Gary Pollock says his 17th year as director of the Stroum Jewish Community Center will be his last. He has decided to move on to new career challenges after his contract expires this December.
“For a long time, there have been people out of the JCC Association that have contacted me about other opportunities. Invariably I’ve said my kids are in school, I love Seattle and I’m really not interested,” Pollock said Monday. This June, his twin sons graduated from Mercer Island High School, and Gary and his wife Sharon decided it’s time to stop saying no.
“I owe it to myself and the family to do that. I’m young enough to explore career opportunities,” said the 50-year-old Pollock, who has spent the past 22 years working at the JCC on Mercer Island. He has been executive director longer than any other director in the center’s history.
President Paul Etsekson informed the JCC Board of Directors at the end of June of Pollock’s decision. “Gary has been responsible for and is credited with dramatically enhancing the center’s programs and services in our growing Jewish community,” Etsekson said. “At the same time, under his leadership, the JCC has shown phenomenal operational health and vitality.”
Pollock said he will spend the rest of the calendar year giving 100 percent to the center and then he hopes to take some personal time to think about his next move. He has one more goal he hopes to achieve before the year is over — to see the community come together for a plan to build a new Jewish campus on JCC property on Mercer Island.
Pollock said formal discussions have begun among the leadership of the JCC, the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle, the Holocaust Education Center, the Jewish Day School and other organizations.
“It is very exciting. I hope that if the community embraces this concept and moves forward that I had some small part to play in bringing it to fruition,” Pollock said. “It really makes sense. There are a million reasons.”
He said the more than a thousand people who come to the JCC every day could be exposed to a lot of other organizations if they were housed in the same complex. He believes community-wide issues of parking and security could be addressed better on a campus. Different organizations could share facilities like a high tech library and an extra gym.
Many community organizations are already talking about moving or improving their existing facilities. The biggest obstacle to Pollock’s dream is that organizations are all working on different timetables. The JCC has begun a “quiet campaign,” seeking leadership gifts for its building campaign. The Jewish Federation’s Board of Directors has been trying to decide whether to repair its aging facility or to move. The Jewish Day School has been talking for years about whether to build a brand-new school on its existing property in Bellevue. The Holocaust Center would like to expand into a full museum and educational center someday.
“We have to bring all the stakeholders together and ask what kind of timeline would work for everyone,” Pollock said. “I would love for there to be a joint venture agreement struck between key agencies. As long as we keep moving forward, ultimately the right decisions will be made.”
He cautioned, however, against trying to rush the process unduly because the decisions will have an impact on the entire community for many years in the future.
Pollock said he will have many accomplishments to look back on after he leaves the JCC. Since he’s been with the agency, the Mercer Island facility has doubled in size and the Northend facility was established and so were the Bellevue and Seattle Hebrew Academy pre-school satellites. JCC membership has nearly doubled during his tenure. When Pollock started at the JCC, there were 75 children in the Early Childhood Services program; now there are more than 425. About 20 years ago, the JCC did about $5,000 in fund-raising a year. The Night and Day Event at the end of the June raised over a quarter of a million dollars in one night and a day.
The JCC has struck a lot of new partnerships over the years. In addition to working with the Jewish Day School and the Seattle Hebrew Academy in establishing preschools on their campuses, the JCC now has close ties to Young Judaea and B’nai B’rith Youth Organization. They worked with the Jewish Education Council of the Jewish Federation in establishing a branch of the Florence Melton Adult Mini-School in the Seattle area.
“I don’t claim ownership of these things. They’re a result of a lot of hard work by JCC committees, staff and board. Without those parts of the equation, none of these things would have been possible,” Pollock said.
He knows the people of the JCC — from the kids in the preschool to volunteers of all ages — are what he’ll miss most about the job. “It’s great to see kids that I knew as teen-agers when I first came here and now — people like Lindsey Schwartz and Rusty Federman — are on our board. The center has always been famous for developing leadership,” he said. “Lucy Pruzan and Michele Rosen [who went on to be presidents of the Jewish Federation] got their start in leadership at the ‘J’ as preschool moms. It’s really an important part of what the ‘J’ does for the community.”