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Thanking Our Front Line Helpers

Posted by JCC Pittsburgh on October 13, 2020

Who’s on the front line? Thanking our JCC front line workers.

Many thanks, Jack!

Like so many of us, Jack Mizerski can’t wait for things to return to some form of normal.

His normal for the three years or so leading up to the pandemic shutdowns in March was as driver for the Elder Express van service, a regularly scheduled van service in Squirrel Hill for seniors to assist them in getting out for day-to-day activities and to remain active in the community. “I got to know a lot of people,” he says. “I can’t wait for Elder Express to come back. I miss my ladies.”

Laid off when Elder Express services were suspended in March, Jack was called back into service when AgeWell at the JCC started Meals Delivered, which currently is delivering lunches to an average of more than 90 individuals on Mondays and Wednesdays in the 15217 area.

“I call my bus ‘The Happy Bus’,” he says. “I enjoy doing it.”

Routing is different than Elder Express, which had set stops on a loop. Now Jack is following a route of many stops at individuals’ homes as well as apartment complexes; the route is mapped out on an App in the most efficient path that sends the van all around Squirrel Hill.

Also different from pre-Covid is the level of contact with recipients – Jack sees few of them as recipients isolate in their homes to keep safe from the Covid virus. He still stays in touch with many of his Elder Express clients, he says; “They call me all the time.”

Jack, who retired after 31 years with AT&T and 5 years in banking, has been driving for social service agencies for more than 10 years. For him, the job is all about customer service. “You gotta find some joy, no matter what you do.”

Many thanks, Danielle!

Danielle (upper left) blows a Shofar with families

The pandemic has engendered feelings of isolation for so many of us. For Danielle West, whose job is aimed at connecting families to each other and to Judaism, the pandemic has meant thinking outside the box to find new ways to make those connections.

Danielle, who has been PJ Library Coordinator for Pittsburgh for almost 4 years, typically organized in person programs for large groups of families, such as a visit to the zoo where they’d talk about Noah’s Ark, or a story time at the JCC. But when the pandemic struck, “We knew that virtual programming would have to be the foundation,” she says.

So she developed Home to Home Celebrations of Jewish Life, drawing on what’s become common knowledge – that “Parents are tapped out from having to handle so much right now,” she says.  “We wanted to find a way to make doing Jewish at home easy and accessible, and for families to connect to each other.”

For each live, online Celebration, families pick up a Celebration Kit at the JCC. The materials include everything that’s needed for the event, “so parents don’t have to spend 20 minutes looking for crayons or markers,” Danielle says. “It’s all included.” The Welcome Celebration Kit, given to each family for the first event they register for, includes basic materials as well as suggestions for how to create a sacred space.

The families meet for a scheduled Zoom Celebration and together, they learn, talk and do activities. “The idea of doing it all at the same time with the same materials takes away the barrier of the screens so they can connect,” Danielle says. “When you look up and see that everyone has their Havdalah candle lit at the same time, it’s very connective.”

Even the brief connection that occurs when families pick up their Celebration Kit has had an unexpected positive impact. “It’s very powerful time to connect with families,” Danielle says. “They check in, say hi; it’s a touchpoint; a little place to unload…”

To date, there have been seven Celebrations including one for each of the High Holidays and for Shabbat. Some 75 families have participated in the program and as many as 45 families participated in a single event.

“This is a job that allows me to be creative and think outside of the box,” Danielle says. “It really brings me lots of joy to be able to do it. It’s a lot of hard work but really rewarding to see families do these things in their homes during these isolating times.”

For more information on PJ Library Home to Home celebrations, click HERE

Many thanks, Trish!

One silver lining from the pandemic is that Trish Callaway returned to the JCC. Back in the 1990s, Trish, shortly after moving with her family to Pittsburgh from her native Atlanta, taught in the JCC’s Early Childhood Development Center. More recently, the preschool educator was teaching in Shadyside Presbyterian’s program, but the school was closed because of the Covid pandemic. Trish, who says she is very motivated “to give back in some way,” in September found that at the JCC. She has been volunteering one or two times a week for several hours at a stretch to help pack meals for AgeWell at the JCC’s Meals to Go and Meals Delivered programs.  “I was so grateful that they opened this up to volunteer,” she says. “I like to have a purpose.”

