When newcomers have called Jewish groups in Central Florida to find out where they could get involved in community life, the answer usually has been Maitland, home of the region's only Jewish Community Center.
Starting this month, however, there will be another hub: a new JCC campus in southwest Orlando.
The new, 34,000-square-foot center at 11184 S. Apopka-Vineland Road will welcome all residents seeking its educational programs and fitness center, but it also will serve as a gathering place for Jews who live south of downtown Orlando and west of Interstate 4. Estimates of the size of Central Florida's Jewish community range from 30,000 to 40,000 people.
The Jack & Lee Rosen Southwest Orlando Jewish Community Campus will have its grand opening Sunday, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., with a sampling of food and a 12:30 p.m. ribbon cutting. It was the dream of the center's outgoing director, Marvin Friedman, to build a new center to meet growing demand. The center has been at least 15 years in the making.
"The new campus allows us to build community and strengthen the Jewish and general community of Orlando," said David Wayne, who will start the day the new center opens as the executive director of both locations.
The opening will be followed by free events through Sept. 12 that will introduce new fitness equipment, programs for children and families and senior services. The new center --which operates much like a YMCA-- will waive new membership fees ranging from $50 to $150 and will offer $250 discounts off tuition for its early childhood learning center through Sept. 11.
The $5-million-plus building --featuring a gymnasium, dance studio, 10 pre-school classrooms and meeting areas-- was built with donations, including more than $3.5 million from Orlando hotelier Harris Rosen.
Rosen said he supported the new campus, named after his parents, because it will be a resource for the community, especially children who get an early start in its preschool programs.
"This is just an extension of gratitude," Rosen said. "We want to provide opportunities for youngsters to go to school and for adults and community to have a clean, well-managed facility."
The campus will house branch offices of Jewish Family Services, which will run a food pantry for the needy, and the Jewish Federation of Greater Orlando, a fundraising organization.
Its existence will give the community more cohesion, said Mark Klafter, a federation board member.
"We have had a significant part of the community that is not affiliated with organizations or participating in community life because they don't have easy access," Klafter said. "Now, they will have that."
Aileen Shaked, a Doctor Phillips resident who is co-chair of the center's grand opening, said her involvement with the center for the last six years has given her a sense of community.
She's hoping that the new, spacious and visible campus will attract more people of all backgrounds, looking for a family-friendly atmosphere where they could go for fitness and recreation and connect with others.
"The Central Florida community is very transient and many of us don't have family here, so our friends become our family," Schaked said. "To have this place for all us is like having a home for a family, where we can all grow together."
Víctor Manuel Ramos can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 407-420-6186.
Southwest Orlando's JCC Grand Opening highlights
- Sunday, Aug. 30, 2009 -- Grand Opening Day. "Taste of the J" from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., free samples of food from a variety of local restaurants. Ribbon-cutting ceremony at 12:30 p.m. JCC performance and celebration starting at 12:45 p.m.
- Monday, Aug. 31, from 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. "Giggle with Me: Babies, Blocks and Babies," a program for babies and their families, from newborns to 18-month olds.
- Thursday, Sept. 3, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. "Sing with Me: Seniors Sing Along," with dueling pianos.
- Sunday, Sept. 6, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. "Get Fit with Me: Health Expo & Green Market," free health screenings, fitness consultations, mini-massages, nutrition analysis, skin consultations, health lectures, in addition to a market with organic produce.
- Wednesday, Sept. 9, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. "On the Catwalk," a showcase of the hottest accessories from local shops and boutiques; light lunch, dessert and coffee bar.
For more information on these events or to find out more about other Grand Opening activities go to http://www.jccsouthorlando.org.