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The MJCCA's Impact

Impact Stories

Creating Sparks

"I was drawn to the MJCCA. It was home." - Anat

Sparks flew the summer of ’94, but they were not from 4th of July reworks. That season kindled a love story for Anat and Brian Granath that spanned continents, but the Marcus Jewish Community Center of Atlanta was - and still is - at the heart of the matter.

Fresh out of the Israeli army in 1994, Anat served as a shlicha, an Israeli emissary, and was selected for a summer staff position at the MJCCA’s Camp AJECOMCE (now Camp Isidore Alterman). “I didn’t choose Atlanta; Atlanta chose me,” she says. “It was beshert.” Her uncle lived in Dunwoody and introduced her to Brian Granath, then 22, to help her acclimate to Jewish life in the states. Adjusting was difficult, and Anat was homesick. “I didn’t realize there was a Jewish community around me,” she explains. “And the MJCCA opened that door.”

“People instantly connected with Anat at the JCC,” Brian adds. “She was accepted and could be herself. It was safe and comfortable.” The two spent time together swimming, working out, and attending events. “The MJCCA allowed our relationship to blossom,” Brian reveals.

Ten summers at Camp Barney Medintz (his “favorite place on Earth”), plus experiences with BBYO, volunteer coaching, a work-study program at The Weinstein School, and more all led Brian to put the MJCCA on a pedestal. “I grew up here,” Brian says. “It’s only tting that it’s also where I fell in love!”

At summer’s end, Anat briefly returned to Israel before returning to work at The Weinstein School. “I was drawn to the JCC,” she shares. “That was home.” Soon she and Brian were married and lived in Israel for three years before returning to Atlanta – and the MJCCA – once again.

Every aspect of their lives since then, including their three children, has intertwined with the MJCCA; preschool, volunteering, tness, sports, camps, etc. “There is always a JCC event on the calendar in our house,” Brian explains. “This place has always been a pivotal part of our family.”

The Granaths have hosted dozens of schlichim for the last 16 years, giving back to the program that was life changing for them. “I can’t imagine life without all these wonderful experiences,” Anat beams.

 

Gaining Confidence

"The MJCCA represents what diversity and inclusion are all about." - Jean

Diving in headfirst to an undertaking can be tough for anyone, but the inclusion program at the Marcus Jewish Community Center of Atlanta enabled Grant Drezek, who is deaf, to make a smooth and graceful entry.

Grant, 14, loves swimming, but the cochlear implant processors he wears to hear cannot get wet. “We struggled to find an environment where accommodations could be made for him at a pool,” admits Jean Drezek, Grant’s mom. He was unable to hear instructions during camp swim time, or the starting horn at swim events. “We learned about the MJCCA Day Camps inclusion program through a camp fair, and I was encouraged the MJCCA could help us.”

After a successful one-week test in 2013, Grant attended MJCCA Day Camps for the entire next summer. “Grant loved being with other kids, but enjoyed going to the pool the most,” Jean explains. “A facilitator met him each day at swim to secure his processors and visually notify him when it was time to get out. The staff took the time to get to know Grant personally, and they worked out a system to best support his needs.” The experience ignited Grant’s confidence, and the following summer he told his pool facilitator not to come.

Grant also joined the MJCCA’s swim team, the Zaban Sharks. While he could not hear the crowd, he was able to see cheering and clapping when he finished a race and relished the high-fives from his teammates. This experience sparked Grant’s self-assurance and gave him a sense of fulfillment. “Participating in swim team was a game-changer for Grant,” Jean shares. “The confidence that the MJCCA programs have given Grant is invaluable. His years swimming helped him realize he can do whatever he sets his mind to. Having the team experience also helped him to make new friends at school, and be more social with his peers.”

“The MJCCA represents what diversity and inclusion are all about,” Jean declares. “We are not Jewish, but have always felt welcome here. The JCC sets a high standard as a place where people of all abilities and religions are accepted and included. We are so thankful.”

 

Giving Back

"The MJCCA has given me a platform to meet people, to help others, and to be involved." - Jamie

“From what we get, we can make a living; what we give, however, makes a life.” When tennis icon Arthur Ashe spoke these words, he easily could have been referring to Jamie Bill. After leaving her full-time corporate career in 2013, Jamie yearned for the sense of accomplishment that comes from overcoming challenges and growing as a leader. She decided to funnel that energy into the place that had given her family the community they always longed for: the Marcus Jewish Community Center of Atlanta. And that decision ignited a passion that has ful lled Jamie beyond measure.

Without any family in Atlanta, Jamie and her husband Brian chose to move close to the MJCCA “looking for community,” she says. Between participating in various MJCCA athletic programs and sending their three children through The Weinstein School, bonds were forged with “friends who would become family,” Jamie asserts. What she did not anticipate was a powerful desire to lend her time and talents in various philanthropic positions.

“People think I work at the JCC because I’m there all the time,” she laughs, but her volunteerism has been a serious life-changing experience. “It has given me a platform to meet people, to help others, and to be involved. It has given me an identity as the person I want to be.”

Jamie’s volunteerism has consistently ascended to new heights and each role has motivated her to want to do more. She began volunteering in her daughter Sari’s classroom at The Weinstein School; that led to becoming PTO President for three years, and then a chair on the Early Childhood Services Committee. “The sense of community I felt sparked me to want to provide that for others, and I hope our work will inspire future preschool families to continue building meaningful connections,” Jamie shares.