The program, which each week requires the preparation and packing of 5 meals for each of more than 200 individuals, is very well organized. “They set it up safely and I feel comfortable,” she says. She also is very mindful of the importance of the meals program. “I’m thinking about each bag going out to someone,” she says. “Every one of those bags is going to someone isolated and lonely. I hope I don’t miss giving them their apple.”

She’s glad to be back at the JCC too.  “It’s fun to be back home,” she says. The meals program is “such a great service. I’m glad to be part of it.”

Many thanks, Jim!

Jim Greenwalt has that special attitude that has helped the JCC through times both good and difficult. “I like to do whatever it takes to get the job done,” he says. He’s been in JCC Security for nine years, but his job is a lot more varied than his title. A year ago, Jim, who lives just eight houses from the JCC’s 100 acre Family Park in Monroeville, assumed caretaking duties at the park. Last spring, he worked hard cleaning, power washing and preparing the facilities and site for J&R Day Campers. But the work doesn’t end when camp is over! Every day rain, shine or snow, Jim stops in and does pool maintenance and checks that the heat is working in the year-round buildings. To date, he’s cut down 40 trees to clear the trails and last summer, he took care of J&R Day Camp’s four chickens. All the while, he has continued to work in Security at the JCCs in Squirrel Hill and South Hills. “I like the diversity of things that I get to do, and how everybody’s open to doing whatever is needed.” he says. For all he does, he credits the teamwork of the entire Security staff. “I wouldn’t be able to do it without the Security Team — Brian, Larry, Mike , Anthony, Ray and Chad,” he says.

Many thanks, Shirley!

What’s for lunch? As Aladdin’s Head Cook and Kitchen Manager at the JCC in Squirrel Hill, Shirley Tyler knows intimately everything that’s on the menu for senior meals programs. Shirley, who’s been at the JCC for six years, had been preparing 100 to 120 meals daily for J Café. Since mid-March, when the Covid 19 pandemic came to Pittsburgh, the on site J Café program has been converted to AgeWell at the JCC’s Meals to Go and Meals Delivered programs. “It’s changed a lot and is more work,” says Tyler, “It’s the same menu but we make more each time.” Now, Tyler oversees preparation of five meals per week for as many as 210 individuals, and the distribution of the meals does not occur every day; rather, meals distribution has been consolidated to twice a week: On Mondays, 2 meals for up to 210 individuals are prepared, packed and distributed; on Wednesdays, it’s 3 meals for up to 210. That’s a more than 1,000 meals a week!

Tyler also occasionally prepares meals for the Early Childhood Development Center and All Day at the J children. She’s in the JCC kitchen every day, making sure that everyone gets tasty meals. “I like to cook,” she says. “I like it when people enjoy my food.” And even with all that cooking professionally, she still likes to cook at home, where, she says, “Steak is my favorite meal.”

Many thanks, Alan!

Alan Mallinger, a long-time JCC staff member, was just named one of Eight Bright Lights From the JCC Field by the JCC Association of North America. It’s certainly easy to see why they called him “the consummate utility player” at the JCC. He begins his mornings as one of six health screeners, monitoring for COVID related symptoms among preschoolers and school-age children in the JCC’s childcare programs. Then it’s on to help with the senior meal distribution program that replaced an older adult congregate meal program when the pandemic hit, and Alan was reassigned from the fitness department during the mandated closure. “He has continued in this role for nearly nine months,” says Brian Schreiber, executive director of the JCC. “There is not a task assigned that Alan does not tackle, with a smile behind his mask and gratitude in his heart.”

Many thanks, Mandy!

There’s no question that teaching young children during the Covid 19 pandemic is different than during “normal” times way back when. Mandy Cord, Older Toddler co-lead educator in the South Hills Early Childhood Development Center, can attest to that: “There’s a lot of handwashing and cleaning and making sure masks stay on,” she says. She misses “the face to face communication that we would normally have with the parents,” the weekly all-school Shabbat celebrations, and Dr. Seuss Week/Read Across America – a special week of events that the teachers hope to reconfigure to celebrate during these unusual circumstances.

