Meet Our Staff
David Jacobs has been the Executive Director of the Mandell JCC for 17 years. If you ask him how long he's worked at the JCC, he will say "10 + 17 = 27 years."
David left the Mandell JCC after his first 10 years, but this was always his home. The time in between was spent working at other JCCs, which means David has worked in a JCC for close to 40 years.
David, who has a Masters degree in social work, is responsible for helping develop professional and volunteer leadership for the JCC, while also working to ensure that the JCC is fiscally strong now and in the future. In addition, David works with leadership to provide the best in programs, activities and facilities to our members and the community.
If you ask him what his favorite part of the JCC is, without hesitation he will tell you visiting the children in the preschool.
"I am so fortunate that this is the work I have chosen to do. It has defined my professional life and helped to inform my values. It’s a gift to have had these opportunities to make meaningful connections with my community and my heritage. I am very grateful."
Annie Keith has been the Chief Operating Officer at the Mandell JCC since 2007. A graduate of UNC Charlotte, Annie considers working with our amazing staff and engaging with members the best part of every day; that's why you see her hanging around the front doors all the time!
Annie says she knew this was going to be her 'home away from home' on her first day of work when her daughter's ECC class joined the welcome reception the staff held.
When Annie is not engaging with our members or serving on one of the many committees the JCC has, she can be found volunteering for countless organizations close to her heart, serving on the PTO at Hall High School or writing notes to people so that they receive something in the mail other than a bill. And when she finds the time (apparently, she has more than 24 hours in a day), she enjoys being a part of David Jacobs and Frank Resnick's stamp collecting club.
"I have done so many things at the JCC that I never would have done without the support and encouragement of the people here, such as participating in the triathlons or learning how to speak in public before a big crowd. But what I am most grateful for, is that my kids have grown up here and their lives are so much richer for it. From preschool, to swimming, to karate, to theater, to employment, the Keiths have much to be grateful to the Mandell JCC for."
Kim Corona Charron is the agency's Chief Financial Officer. A graduate of the University of Connecticut, Kim has been an employee at the JCC since 2001.
When she isn't crunching numbers, Kim can be found teaching dance throughout the year.
Kim considers having her two boys be a part of the JCC family her favorite memory of the J, so far. She loves that her kids are still friends with their preschool buddies.
During her free time, Kim enjoys being at the beach with her family.
Lia Wald is the Associate Director of the JCC, and has been an employee since 1987.
Lia, who has worn many hats over three plus decades, including Membership Director, makes it her mission to ensure that each members’ experience is always positive.
Her favorite part of the J is the welcoming environment, something she has spent many years fostering.
When Lia isn’t walking the halls with a smile and greeting our members with a “hello,” she can be found doing what she loves most; traveling the world with her children and grandchildren.
Michelle has been the Director of Marketing for the J since October 2017.
She joined the JCC after serving as Principal and Owner of a Connecticut-based public relations and marketing consulting firm. Prior to starting her business, Michelle was an Emmy, Associated Press & Murrow award-winning television anchor and reporter who worked for ESPN, anchoring a variety of shows including SportsCenter, the network’s flagship sports news program.
Previously, Michelle worked as an anchor at the CNN headquarters in Atlanta, GA, Fox Sports in Los Angeles, and was hailed by the LA Times as the ‘First Female to be Name Lead Sports Anchor in a Top 10 Television Market.”
A New England native, Michelle is a proud graduate of Northeastern University in Boston, and in her spare time she can often be found cheering on her son who plays hockey, lacrosse and golf, as well as the Bruins, Red Sox, Patriots and Celtics.
Donna Goldstein is the Executive Administrator at the JCC.
Having worked at the J since 1986, Donna has countless memories archived. But her favorite memory of her time at the J is when her son was in preschool, and having the opportunity to see him throughout the day, growing and thriving in our ECC.
The impact the J has had on Donna over three plus decades is how much she says she has learned about Jewish customs and holidays.
Dee Chappell, who has worked at the JCC since 2012, is one of the first people new employees meet. As the Human Resources Coordinator, Dee’s most important responsibility is maintaining relationships and providing an outlet for staffs' needs and concerns.
Dee’s favorite thing about the JCC is that, as a community open to everyone, “…you never feel alone, you always have ‘family’ at the Mandell JCC. If it weren’t for the JCC, I would not have met some of the best people who have enriched my life both personally and professionally.”
When Dee isn’t taking care of all our employees, she is taking care of her family which includes her husband and her daughter and son.
