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Special campaign in Bridgeport aimed at saving JCC-federation

Connecticut Jewish Ledger
WEST HARTFORD, Conn., April 6 (JTA) — “It’s not the same old story. It’s worse.” That’s the way Daniel Baker, president of the Jewish Center for Community Services of Eastern Fairfield County, summed up the center’s financial situation. Baker made this pronouncement before a packed auditorium of several hundred members of the Jewish community in the greater Bridgeport region who had come to attend a “Town Meeting” on March 26 concerning the fate of the center. In 1995, the Jewish Community Center merged with the Jewish Federation of Greater Bridgeport to form the Jewish Center for Community Services. It is one of several examples across the country of a merger of a local federation and JCC. But the combined body in Bridgeport has accumulated such a large deficit that it could close in six months unless an additional $500,000 is raised by April 15. A special fund-raising campaign dubbed “Save the Center” was launched last month, and more than half of its $750,000 goal was raised by the time of the town meeting, Baker said. Those funds would enable the center to continue operations and start to pay off the enormous debts it has run up in the past few years, he said. “What we have here is a company that has used up all of its available assets,” Baker told his audience. Baker admitted that in the past fiscal year, the center had spent “$400,000 more than we took in. That’s what has been going on.” In order to make up this deficit, the center has consolidated staff and not replaced others. It also has not paid into its employees’ pension fund, Baker said. The center has not paid its dues to the Council of Jewish Federations and has not given the United Jewish Appeal the money raised from the Greater Bridgeport area for that purpose. It has dropped out of the national association of Jewish Community Centers. The center also owes large sums to all of its vendors and suppliers. “I can’t run an agency that does not have fiscal integrity,” Baker said. “I will not run an agency that does not fulfill its moral obligations.” An example of a moral obligation that Baker says the JCC will fulfill is the debt owed the UJA. “We owe the UJA half a million dollars,” Baker said. To pay that debt, Baker said part of the “Save the Center” campaign funds will immediately go to UJA as a down payment, while the balance will be paid out through a payment plan negotiated with the UJA. Among the JCC’s other unpaid bills are for garbage pickup and fuel oil. A total of $170,000 is owed to vendors. Baker said the center’s board has approved a three-part plan to remedy the situation. The first part of the plan involves “rebuilding community trust,” said Baker, which will enable the center to raise money more effectively. Analyzing the center’s financial obligations is the second part of the plan. To that end, a community financial oversight committee has been formed. The third part of the plan is for the center to evaluate its operations and structure. “We can’t be all things to all people,” said Baker. “We are spread too thin.” Although the center is a non-profit organization, it must start thinking like a business, Baker said. “Breaking even is a good thing. There is nothing noble about going out of business,” he added. In next year’s budget, Baker pledged, the center “will not spend a dollar it doesn’t have.” Speaking of the merger of the JCC and the Jewish Federation of Greater Bridgeport, Baker said, “An unintended result of the merger was a muddling” of the identity of both organizations. However, Baker believes that “family-oriented programming” and things that promote Jewish identity are the key to the center’s future. Founded in 1912, the center now has more than 1,200 members — Jews and non-Jews — who use its day care, nursery and kindergarten facilities, summer camps and fitness center, and take part in educational, cultural, religious, social and recreational activities.