Sunday, March 29, 2020

The Union YM-YWHA is approaching the end of its first year under new stewardship, and the leadership team could not be happier, both about what they have accomplished to date and what the future holds. The executive team of COO Jani Jonas, Director of Development and Information Technology Jackie Baranoff and Facilities and Health & Rec Director Larry Markowitz have combined forces by bringing their respective talents to bear to enhance all emotional, philosophical and physical aspects of the Y. Their efforts have blossomed into new and expanded programming for families and members. Unlike some of their counterparts at facilities around the country, they are holding the line on maintaining a supervised kosher kitchen and remaining closed on Shabbat, as the Union Y administration is committed to its philosophical alignment with the hometown community.

Building on its already strong early childhood program, a new age is dawning as the Y raises the bar even higher, with the addition of Recruitment and Compliance Director for the Early Childhood and Youth Department Nancy Kovacs to the leadership team. Kovacs’ role is a completely new and necessary one for the Y, according to Jonas, and Kovacs aspires to exceed mere compliance with the requirements of early childhood regulations.

During the six months since taking the helm, she has come to understand the reputation and history of the program. Jonas reports that some of the grandparents of current participants were themselves once children in the program. This long-standing loyalty built on confidence and good memories is legendary to many families in today’s community. When they come to drop off or pick up their young grandchildren, they muse about their own days of basketball, swimming or attending a day camp on the very same grounds where these children now play.

The Y is licensed by the state of New Jersey to accommodate children from 6 weeks to 13 years of age in its day- and afterschool-care facility. Kovacs’ role differs from that of the previous early childhood director in that her primary responsibility is focusing on issues of compliance, in terms of staffing, facilities, policy and procedure. The day-to-day operations are handled mainly by Education and Program Coordinator Melanie Rodriguez.

One of Rodriguez’ responsibilities is helping prepare for special-event days, and she recently assembled the obstacle course for one of the summer’s highlights: the Super Hero Olympics. With one delightful surprise after another; the Olympics offered clean, colorful, orderly fun, full of great toys and soft mats, well-staffed with both veteran and new staff, at a ratio of one staff member to four children.

Lunch is served daily, with the menu offerings being balanced and healthy, yet appealing to younger eaters. The lunch environment is organized and calm, regardless of the age of the children. In the below-toddler-age rooms, children eat in high chairs, assisted as needed by staff. The older children are often animated, eating and talking quietly, sometimes giggling over some private conversation. Occasionally during lunch, children get up from their seats and head over to Kovacs for a hug. Some come twice, sharing long hugs and happy smiles.

In terms of program development goals, Kovacs said, “We will begin to incorporate the STEAM approach to early childhood learning.”

The Y’s early childhood department has always been based in Jewish traditional ideals, partially and jointly underwritten by both federal and Jewish Federation funding. So while children from all backgrounds come for child care, Kovacs has specific plans to “infuse more Jewish culture into the existing secular program,” referring to this blueprint as a “cultural curriculum.”

The new Y leadership team invites the community to come and experience the impressive and re-imagined early childhood department facilities and programs. Kovacs assured The Jewish Link that spaces are still available in all age groups for the fall 2019 season and beyond. For more information, visit www.uniony.org

By Ellie Wolf