Source: Jewish Daily Forward
A new effort underway in Denver, backed by a wide-ranging coalition of Jewish organizations, hopes to use modern marketing techniques to increase enrollment at early childhood education centers and, in the process, lure a new generation of young and sometimes leery families back into Jewish life.
The goals of the $810,000 initiative, led by the Denver-based Rose Community Foundation, with support from the Jay & Rose Phillips Family Foundation of Colorado, are at once cultural and economic. Because it takes place year-round and many parents are clamoring for such services, early childhood education has proven to be a huge market, often more lucrative than day school. At the same time, 64% of JCC and synagogue members who have age-eligible children (those who are up to 4 years) do not have their children enrolled in ECE centers.
Trying to solve that problem has, for the first time on a formal project, brought together the national leadership of the Union for Reform Judaism and the JCC Association, along with the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism. Officials from those groups are hopeful that Denver will yield “best practices” that can be used in Jewish communities in other metropolitan areas. Denver and nearby Boulder have nine ECE centers, out of an estimated 630 nationally.
The first phase of the initiative began in July 2014 with two Reform synagogues and two JCCs. The second phase will start in July of this year with five other synagogues, including two Conservative synagogues. Mark Horowitz, vice president early childhood education and family engagement at the JCC Association and Cathy Rolland, who runs the early childhood education and family engagement initiatives for the Union for Reform Judaism, are serving as mentors and coaches for the two JCCs and two Reform congregations in the Denver and Boulder areas, respectively. In addition to being in regular contact with the centers, Horowitz and Rolland travel to Colorado every six to eight weeks. The time commitment — in addition to those in Denver, Horowitz alone is responsible for 145 schools in the U.S. and Canada — is indicative of the promise national organizations see in the Denver experiment.
A 2012 economic study urged Denver Jewish organizations to “break down institutional silos,” and warned that many families using ECE centers are “not fully embraced by the JCC or synagogue and as a result, do not feel connected nor are they considering becoming members.” The study also found that if the centers operated at “best practice” standards, the revenues of their congregations as well as those of the JCCs would increase $720,000 annually, an average of 11% per institution. The study said that the centers needed to focus on “creating inclusive relationships with members while aggressively communicating all that the synagogue or JCC offers to families.”
In addition to coaching, training and guidance from the national organizations, local centers participating in the initiative will receive a “toolbox of resources” that include new software and database support to improve marketing, tracking and enrollment, as well as help with their websites and social media. These services and tools provided by the program are valued at $92,000 per institution.
The initiative builds on previous efforts in Denver that offered scholarships for children in pre-K. Another aim of the initiative is to expand the use of Rose-funded MazelTot.org, a website that connects young parents and provides discounts on family related services, as a hub for young Jewish families to learn more about pre-K institutions.
Read more at the Jewish Daily Forward.