrees, “We ended up having what we still call the ‘magic summer.’ I believe that shared experience was responsible for reconnecting me and my sister. It reminded me that my obligation to her was not just as a counselor, but, more importantly, as her brother. I realized how important she was to me, and I recognized the importance of being in her life.”

That summer at Camp Barney gave the siblings a foundation that would allow their closeness to endure. “After JIT we had friends in the same community,” Gaby explains. “We attended camp parties together and hung out more as friends than brother and sister. There was always something to talk about as we were constantly reminiscing about camp.”

“Since that summer we have been extremely close, which is quite different from our relationship in the preceding years,” Josh conveys. “In total, I spent only 10 months at Camp Barney, but its impact on my life has been immeasurable.”

Coworkers to Lifelong Friends

“The MJCCA is where I met my newest lifelong friend.” - Kayce

While matchmaking isn’t among the Marcus Jewish Community Center of Atlanta’s offerings, it is often an ancillary upshot, and Ashley Cohen and Kayce Pearce are living proof. In addition to being the epicenter of their families’ lives, the MJCCA lays claim to the inception of each woman’s marriage as well as their special friendship.

When Kayce, the MJCCA’s Director of Annual Giving, began working at the MJCCA in 2009, Ashley was one of the first people she met. “We became instant friends,” recalls Ashley, the MJCC’s Director of Outreach and Engagement. The women bonded over a mutual love of Southeastern Conference football and grew close after traveling to a JCC Association event together in 2010. Their friendship blossomed as it bore witness to each dating and then marrying their respective husbands, both of whom happened to be employed by the MJCCA as well.

On Ashley’s first day as then Assistant Director of the Sophie Hirsh Srochi Discovery Center in 2004, she met Andrew Cohen, who worked in the special events department. In a similar fashion, Kayce, who started as Gymnastics Director, met Assistant Youth Sports Director, Matt Pearce, when their jobs intersected. “We are married because of the MJCCA,” Kayce asserts.

“I was the only one who knew (and assisted with the planning) when Matt was going to propose to Kayce,” Ashley reveals. It wasn’t long before the friends were hosting one another’s bridal showers, and a few years later they were throwing each other’s baby showers. “Our friendship has continued to grow with the birth of our children,” Kayce shares. “Becoming moms has only strengthened our bond. Ashley is a true friend and someone I cherish.”

Each couple now has two children who attend The Weinstein School, and both families are extremely active at the MJCCA. “One of the phrases we use in the Development Department is ’the MJCCA is where you meet your newest lifelong friend,’” Kayce says. “I am a walking testimony to that statement! Without the JCC, my life would be completely different. Regardless of where I go in the future, the MJCCA will always be an integral part of my story.”

Mother and Daughter Bonding Through BBYO

“Hearing Megan’s BBYO stories tops my favorite list of parenting moments.” - Shelly

The incredible friendship between Shelly Danz and Julie Abes began 35 years ago when they met through BBYO at the JCC. Julie joined BBYO in 1982 and liked it from day one. A year later, Shelly joined and the two “clicked right away,” Shelly recalls. The girls grew close over the years through their BBYO activism and collaborative leadership positions, as well as through outside interests.

Despite losing touch in their early twenties, Shelly and Julie reconnected through some twists of fate. “Our boyfriends lived in the same apartment complex, and we happened to get engaged within a day of each other in that building,” Julie explains. “We crossed paths again looking for our first houses and soon after that joined a Mahjong group together. We had our daughters within nine months of each other and then our sons a year apart. Our husbands became good friends as well, and I can’t imagine going a week without seeing or speaking to Shelly.”

In recent years, Shelly’s and Julie’s daughters, Megan and Amanda, bonded through their own BBYO involvement. The women are in awe of their daughters’ parallel experiences and friendship, and kvell watching history repeat itself. The girls have followed in their mothers’ footsteps by serving in the same leadership capacities that their moms did in the ‘80s. “We never pushed their BBYO participation,” Shelly says. “It happened organically and their friendship got stronger. Now they are sorority sisters in college and we know they will be friends for life.”

