Beginning To Thrive Again
Serving as the Chairperson of the JCC Chicago Board of Directors for almost a year now, it’s been a crazy ride, with challenges and turns that truly I could never have imagined. However, I believe our mission, as an agency, has never been clearer or more critical than it is today. I am so proud to be a part of JCC Chicago and believe that now more than ever our Jewish community is seeking and needing connection. This hunger for connection could not have been more evident than in the smiles and energy found at JCC Chicago Apachi Day Camps this past summer. Our children needed camp this summer (and so did their parents). They needed some structure, they needed the great outdoors, they needed their friends and they found it at the J. That the J could pull off a summer like we did is truly something to be proud of and grateful for, and that so many of our children were able to experience some sense of normal again was tremendously important and impactful.
As a mom of 4 children, I can tell you that trying to navigate this new Covid reality has been a struggle at times. The information has ranged from confusing to terrifying. The kids went from being over scheduled to bored. Watching my husband go to work daily to see patients was initially very scary, and there were just so many unknowns. I was worried constantly for my family, for my friends, and for the J. What would happen to all of our J families that depend on JCC Chicago childcare, preschool, and camping? Where would our seniors go to play cards and swim and schmooze? Would our beautiful fitness center be able to weather this storm without members? And somehow, we are all ok and the J is beginning to thrive once again. Getting JCC Chicago back to this point has not been easy, and I am so beyond grateful to the hard working and dedicated staff that come to work every day believing in our mission of ‘doing Jewish’. It is because of the dedicated JCC Chicago staff that our early childhood centers could re-open, that the Lustbader fitness center could see members again, our day camps could host hundreds of kids, and now our highly anticipated film festival will add a virtual component beginning in November.
If Covid has taught me anything, it is that first and foremost, as my mother has always said, “if you have your health, you have everything.” Secondly, it has forced me to stop and look around at what is right in front of me…my family. If they’re ok, I’m ok…and we don’t really need as much as we thought we did physically or metaphorically. Our lives pre-covid were filled with too much. Too many activities, too many plans, too much work, too much noise…covid quieted the noise for a long while and I think in some ways it was a much-needed reset button from the frenetic pace we were living. My kids have gone back to school, sort-of. My high schoolers are e-learning from their bedrooms and my grade schoolers have a hybrid model where they go to school twice a week. It’s amazing how adaptable children are…it’s not perfect, but it’s certainly a far cry from where we were in April and for that I am grateful. The uncertainty of the times is perhaps what brings me the most anxiety. However, there is something to be said for the safety net that is our Jewish community, and while none of us may know exactly what lies ahead, knowing that JCC Chicago will be here for us in whatever way we need it to be brings me a great sense of peace. L’Shanah Tovah. #attitudeofgratitude
Marisa Helfgot Mandrea is currently the chairman of the JCC Chicago Board of Directors and has had numerous roles over the last 10 years on the JCC Chicago Board. She has been a member of the Young Women’s Board of JUF for 9 years holding many roles in including: Vice President of Campaign, Area Development, and Community Outreach and Engagement. She is an active member of Beth Shalom Synagogue in Northbrook. Marisa owns her own interior design firm, Horizon Lane, specializing in residential design. She has four children, Max (15), Josie (14), Arielle (11), and Mackenzie (7) and has been married for 19 years to Steven Mandrea, MD.