Six Questions With Gary Bernstein
In The Last Word, we sit down with an industry expert to share their wealth of knowledge. In the 2022 July/August issue, the conversation features Gary Bernstein, the CEO of the Jewish Community Alliance of Northeastern Pennsylvania.
1. How did you get started in the community recreation industry?
After graduating with a Health, Physical Education and Recreation degree from Slippery Rock University, I started my career at the New Orleans Jewish Community Center in New Orleans, Louisiana. These and other valuable experiences provided me with a foundation for my future as a teacher, fundraiser, camp director and nonprofit leader.
2. What’s been a key to your team’s success? What are you most proud of?
Having the knowledge, understanding and appreciation in hiring, training, developing and supervising a great staff team. To create a safe and healthy work environment where staffs are empowered, trusted and motivated to make decisions and to be successful.
3. What has been one of the biggest accomplishments of your career?
Having had the opportunity to construct, fundraise and oversee the building of the new Ronald Gardenswartz Jewish Community Center in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Hiring a dynamic and professional staff team, recruiting a volunteer board of directors, developing unique programs and designing policies and procedures for a new start-up agency all from scratch was truly an experience that stands out in my career.
4. What has been one of the biggest challenges you have faced in your career?
Being in charge of directing a couple of nonprofit agencies on the brink of disaster. I was hired to oversee the turn-around of two different nonprofit agencies in distress. Facing large accumulated financial debt, stale programs, aging buildings and low staff morale, I was able to make the tough decisions while developing a sound strategy to bring these two agencies back to life.
5. What is one lesson you have learned that other community recreation professionals can learn from?
That developing and maintaining a productive and respectful board-staff relationship is probably one of the most important responsibilities one should have.
6. Tell us one fact about yourself others may not know.
I grew up in New York where my father Fred Bernstein had one of the largest Judo schools on Long Island. As a result I played Judo from the young age of six years old and reached the coveted level of black belt by the time I turned seventeen. My Judo career provided me with extensive travel and challenging competitions and tournaments around the nation.