January was a difficult time for our JCC: in a period of 13 days we received three bomb threats. After repeated evacuations and lockdowns, many parents decided to withdraw their children from the preschool. The emotional and financial impact was overwhelming. After the dust had settled, it was decided that a large-scale 24-hour fundraiser called “Then, Now, and Always” would be launched to help get us back on our feet. I was asked to be a volunteer on the committee to pull this major fundraiser off.
We worked with a third party organization that guided us to arrange three donors who would each match up to $50,000 in donations. All donations were matched 3:1. Basically we had 24 hours to raise $200,000, or all of the money was going to go back to the donors. We set up a lounge in the auditorium where volunteers could come to text and call their friends. The results were beyond my wildest expectations—and during those 24 hours, we had several amazing, beautiful and hilarious experiences. Here they are.
#1. We were so nervous, and things happened so fast, we didn’t post any of our exciting graphics. The team worked very hard to get pledges and market the heck out of this fundraiser before it started at 6:00PM. When the clock started ticking we all gathered in the lounge. We watched in amazement as the amount of money on the big screen increased steadily, reaching our goal in less than two hours. We all screamed with delight and then realized that the marketing director had no time to post any of the graphics she had made for when we hit milestones.
#2. More donors stepped forward to be matchers. Our CEO came into the auditorium every few hours with a big smile on his face to announce ANOTHER matching donation. Every single donation was matched after we hit $200,000.
#3. The preschoolers brought their Tzedakah money in (aww). One by one during the 24-hour event, classes of three and four year olds came in proudly clutching bags of dollar bills and coins. They were so proud. It was adorable.
#4. We celebrated with unKosher, then kosher, pizza. The first night one of the main volunteers in charge of the event ordered pizzas for the rest of us- a lovely gesture. When I opened the first box I saw pepperoni—a mistake had clearly been made. The look of absolute horror on her face, followed by her mad dash to get the pizza out of the JCC, is something I’ll never think about without laughing.
#5. During the second day, a local church took it upon themselves to provide lunch for us, along with the sweetest note saying they were supporting their Jewish friends. We were all so touched and grateful.
#6. The Jewish Academy (a Jewish day school) also on our campus had a board meeting during the event. During the meeting they took a break. Together they walked over to the auditorium, checkbooks in hand. Each one of them made a donation. It was beautiful.
#7. It brought old friends out of the woodwork. Promoting the event on social media gave friends and family who weren’t involved in our JCC (or even local) the chance to participate. As I saw the names scrolling on our screen I couldn’t believe some of the friends of mine who had donated in our honor, including my childhood best friend (whom I haven’t seen in 10 years) and my high school newspaper teacher who donated in honor of my daughter and her friends. Even Kveller writers who followed our story, but whom I’ve never met in person, donated. Every single time I saw these names on the screen, I cried.
#8. We set the lounge (normally the auditorium) up like a nightclub. We had white leather furniture, blue mood lighting, music, and tons of food. Every time a class of kids walked by we heard “WOW” or “What is going on in there?”.We figured if the kids were impressed, we must have done something right.
#9. My 3-year-old daughter asked me the next morning where I had been (since I had been at the fundraiser and not home at night like I usually am.) When I told her I was helping the JCC, she asked me if it was broken. I told her it was a little bit broken, but it was better now. She asked me if I fixed it with a hammer. I said that it was something like that. She looked up at me from her bowl of cereal and said “Mommy, thank you for fixing my school.”
#10. After all was said and done we raised $428,274. We absolutely could not believe how our community came together. This is the absolute silver lining to a pretty gray cloud.
This was bigger than all of us could have seen coming. The community came together in a way it never has before, but sometimes it takes a crisis to pull people together. For more than 40 years, our JCC has been the center of Jewish life in Orlando. Thanks to the 916 donors who took it upon themselves to participate in our campaign, our JCC isn’t going anywhere.