Sheri Gaudet is the Operations Administrator and Golf Tournament Coordinator for the JCC, and has called the JCC “home” since 2001.
As the Operations Administrator, Sheri is responsible for maintaining the facility and operations of all equipment with the maintenance team. Prior to working at the J, Sheri spent 20+ years in the construction industry with a concentration in the HVAC service and installation.
When Sheri is not making sure the building is functioning properly, she can be found gardening, cooking and decorating.
Jim Schwab has spent the last 2 ½ years working as the JCC’s Director of Safety & Security.
After career in law enforcement, Jim considers his primary job responsibility at the J to be maintaining a safe, yet welcoming environment for everyone to visit.
Jim, who loves the opportunity to build relationships with both his co-workers and members, also appreciates the impact the J has had on him and his family, reminding us that, “The Jewish faith always strives to make us a better person by reinforcing the importance of serving one another and our community.”
Jim loves spending time with his family and friends, and that quality time can often be spent hiking or kayaking. As active as he is, Jim says he never met a book he didn’t love.
Mitch Shakun is the JCC’s Meeting and Events Manager, and has been employed by the JCC since 2002.
With the J expanding into ‘rentals,’ Mitch spends much of his time managing the room bookings for a variety of events that are held at the JCC.
He spends the day going from room to room, but for a few years, when his daughter went to school here, the room he loved to visit the most was his daughter’s preschool room.
Cheryl Couture is the JCC’s Accountant. She has been managing the financial records and activities since 1997.
Cheryl considers the support from her JCC family the best part of the organization. The impact the J has had on Cheryl and her family has been the many opportunities her children have had to participate as volunteers and become part of a larger community.
When she is not creating financial reports for all the departments, Cheryl loves to travel, attend plays and concerts or attend Red Sox games.
Jessica Farrell has been working as the JCC’s Program Administrative Coordinator/Registrar since 2012. She is responsible for registering participants for the ECC, classes and camps.
One of her favorite memories of her time at the JCC is watching her nephew attend Camp Shalom one summer and try archery. He loved it so much, he now owns an archery set and has regular target practice in his backyard. “This is a hobby he never would have tried. He loved Camp Shalom so much, he can’t wait to come back for another summer.”
When Jessica is not working, she loves to knit, read and cook.
Melissa Harhay started working at the J as the Director of Corporate Development in 2017. Her responsibilities include working with businesses to create program-based sponsorships which generate revenue for the JCC.
An alumnae of the University of Connecticut, Melissa also worked at her alma mater in development and donor relations.
As a swimmer, Melissa’s favorite part of the J is….the pool! She and her family live, and we mean ‘live’ in the pool. Her three girls are swimmers for the Sharks swim team, her husband plays in the basketball league, and they are “large” contributors to Café J.
When she is on dry land, Melissa loves rescuing dogs and drinking wine.
Rachel Stein is the JCC’s Membership Director. She has been with the Mandell JCC since 2013, and has been a member of 'a' JCC since 1980!
She loves working with the membership team and assisting our members.
When Rachel isn’t at the J, you can find her outside playing with her kids or cooking. In fact, Rachel is a trained chef.
Fitness, Recreation & Wellness
Colby Wyckoff is the Recreation and Wellness Administrative Director and the Assistant Director of Camp Shalom.
After growing up at the JCC, Colby started working part-time at the J in 2002, before becoming a full-time employee in 2008.
She spends her days engaging our JCC families on a variety of levels, having worked in many departments. After being a camper at Camp Shalom, she started working there in the summer when she was 16, and she’s never left! Of course, the fact that her mom, Karen, has been working at the J for the better part of 4 decades has a little something to do with that.
Colby’s favorite part about the JCC is the feeling of family and community. “This truly is one big family; I always know that I have the support of my JCC family, no matter what.” Many of my memories and milestones have taken place right here.”
A little fun fact about Colby, who somehow manages to find some free time, is that she is a Certified Holistic Health Coach and Certified Children’s Yoga Instructor.
When Colby is not working and teaching yoga to the li’l ones, she loves to spend her time outside; running, hiking, exploring, cooking and taking care of herself.
Farrah Mead is the Fitness Director at the JCC.
Since 2012, Farrah has been working with our members to be their best self. Her most important responsibility is creating a welcoming environment for all our members, a place where they feel motivated, positively encouraged and can have their best workout.
Farrah can’t nail down one favorite part of the JCC. Whether it’s the summer boot camps at the Swim & Tennis Club, the ‘Planks with Pete,’ or the every Saturday morning ‘Insanity’ class, she loves every day.
