In The Last Word, we sit down with an industry expert to share their wealth of knowledge. In the 2022 May/June issue, the conversation features Oded Kraus, the executive director at the Katz JCC in Cherry Hill, New Jersey.
1. How did you get started in the community recreation industry?
After completing my army service in Israel, I had the opportunity to travel the world. I became intrigued with the dynamics of how and why people think and feel the way they do. I changed the course of my life and came to the U.S. to begin studies at Endicott College in Massachusetts. I received my degree in Hospitality Management which encompasses management skills, leadership and delegation, teamwork and communication, critical thinking and problem-solving — all tools necessary in community recreation.
I believe to create community, people from all walks of life must be engaged in an array of activities and services that touch them and provide meaning to their lives.
2. What’s been a key to your team’s success? What are you most proud of?
People and their love for the community. I couldn’t ask for a better community to be part of to raise my family and to work hand-in-hand with. Every staff member in the Katz JCC is like family. We are part of something greater than ourselves and it shows when you walk through our doors.
3. What has been one of the biggest accomplishments of your career?
In my previous position as the director of International Admissions, I established deep and personal connections with the international students I recruited and their parents. Many of these families would have never allowed their sons or daughters to study in the U.S. The relationships made were stronger than any other challenges presented. In fact, to this day I keep in touch with many of the families I visited the first time I traveled, and those students now have great jobs and families of their own. Now, in my current role as executive director, I would like to build strong, meaningful relationships with our members, donors and the community at large.
4. What has been one of the biggest challenges you have faced in your career?
It’s no surprise the COVID-19 pandemic has been the most challenging. Keeping the doors open of our beloved JCC has been nothing short of a triumph. I am amazed at the dedication and level of patience and understanding both the community and staff have shown.
5. What is one lesson you have learned that other community recreation professionals can learn from?
Be creative without reinventing the wheel. Use the resources you have on hand and do the most with them. It’s so easy to get caught up in the little details and lose focus on our goal to make the world a better place one step at a time. Listen to the voices in your community, understand their needs and engage with them to be part of the solution.
6. Tell us one fact about yourself others may not know.
My name, Oded, is a Hebrew name meaning “encouragement.” My motto is to motivate and inspire others to always be the best version of themselves.