It must have been at least 90 degrees in the kitchen. The two huge convection ovens were set for 400 degrees, and outside the kitchen door, the room was filled with over 100 people hoping that this would be their lucky night. That could only mean one thing—the JCC’s Annual Texas Hold 'Em Poker Tournament. On pretty much any other night (or day, for that matter), you’d find me fulfilling the role of Chief Operating Officer at the JCC. But that evening, my job was hustling in that hot kitchen to cook the hot hors d’oeuvres—kosher piggies in a blanket and mini knishes, to be exact. Tournament poker can work up quite an appetite, and 12 huge trays of those little snacks disappeared in about 30 minutes. I guess I did a decent job. My co-workers also had jobs to do that night, from running the event and thanking our generous sponsors, to processing rebuys, to just making sure everyone had a great time. And from all accounts, people had a blast—some luckier than others. In the end, the pot was split between two lucky and skilled players, one of whom was a counselor in the JCC after school program about 12 years ago when I was the director of that program (my first job at the JCC). Now Scott is married, has a young son, and is a JCC member. It’s great to see things come full circle like that.
Midway through the event, our Executive Director, Jennifer Mamlet, spoke to the crowd about the importance of Poker Night as one of the JCC’s fundraising events. She spoke about how the proceeds of our events help afford things like financial assistance to offset costs of camp for families in need. Clearly Jen’s remarks resonated with many in the crowd, because not only did the event raise $35,000 (that’s $5,000 more than it was budgeted to raise), but also one donor was inspired to give a $5,000 donation which was earmarked specifically for camp scholarship assistance! Amazing!!!
So now I get to put my COO hat back on (which is a good thing, because that kitchen was really hot!). One of the many things I do at the JCC is staff the Financial Assistance Committee. This volunteer committee meets regularly to review, in an anonymous and discrete fashion, all applications for financial assistance for membership dues and programs like camp and school. They do an amazing job of meeting the challenge of awarding meaningful assistance with very limited funds. And by Poker Night, held in late June, you can be sure that we’ve awarded our entire budget for camp assistance. There are times, unfortunately, where we cannot award enough to make camp affordable for a family, or that families send campers for fewer weeks than they would like to. So when I heard about the results of Poker Night, I was thrilled that I would get to make a phone call to a family who would now be able to send their children to Camp Yachad for the entire summer. Additionally, this generosity of giving will allow us to do something really wonderful. During the school year, a grant from the United Way of Greater Union County enables us to bring children from Plainfield to our after school program each week This is coordinated through Home First, a Plainfield non-profit helping families cope with homelessness by creating pathways out of poverty. Through the United Way grant, we were anticipating being able to fully subsidize the cost of 4 weeks of camp for two children. As a result of the Poker Night giving, we can expand that number who will experience the magic of Camp Yachad to 5 children!
This kind of support, engendered by a fun event like Poker Night, is one of the things that make my job so rewarding. I feel both humbled and honored to serve this wonderful community. There is indeed “something about this place”. Here’s to a safe, memorable and meaningful summer!