But Farrah says, without a doubt, the connections with the members are the most favorite part of her job.
When Farrah isn’t pushing her clients to do one more pull up, or one more lunge, she can be found baking, cooking, spending time with her kids, family and friends, enjoying happy hour and just hanging out at home relaxing!
Carmen Erian is the JCC’s Group Fitness Director, and has been employed at the J since 2011.
While she has countless responsibilities, her primary responsibility is hiring, training, supervising and evaluating the group fitness instructors. Carmen says the best part of her job is engaging with members and providing excellent customer service.
A native of South Africa, Carmen is so involved in the JCC, she recognizes the J as being her ‘home away from home.’
When she is, actually home, she is often hanging out with family, being active or spending time at the beach.
Kathy Armstrong-Crouch is the JCC’s Director of Personal Training.
Kathy has made the J her ‘home away from home,’ having started working here in 1985. In 1997 she was named the Director of Personal Training. She says her number one priority is making sure every client receives the best customer service and the best program design from their trainer.
Kathy, who has a degree in exercise science, is also certified as an Exercise Physiologist, is a ‘Total Immersion’ swim coach and a USAT triathlon coach.
“I have never looked at what I do as work. I am fortunate to be working in the field of exercise science which does not feel like "work" at all.”
Like so many of our staff, Kathy says her favorite part of the J is the members.
When she’s not engaging our members and pushing them to be their best, Kathy can be found competing in open water swims, cycling and road racing. She is also a ‘master gardener’ who loves developing beautiful landscapes.
Jaine Mazer is the JCC’s Aquatics Director, and one of the most recognizable faces at the J, having started working here in 1988.
Certified in lifeguard training, water safety, pool operator, AEA water fitness, Jaine is responsible for ensuring safety in and around our pools and camp waterfront area.
When Jaine isn’t providing safe and fun swimming instruction to children and adults here at the J, she can be found overseeing the Aquatics and water-based programs at Camp Shalom, where our campers have proudly nicknamed her ‘Jaine Canoe Canoe.’
The J has impacted her family in many ways, but Jaine is most proud that both her children were extremely conscientious lifeguards.
When Jaine isn’t manning our pool and waterfront areas she can be found hiking, gardening and using her skill set for dog obedience training.
Brian Ruyle has been the JCC’s Assistant Aquatics Director since 2011.
With more than 25 years of experience as a lifeguard and swim instructor, Brian is also experienced as a water group exercise instructor.
Brian says the best part of his job is seeing the growth in the children he teaches to swim. “I watch them start as infants, who can barely comprehend being in the water, and then help them grow into accomplished swimmers zooming around the deep end at Camp Shalom or the Swim and Tennis Club.”
When Brian isn’t walking around barefoot around our pools, he can be found on the slopes of Vermont, skiing, during the winter and zipping around Connecticut in his Mini Cooper Roadster Convertible (St. Louis Cardinal red, of course).
Thai Tran is the JCC’s Assistant Sports Director and Sports Jams Summer Camp Director. He was hired in 2009, but you’d think he has been here for decades because he’s such a legend. Walk down any hall at the J and Thai can be seen high-fiving almost any child who walks by.
Thai, who runs our incredibly popular basketball program, considers his most important job responsibilities to be: building confidence and instilling passion in kids.
A certified basketball official, Thai’s journey at the JCC began when he was a self-described ‘shy kid’ looking for a place to play basketball. That’s when he found the JCC, which has become his extended family.
Thai, who says he is the person he is today because of the JCC, loves having the opportunity to impact lives on a daily basis, “Each day I can make someone’s day a little brighter. I have the chance to make my community a better place.”
Sara Billings is the JCC’s Wellness Director and Swim & Tennis Club Director. She began her career at the J in 1998.
Sara, who also teaches yoga and manages our Saint Francis location, is from the west coast and moved to New York City to dance ballet on a scholarship with the New York City Ballet. An injury led her to apply for a group fitness instructor position at the J.
Like so many employees who are parents, the impact that J has had on Sara and her family is one of community and her children being a part of this family.
When Sara isn’t teaching yoga, engaging members, organizing wellness programs, overseeing the Swim & Tennis Club and Saint Francis, she can be found gardening, bird-watching, taking long walks, sitting on a beach to hear the waves or visiting with her children and grandchild.
Bob Gaudio is the JCC’s Health Spa and Operations Director. He started working at the J in 2005.
