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Valley Jewish Center Vows to Stay Open

Leaders of Sherman Oaks facility unveil plan to break away from L.A. group that had proposed to close it and sell the site.

June 19, 2004|Karima A. Haynes | Times Staff Writer

Vowing to keep its doors open, a Jewish community center in Sherman Oaks has decided to break away from its parent agency and reorganize as an independent entity, officials said Friday.

The cash-strapped Jewish Community Centers of Greater Los Angeles planned to close its Valley Cities Jewish Community Center in Sherman Oaks on June 30 and sell the property to pay off debts.

However, Valley Cities leaders pledged to preserve the popular center, which has offered educational, recreational and social activities for more than 50 years.

"We have been working day and night to keep the center open," said Mike Brezner, president of the Valley Cities board. "To not have a Jewish community center in the east [San Fernando] Valley would be a travesty."

To keep the facility operating, Valley Cities leaders came up with a separation agreement, effective July 1, to reestablish the center as Friends of Valley Cities Jewish Community Center, an independent nonprofit.

The group also wants to buy the building it occupies on Burbank Boulevard.

A casual conversation between friends put Valley Cities in the position to eventually buy the facility, Brezner said.

"One of our seniors was at a friend's who mentioned that her son wanted to buy a piece of property," Brezner said. "Our senior said, 'Do I have a piece of property for you.' "

The anonymous benefactor is in the process of purchasing the property, which Valley Cities will lease until the agency can buy it with funds raised through a capital campaign, Brezner said.

Brezner declined to give further details about the agreement, which is being negotiated.

Although Valley Cities' finances have improved, Brezner acknowledged that it must continue its efforts to increase membership, boost enrollment in its preschool, after-school and summer camp programs and meet its $250,000 fundraising goal by the end of summer.

An anticipated $220,000 allocation from the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles will go a long way toward preserving seniors programs, a lecture series and an Israeli youth scouting program, Brezner said.

"We wanted to take a bad situation and make it good for everyone," Brezner said.

Valley Cities is the third community center in three years to break away from its financially ailing parent agency, JCC of Greater Los Angeles, which owes $1 million to $2 million to its main funding source, the Jewish Federation.

The North Valley center in Granada Hills severed its ties with the JCC of Greater Los Angeles two years ago and reestablished itself as an independent center. The Bay Cities center in Santa Monica was sold to a nonprofit organization that provides low-income senior housing.

The Silverlake Independent Jewish Community Center is in negotiations to buy its building from JCC of Greater Los Angeles, officials said.

The West Los Angeles center, which remains under the auspices of the JCC of Greater Los Angeles, is profitable and offers performing arts instruction and early childhood education.

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