November 27, 2017

Executive director leaving JCC on firm financial footing

Emily Holdstein, with students from the JCC's early childhood learning classes.

Emily Holdstein

Title: Outgoing executive director

Organization: Worcester JCC

Employees: 150

Age: 63

Residence: Worcester

Education: Bachelor of arts in applied mathematics, Brown University; master of business administration, Columbia University

When Holdstein took over the JCC 17 years ago, the organization was more than $1 million in debt and hurting for members and revenue. As she heads into retirement on Nov. 30, Holdstein looks back on how she righted the ship and what is next for her and the organization.

How did you end up at the JCC?

I was in a family business for many years – Big D Supermarkets, founded by my grandfather – and I worked hard but had some flexibility to volunteer, so I was always around the JCC. My kids went to preschool and camp here. It was a place my family came. I was on the board here. I was on the executive committee.

Our family operation, which included 20 supermarkets, was sold in 1996, so I could take on a more full-time role.

What did you want to do first?

Our first challenge was setting the JCC on firm financial footing. It had been through difficult times prior to my arrival. The first month or two, we started promoting memberships, and we raised our membership numbers 20 percent right away. Then we invested those proceeds in the operations.

How many members do you have now?

Total memberships is around 1,000 units, which includes family members. In all, we have about 2,000-2,500 people who are members. A lot of our programs are open to the public, too, so members are just a fraction of the total people who come through here, which is about 5,000.

We have a lot more people flowing through our programs than we did. You don't have to be a member to do camp, to have swim lessons here. Before I got here, there were more requirements for members for more programs. We wanted to open it up to be a more welcoming, broader-based organization.

Why become a broader-based agency?

The life of a nonprofit always includes fundraising, but one of the things we did really well over the last 17 years was build program revenue. That starts off with identifying the need in the community and then figuring out what people are willing to pay. We provide the right programs at the right price.

We have been very focused on raising scholarship funds to help people become members and pay for programming. We give out a lot of camp scholarships.

What are your annual revenue needs?

We have a $4-million budget. Most of that is for labor. Most of our staff is part-time, but we have a lot of different operations: lifeguards, camp counselors, etc. We have about 35 full-time people who largely consist of program directors, teachers and the maintenance staff.

What are the most popular programs?

After-school programs are a significant service we provide to the community, and we have significant scholarship funds available for families to send their kids here.

We do a lot of child-centered programming. It is a need in the community. People need early childhood education, after-school care, summer camp, and coverage when families have two adults in their household who work. They want quality care for their children while they are working. That is a big focus of service we provide to the community.

Why are you retiring now?

I decided I really want to spend more time with the people I love, my family. I wanted to have a flexible schedule. Being the executive director of a community nonprofit is very time-intensive. It is a big responsibility, and I've enjoyed every second of it. But I want to have more time.

People say, "You are too young to retire," which is very flattering. Yet, I want to take the time at this relatively young age while I'm still healthy and my husband is still healthy to pursue the things I haven't had the chance to pursue. What that is, I haven't decided yet.

What are you most proud of?

I'm most proud of the financial stability I brought to this institution. The organization had a pretty hefty amount of debt when I arrived – more than $1 million – and we have paid it off essentially through operations.

I'm proud we have made the JCC a broader-based community organization. We are still working to let everyone know the JCC is for everyone.

Who will be your successor?

The search committee is very active right now. I imagine they will complete their work very soon.

This interview was conducted and edited for length and clarity by Brad Kane, WBJ editor.


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