“I love knowing Amanda has such a similar relationship to Megan as I do with Shelly,” Julie notes.

Listening to Megan share her own BBYO stories tops Shelly’s list of “favorite parenting moments,” she admits. “I was able to relive the experience, and because she did this with Amanda it was even more special, because Julie and I could be part of it together.”

Basketball Team Forms Special Connection

“The players were warm, friendly, and understanding at a time before includsion was common.” - Chuck

A chain reaction was set off 33 years ago when Philip Rubin turned to Atlanta’s old Jewish Community Center on Peachtree Street for some fun on the basketball court: That decision unfurled a lifetime of enjoyment -- and much, much more.

Throughout high school, Philip and his teammates, including Brian Solomon, Jeff Kaiser, Ron Ben Moshe, Sandy Wallack, and Karl Altmann, played their hearts out in the JCC’s varsity and all-star travel leagues. “Playing on that team has led to everything else I’ve done,” Philip says. The boys also participated in BBYO together, and later became roommates and fraternity brothers in college. Along the way, they became great friends.

“This was a very special team,” says their coach Chuck Palefsky. They won many championships, but the team’s most gratifying venture was the addition of a boy with William syndrome. “I met Aaron Hartman through his father and invited him to join the team as our manager. He loved sports and being around the guys, and I felt the relationship would be mutually beneficial,” recalls Chuck.

And he was right. Aaron was welcomed as a full-fledged member of the team. The players were warm, friendly, and understanding at a time before inclusion was common. Aaron’s compassion and unwavering optimism inspired his teammates and most anyone he met. Aaron led the Shema prayer before practices and games and ensured the players had water. Philip always drove Aaron home, despite it being a 30-minute detour. “Aaron was a special part of the team, and one of my biggest influences,” Philip says. “Chuck truly gave us all a gift by bringing him on.”

Over the last three decades, Chuck, Aaron, and Philip have reunited with the team every few years. They relive the old times but continue to make new memories and support each other. When Aaron needed surgery last year, “a bunch of us surprised him with a visit while he recovered,” Philip shares. Once healed, Aaron joined Philip to watch his son -- following in their footsteps -- play basketball at the MJCCA. “The MJCCA has shaped every part of my life,” Philip says. “But it’s the people who have impressed me the most.”

Program Co-Chairs Making a Difference

“The MJCCA gives me a platform to contribute to the good of others, which is a great source of fulfillment and pride.” - Ed

When Ed Aqua rst moved from Florida to Atlanta in 2013, he and his wife did what they had done throughout their 53-year marriage each time they relocated: sought out local Jewish life. They became members of the Marcus Jewish Community Center of Atlanta and began exploring educational and fitness offerings.

“We were welcomed by the community. The MJCCA has become a home away from home,” says Ed, who now makes one or more trips to the campus on most days for various programs and many volunteer posts. Among Ed’s cherished MJCCA endeavors is the Edgewise Speaker Series, a program he co-chairs with Sid Stein.

The weekly lecture features experts on topics including history, politics, religion, health, and more. Their goal is to provide an engaging experience for attendees by continually presenting diverse and captivating speakers. “Sid and I bring in very different types of people, which gives an exciting variety and breadth to our program,” Ed explains.

Ed and Sid have forged a partnership based on mutual respect for each other’s strengths and weaknesses and the pursuit of a common passion: giving older adults an outlet for companionship, friendship, and an opportunity for continued learning. Ed notes, “It’s rewarding when attendees tell me a particular speaker was wonderful or helpful. That is why I continue to volunteer.”

In turn, they have memorably impacted the program. “The MJCCA brought us together,” Sid shares. “We are both very dedicated to this role. It is truly impressive how we have bonded over Edgewise, seeing as we have such different backgrounds.” Having devoted 24 years to the profession of adult and lifelong learning, Ed adds, “Lifelong learning is critical to the lives of older adults. Whenever I can contribute to the good and welfare of others, I feel I have accomplished a mitzvah. The MJCCA gives me a platform to do exactly that, which is a great source of fulfillment and pride.”

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