Silverlake Independent Jewish Community Center

Founded in 2002, Silverlake Independent Jewish Community Center (SIJCC) provides a family education center and community gathering space based in Jewish values and traditions. The organization began as an early childhood education center, and for the first ten years, the board and staff focused a majority of their time and effort on this program. But something was always brewing underneath the hustle and bustle of the classrooms – Executive Director Ayana Morse and the SIJCC leadership team knew intuitively there was a bigger opportunity to connect to their community in more meaningful ways. They needed to change their creative direction in order to sustain the organization. In 2011, SIJCC teamed up with ESC to start a one-year Strategic Planning project with the primary goal of creating a new cohesive mission and vision for the center.

Ayana says that at the time, “With the constantly evolving interests of our community, we needed to put ourselves in a position where we can change and grow alongside the families and individuals we serve.” Ayana and her board and staff’s biggest challenge was how to make this change intentionally and involve everyone in the process. With the guidance of ESC consultants Albert Algaze, Susan Barton and Bert Kleinman, they were able to survey and better understand their stakeholders and the community they served. Ayana and her team realized that SIJCC had the potential to be more than just an early childhood education center, but a gathering place where people of all ages and backgrounds could come together and find a sense of community through education, arts and culture.

Working with their ESC consultants, Ayana found that ESC’s strategic planning model aligned perfectly with SIJCC’s responsive, team-based approach to organizational development. The SIJCC team and ESC consultants created an adaptable roadmap to keep up with the growing needs of the community. As part of the plan, they developed a clear mission and vision for the center: “to be a home for culture, ideas and belonging on the east side of Los Angeles.”  Ayana says, “The process became more important than the product. We found that shared language between our board and staff made changes feel natural, and ultimately resulted in a stronger organization.” The SIJCC team not only created a focused strategic plan that prioritized program expansion, infrastructure and fund development, but they developed skills in change management and organizational development that would carry SIJCC for years to come.

It has been six years since SIJCC has implemented their strategic plan, and the results are impressive. The organization has grown from serving just 50 families in the early childhood center in early 2011 to now over 5,000 people including families, artists, community members and more every year. Programs include a more robust childhood education center and preschool, a Jewish Learning Center, a Culture Lab, adult and kid workshops and classes, campus space rentals for community events and ongoing expansion of their Eastside Jews collective. To support this growth, the staff size has increased from 3 employees to 11. With a long list of new activities, Ayana is proud of her team for truly listening to the needs of the community, making the work incredibly rewarding for everyone involved.  Ayana reflects, “In a city so dispersed, it is hard to ground yourself. I want SIJCC to continue being that touchpoint that starts long lasting friendships in our community. With our dynamic approach of community building, we have been able to see the long term impact of our strategic planning work with ESC, as it gave us the clarity that we needed to grow into who we are today.” In 2018, Ayana worked closely with her board to begin a leadership transition as she moves with her family to the east coast. With newly-hired Executive Director Neil Spears at the helm of the organization, SIJCC is ready to bring innovative community programs to Silverlake for years to come.

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