But there’s always a silver lining, and Cord sees this clearly. She finds the support of parents “amazing” and says, “I am blown away by the resilience of the children. The ability that they have to adapt and push forward is amazing. Things would go a lot smoother in the world if we all took our cues from them.”

Covid or normal times, she says, “One of the best things about my job is knowing that I may have an impact on the children that I teach, and the impact that they have on me.” She is glad that “We are helping keep some normalcy in their lives during this ever so stressful and changing pandemic.”

She adds, “I couldn’t do any of this without the support and talent of my colleagues. … I am truly thankful for that.”

And we are thankful for you!

Many thanks, Shawnee!

The 3-month disruption in JCC operations during the peak of the Covid 19 pandemic didn’t change the job too much for Shawnee Chunia Miyares, who has been a Servicemaster Housekeeper at the JCC for 4 years. “We never really left,” she says. What does she like about her job? “I like the people” at the JCC, she says. “They’re really friendly here.”



Many thanks, Rob!

Rob Smith may enjoy preparing the food as much as the children and staff of the JCC’s South Hills Early Childhood Development Center enjoy eating it. We talked to Smith, who is Aladdin’s Kitchen Supervisor in the South Hills, as he was finishing cleanup after providing a special Thanksgiving lunch of roast turkey, corn and mashed potatoes. “That’s the kids’ favorite meal,” he said, theorizing that the kids like it so much because roast turkey is on the menu once a month.  He’s preparing breakfast, lunch and snacks daily for a slightly smaller number of children and staff because ECDC capacity has been modified to meet safety protocols during the Covid-19 Pandemic. But as the only person in the kitchen, “It’s a lot of work,” he said. “I’m happy to do it.” What’s his favorite part of the job? Easy: “Preparing the food and making the kids happy, and seeing their smiling faces.” He added, “They thank me every day. It’s a wonderful feeling.”

We thank you too!

Many thanks, Paul!

Weekdays, you might find Paul Hilterbrick managing the comings and goings of 90+ vehicles on Darlington Road during drop off or dismissal of children from the Early Childhood Development Center and All Day at the J. Or he might be handing out bags of prepared food during drive-through pickups of AgeWell at the JCC’s Meals to Go senior lunch program. On a recent evening, he was seen leaf blowing on the JCC grounds and he recently power washed the Pop In fitness area in the Forbes Avenue garage. Last June, he cut down a tree at the JCC’s Family Park in Monroeville to help prepare the site for J&R day camp. Known as a “doer,” Hilterbrick says that yes, “I do a lot of multi-tasking.”

In his five years as the JCC’s Director of Safety and Security, Hilterbrick has had plenty to do. In his continuing focus on preparedness, he has held frequent staff trainings and built relationships and communications with representatives from local police, Homeland Security and the FBI. “My priority is to protect the children and the seniors — those who need the most assistance – and everyone who is in the building,” he says.

And then there’s what actually happens in our world–such as a guest in the JCC needing first aid and emergency services. He supported staff and a community who were shocked, frightened and saddened by the tragic shootings at Tree of Life Synagogue two years ago, and now, he is doing his part to help manage with the unprecedented set of issues brought about during the Covid 19 pandemic.

“I think the Covid crisis has brought us – our staff – together,” he says. “We’ve chipped in to help with whatever skills we had.”

Hilterbrick, who grew up just outside Gettysburg, has had a long career in security services. He came to the JCC from BNY Mellon, Nemacolin Woodlands Resort and the Alyeska Pipelane in Alaska. Prior to that, his 22 years in U.S. Air Force Security Police included in-flight protection for Air Force One with Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, and other dignitaries.

What does he like about working at the JCC? “I love the diversity and ever-changing environment,” he says. “And the teamwork, and the family atmosphere.”

Now he’s got to get back to directing traffic on Darlington Road.

Many thanks, Michelle!

In a way, Michelle Hunter’s job hasn’t changed much in the 2+ years she’s been Program Coordinator with AgeWell at the JCC.

Michelle, an LSW, completed nutrition and wellness assessments for seniors and provided information and referral for county reports, among many other duties. “I’m an organizer at heart and strive to make processes as efficient as possible,” she says.

