A native Israeli who doesn’t shy away from hard work, Rina Shkolnik, came to the Jewish Community Center (JCC) of the Greater Five Towns 11 years ago and left her mark transforming a flailing organization into a civic resource.
Shkolnik, an Oceanside resident, will retire as executive director on June 30. From July 1 to Dec. 31, she will spend two days a week helping Joel Block transition into the position. Block is the executive director of the Suffolk JCC in Commack.
“All my career, every job I had this is the way I work,” said Shkolnik, who came from the UJA-Federation of New York to take over a JCC that was in woeful financial shape. “I never take a ‘no’ and things need to be done.”
Working with her board, finances were stabilized, then she went to work rebuilding the organization. There were no layoffs and programs weren’t eliminated. Instead she created programs by learning what the community needed and responding to that need.
Seniors and children are the two fastest growing populations in the Five Towns. The JCC established multiple programs for both age groups, including an annual Thanksgiving celebration for Russian seniors and after school classes for Russian-Jewish children. There is also a group for Holocaust survivors and classes that get the blood flowing from Zumba to Israeli dancing.
The Traumatic Brain Injury group begun three years ago now has 70 members, while the kosher food pantry on Central Avenue in Woodmere began serving 35 families and now helps to feed 297 families every month, Shkolnik said. A special honor for Shkolnik, the food pantry will now bear her name. Enrollment at the JCC’s nursery was 167, 11 years ago, it is now 425.
In all, the JCC serves 16,000 people annually at 18 different sites, including its Grove Avenue headquarters in Cedarhurst. “It’s being able to assess the community’s needs and being able to respond,” Shkolnik said. “It’s about being there for the community.”