The Downtown Baltimore JCC is barely a year old and it is already a resounding success. Oversubscribed before it even opened its doors, it now boasts a drop-in center for its more than 75 — and growing — families and eight staffers, and it even has a family happy hour. Much of its success is due to a dedicated, passionate and excellent staff. But is there a story behind the story?
We have to go back about four-and-a-half years ago, when some of the stakeholders and nonprofit leaders who care about the vitality of downtown were convened at the offices of the Joseph and Harvey Meyerhoff Family Charitable Funds. The group asked each other what was “really needed” in addressing some of the gaps that exist in the neighborhood, especially in dealing with the flight of successful young professionals living in an urban setting who get married and want to start a family.
The role of philanthropy is often misunderstood. In the words of the late Itzik Shavit, who raised millions of dollars for the State of Israel via the Israel Education Fund, funders “are not ATMs!”
Philanthropists can play many roles — investors, thought partners with grantees and leading NGOs, visionaries and much more. In this case, the Family Funds played the role of convener: They had no skin in the game, except for the agenda of serving the growing needs of downtown families.
Such action by philanthropic endeavors can provide a crucial step in convening leading agents of change. Here in Baltimore, these professionals effectively anticipated the results of the 2010 population study of our community. Now, DBJCC has walls and rooms that are filled with young Jews, families and urbanites. We look forward to many more DBJCCs in our community and beyond.