Bob wears many hats, overseeing the health spas, maintaining and repairing the fitness equipment, support and training staff to respond to medical emergencies in CPR and First Aid.
With a degree in Electrical Engineering, Bob has 20+ years a CPR instructor; 25 years as a personal fitness trainer; and 10 years as an EMT- state and nationally licensed.
Bob’s fondest memories at the J include his early morning workouts with his coworkers.
Early Childhood Center
Pam Powell, the Beatrice Fox Auerbach Early Childhood Director, has been a staple of the JCC, starting her employment at the J in 1983.
She has had several titles during her time here, but her responsibilities have mostly stayed the same; supporting ECC staff, connecting and forming relationships with ECC children and families and outreach to the Greater Hartford community about the amazing programs offered.
One of Pam’s fondest memories through the years is planting the first gardens with ECC families which includes experiencing the children’s involvement and delight as their plants grew, watching them try new foods and ultimately harvesting and giving back to the food pantry: a full circle experience.
Pam can’t single out a favorite part about the JCC, instead reminding us that, “...we are a community that cares and works and plays together.”
When Pam isn’t spending the day with the J’s li’l ones, she can be found outdoors at farmer’s markets and taking day trips, especially to the beach. But best of all, she enjoys being ‘nana.’
Gen Delay Pasternak started working, seasonally, at the the JCC in 1997. She became a full-time employee in 2004, and is the Assistant Director of the Beatrice Fox Auerbach Early Childhood Center.
Overseeing the daily operations of the ECC, Gen develops relationships with children and families within the ECC and supports the teachers and children.
As someone who grew up at the J, Gen loves that there is something for everyone. And now, Gen gets to have her children experience all that the J has to offer, as they are enrolled in the ECC and attend Camp Shalom in the summer, just like their mom and their dad, which is where Gen met her husband.
"It is so wonderful to now see the JCC through their eyes."
When Gen isn't with her JCC family, she can't be found spending time with her Pasternak family.
Emily Baffaro started working at the JCC in 2009. As the Preschool Program Coordinator, Emily is responsible for supporting the ECC children and families, supporting the teachers in their curriculum implementation and maintaining enrollment in the preschool and TK program.
Emily’s favorite part about the JCC is that there are a variety of programs for people of all ages and stages.
The J has become a second home to her family. Her daughters Lia and Josie and son Nicholas have all grown up the J. “I am so grateful for the experiences the JCC has given me personally and professionally, and I hold dear the friendships both my family and I have made over the past 10 years. It truly is a special place.”
When Emily is not with her J family, she can be found cooking, knitting, hiking, biking and taking family vacations.
Nichele Shanahan started working at the JCC in 2003. She is the Infant/Toddler Program Coordinator in the ECC.
She spends her days engaging families, giving them tours and providing them with info on what the ECC has to offer. In addition, Nichele is a support system for teachers and families, both current and new. Nichele also works with teachers on their curriculum, providing them with support when dealing with difficult situations, and providing positive reinforcement for the wonderful things happening in their classrooms.
Nichele says the J is her “home away from home.” “I have met some of my best friends here. My children have learned so much in this environment and are getting an extraordinary early childhood education that will prepare them for public school.”
When Nichele is spending time with her family, they love to attend sporting events.
Kate Bodmer is the Director of the ECC in Glastonbury, and has worked for the JCC since 2007.
Her favorite thing about working for the JCC is being part of a “work day family.”
Kate says she is inspired watching how much the children…”love to come to school each day.”
When Kate is not working, she loves to spend time with her husband gardening at their home or their large community garden plot. Kate and her husband also spend time throughout the year on Martha’s Vineyard with their two dogs.
On her very first day of teaching, in NYC, she had quite the story to bring to school; “There was a subway fire and I had to climb out of the subway car and walk along the tracks to get out. Thank goodness I was interviewed on the CBS news, so my principle knew where I was.”
Karen Wyckoff is the Camp and Youth Services Director. She found her ‘home away from home’ back in 1980.
Karen considers her most important job responsibilities to be ensuring that we provide a safe, nurturing and fun-filled environment for our children and their families.
While Karen says she feels proud every day for the work we do, it is evident when so many campers come back to work as a counselor.
When you work some place for nearly 4 decades, the staff becomes family, because your family literally grows up here. Karen’s oldest daughter, Colby, not only grew up here, attending preschool and participating in the camps, but she has been working at the J since 2008 and is the Rec & Wellness Administrative Director and the assistant to her mother at Camp Shalom.