Jamie also serves on the MJCCA Program Council and MJCCA Day Camps Committee, and has even inspired others to give of themselves, including Brian. “He knows how rewarding it’s been for me to be involved, so he stepped in as treasurer for Sari’s MJCCA Perimeter Gymnastics team,” Jamie explains. “I’ve found such a passion for so many things since I began volunteering here. I genuinely believe my life would be lacking without the MJCCA.”

 

Finding Purpose

"The MJCCA has helped make me well-rounded, and open to new experiences. It's given me purpose since retiring." - Kathleen

Shifting gears from a busy career to a leisurely retirement came with a bit of trepidation for Kathleen Cohen. “I was a little concerned about what I was going to do to fill my time, but I have not had a minute to spare,” she says, and it’s all thanks to the Marcus Jewish Community Center of Atlanta. “Since I retired 18 months ago, the MJCCA has become an even bigger part of my life. I found activities and programs that excite me and help improve my physical tness. The MJCCA has helped make me well-rounded, and open to new experiences.”

As someone who did not play sports growing up, Kathleen was apprehensive about doing so as an adult. “When I first joined the JCC, I was a little intimidated about playing sports,” she shares. “But I decided to try tennis and got hooked. I play during the spring and fall and participate in clinics. It’s been a wonderful experience, because the coaches, captains, and players are so friendly and encouraging, even if you’re not the greatest player!”

When a serious illness hospitalized Kathleen for six weeks in 2016, she credited her strength to being active at the MJCCA. “I believe that both tennis and Pilates helped my recovery – both because I was in good physical shape and because I was motivated to get well and get back at them.”

Additionally, Senior Day at the MJCCA sparked several of Kathleen’s new interests. “I really enjoyed the lectures about Israel, and the cooking class inspired me to take another,” she explains. “I also tried pickleball for the rst time and really liked it.” Kathleen now plays several times a week and has bonded with the other players. “We have a lot in common and have really gotten to know each other, sharing updates about our travels, our grandchildren, our aches and pains, etc.,” she shares. “It feels so good to have met new people who have a common interest.”

“The MJCCA is such an integral part of my life,” Kathleen declares. “It has given me purpose since retiring.”

 

Jewish Connections

"BBYO helped me become the person I am today." - Michelle

Michelle Krebs Levy put the mantra ‘pay it forward’ into practice and lit the way for countless others to do the same.

Extremely active in BBYO at the Marcus Jewish Community Center of Atlanta throughout high school in the ‘90s, Michelle fondly recalls its enormous impact on her life. “Having such positive experiences and role models, I felt connected to a community,” she shares. “BBYO helped me become the person I am today. I didn’t realize it at the time (I was just having a blast), but in college and in my twenties it became very clear how much I’d learned. It shaped me as a leader and helped me discover my identity and self-con dence.”

BBYO prepared her for her career in the Jewish non-profit world, which began at UNC Chapel Hill’s Hillel and has culminated in her own venture. Michelle founded The Sixth Point, a non-profit group for people in their twenties and thirties to “connect Jewishly,” or what her teens a ectionately call, adult BBYO. “I’ve been able to inspire people to take Judaism into their own hands and make it comfortable. Without BBYO, I may never have had the vision for The Sixth Point.”

Over the last five years Michelle has guided teen girls through the MJCCA’s BBYO program in a chapter advisor role. “I want to ensure all the things core to my BBYO experience live on,” Michelle reveals. “It was inspiring to be part of that as a teen, and I cherish being part of other teens’ experiences as an advisor.”

However, Michelle’s crowning moment came at BBYO International Convention in 2015 when she was presented with the esteemed David Bittker Unsung Hero BBG Advisor of the Year award. It was an emotional, humbling, and inspiring occasion. “It can be hard to know where you stand with teens, but this made it clear I was making a difference,” she reveals. “In that moment, my wanting to give back turned into something much more significant. BBYO is a special organization. It transcends all of us.”

 

Making an Impact

"The Sunshine School gave me a place and a role in this community where I belong." - Raye Lynn

“Some people try to avoid making their job their life, but I’ve done quite the opposite,” reveals Raye Lynn Banks, Director of The Sunshine School, the Marcus Jewish Community Center of Atlanta’s East Cobb-based preschool. “Ever since I was a child, all I wanted to do was teach.” That ambition led to an assistant teacher position at the Atlanta JCC’s preschool in the ‘70s, and ignited a shining career with JCC preschools. “I put my heart and soul into education,” she says. “I don’t know who I would be without it.”

Retiring this year after an incredibly poignant four-and-a-half- decade tenure, Raye Lynn remembers back to the beginning when she was simply excited to teach where her children attended preschool. Later, both of her daughters taught there as well, and Raye Lynn was overjoyed to see three of her grandchildren attend the preschool, too.

Raye Lynn has encouraged and supported thousands of children and families through the decades, and she has seen generations go through the program. She and her team of caring, devoted teachers have fostered a sense of comfort among parents leaving their children in their care.

“Her impact on so many families is immeasurable,” notes Sarah Planer, a former preschool student of Raye Lynn’s. “She provided a loving and nurturing environment that I recognized as a child and could remember as an adult. Now as a mother, Raye Lynn helped ease me into sending my own kids to The Sunshine School.”

Through its partnership with the Adaptive Learning Center, Raye Lynn is proud that The Sunshine School has been able to meet the needs of so many in the community as a truly inclusive environment, and it’s a place that has ignited friendships among children of all abilities.

Yet with all the lives she’s impacted, Raye Lynn believes she’s the lucky one; “The Sunshine School gave me a place and a role in this community where I belong. I feel so blessed to have been touched by so many people. The MJCCA has been my family and my rock.”

 

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