With on site programming for seniors suspended since March 14 due to the pandemic, Michelle has been applying her organizational talents to coordinating the AgeWell Delivers meal delivery program and leading meal packing efforts twice weekly with JCC staff and volunteers. The Meals to Go and AgeWell Delivers programs provide five meals to almost 200 individuals each week.

“A lot of our seniors miss the social interactions of dining in the J Cafe, and I know I miss seeing their faces here,” Michelle says.  “We’ve been able to adapt and provide a much needed service to our community.  There are occasions when I’m on the delivery runs and the joy and appreciation warms my heart.” She adds, “Special thanks to the JCC and Aladdin kitchen staff, community volunteers, Security, Access/PRN transportation teams, Maintenance, and all those who have dedicated time to this new normal.”

And a special thanks to Michelle!

Many thanks, Ralph!

Ralph Golthy’s job takes him all around the JCC, even to spots most of us never see. As Servicemaster Site Supervisor, he’s been assigned to the JCC for 12 years, where he oversees cleaning and facilities maintenance. The job is challenging, he says. “You’re always on your feet.” Since the JCC reopened with modified safe cleaning protocols, he’s using more disinfectant, among other adaptations to the changes, he says, “but we make it work.” He’s glad to see the facilities put to use. “I like seeing all the kids and members, smiling and happy and having a good time exercising and using the pools.”

Many thanks, Peg!

It’s no surprise that after seven years as Customer Service Representative at the JCC South Hills, Peg Koishal is well known by the membership. Peg, who previously spent 35 years in customer service with JC Penney’s, knows what’s important: “You have to have a good rapport,” she says, adding that she’s on a first name basis with many members. Since the JCC’s modified reopening, she has a new greeting: “I’m glad to see you’re back,” she often says as members return. Peg also makes phone calls to isolated seniors for AgeWell at the JCC, checking to see if they are getting exercise and “letting them know we’re open and what we do have to offer,” as well as encouraging them to take virtual SilverSneakers classes.

Many thanks, Faith!

Though they were already hard at work making bagels and pastries for Pigeon Bagels, when Faith Hayes heard the AgeWell at the JCC Meals to Go program needed volunteers, they jumped at the opportunity. Since July, Faith has been volunteering weekly to help package meals for distribution to seniors in the community. “I value the unique lunch program that the JCC provides and I enjoy helping in a direct way,” they say, “I’ve appreciated being able to build positive action into my week.” After more than three months, Faith will be taking a break from volunteering to focus on their work at Pigeon Bagels, but they say the memories will stay with them. “My favorite memories would have to be when the kitchen manager Aderet brings in her baked goods for all of us. Everyone is so warm and friendly there, the atmosphere is just really nice to walk into.”

Many thanks, Andrew!

“We have a great community at the JCC, says Andrew Normolle, Customer Service Representative, who notes that he will have been at the JCC for four years as of this week. But the conditions, and thus, his job, certainly changed when the JCC reopened in a modified way in June. Now, his greeting of members at the Squirrel Hill Centerfit entrance includes asking each person health screening questions and taking their temperature. He also helps people sign up for programs and for lap swim times, and takes phone queries. The work “is challenging,” he says, “but it is a challenge worthy of facing with enthusiasm.” And there’s satisfaction for a job well done. He’s glad that he “can help provide the ability for people to be together in a safe way, to help operate such a central part of the community.”

Many thanks, Brian!

Brian McElwain, JCC Security Coordinating Officer, took on a new, vital role during the Covid19 pandemic – helping deliver meals to seniors. Twice a week since May, Brian with a volunteer loads bags of hot and cold meals for as many as 65 participants into thermal chests and fits the chests onto the Elder Express bus. As the bus makes about 45 stops all around Squirrel Hill, Brian drops off meals at the doors of private homes and apartment buildings. Brian, who has been full time at the JCC for 10 years, knows many of the participants from pre-Covid 19 days, when they would come to the JCC’s J Cafe for hot kosher lunches. Since the lunch program has been moved to pick-ups and deliveries, Brian enjoys seeing the participants. “I see a lot of old friends,” he says. “The check-ins that are built into the whole delivery process – it’s reassuring for them to see us, and for us to see them. It’s nice to be a part of it.”

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