When Karen is not working, she can often be found enjoying a day of antiquing or reading.
Jane Pasternak is the Director of Jewish and Family Life, and has been working at the JCC since 1984.
She spends her days at the J connecting families to each other and to the Jewish community.
Before becoming a familiar face in the JCC’s Family Room, Jane spent 25 years as a preschool teacher in our ECC.
A mother of 3 and ‘nana’ to five grandchildren, Jane loves spending time with her family enjoying the beach, or playing mahjong with her friends, shopping and watching the New York Giants.
Jane, who has made it her life’s work to help parents on their parenting journey, believes that if she has touched even one life and made an impact, then she has done well, taking some inspiration from Mother Teresa: “In this life we cannot always do great things. But we can do small things with great love.”
Jill Ziplow is the JCC’s Cultural Arts Director.
Prior to being hired in 2005, Jill was once the owner of a retail Art Gallery. She is also the Director of the Book and Film Festivals, held annually.
When Jill is not busy finding the best books and films for the community to enjoy, or busy curating the Chase Family Gallery, she can be found enjoying time with family and friends, running, yoga and spinning.
Susan Lentini is the Family Room Parenting Center Educator and PJ Library Coordinator. She began her career at the JCC in 2007.
Susan, who oversees family programming for Jewish holidays and Shabbat, both here at the JCC as well as in the community, has 25 years of experience teaching preschool and kindergarten.
She loves her role in the family because of the connections made with so many families.
When Susan is not engaging our families, she can be found roaming art museums, cooking and baking a new and favorite recipe or spending time at the shore.
Sharon Holtzberg began her career at the Mandell JCC in 2007, and is the Adult Program Director.
Sharon’s responsibilities include running daytime programs at the JCC geared primarily towards our active senior adult community.
“I consider it a privilege to work with the seniors in our community, and I am grateful to the JCC for giving me this opportunity.”
In her spare time, Sharon enjoys the theater, especially Broadway musicals, and love for cooking and spending time with her children and grandchildren.
Danielle Moghadam is the Director of Jewish Engagement and Outreach, pursuing opportunities and ways to involve members in Jewish programming here at the JCC and in the community.
With a Master of Arts in Middle Eastern History from Tel Aviv University, Danielle is passionate about expanding our understanding of Sephardic Jewry to the West Hartford Community.
Prior to starting at the J in 2019, Danielle worked at the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee in their non-sectarian programming division.
Like many of our employees, Danielle began her J journey as an active member, so her transition to staff member was seamless.
“My children both attend the ECC and love it to pieces. As an Israeli family in the area, we have also found an Israeli community at the JCC and this has been wonderful for my children to make other Hebrew speaking friends.”
Dayna Clark’s career at the Mandell JCC began in 2019 as the Adult Special Needs Programs Coordinator.
Dayna considers her most important job responsibility to provide opportunities for the special needs community to feel heard, accepted and to have fun.
A 2019 graduate with a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology/Sociology, Dayna has grown up at the JCC. Her fondest memories including being a part of the J Center Stage theater performance of Cinderella, playing and hosting birthday parties at Jonathan’s Dream and spending lazy summer days with friends and family at The Swim & Tennis Club.
Dayna enjoys painting, spending time with family, traveling and going to the beach.
Lyudmila “Lucy” Dratva is the Program Coordinator for New Americans. She began her career at the J in 1983.
Her role involves Jewish acculturation and socialization for Russian speaking seniors to fully enjoy Jewish life in United States. Lucy also serves as a translator (from English to Russian) for all programs.
Her fondest memory of her time at the JCC was the award ceremony for the Russian WWII veterans held by the Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz and the Russian Art exhibition in 2009.
In her spare time, Lucy enjoys gourmet cooking, classical and jazz music, art and history, meditation and movies.
Brett Manion is the Mandell JCC’s Children’s Director. He began his career the J in the summer of 2018.
As the Children’s Director, Brett oversees the J’s after school program, Kids Korner, plans youth birthday parties, supervises the Teen Leadership Program and is a unit head at Camp Shalom.
The proud recipient of a Bachelors Degree in Psychology and a Master’s of Education, Brett has been working with youth for more than 10 years, including as a Special Education tutor for Newington Public Schools.
His best memory, so far, is working at Camp Shalom: “This experience introduced me to the JCC and everything it has to offer and I am extremely grateful for that.
When Brett is not working, he enjoys snowboarding, hiking, playing video games and coaching lacrosse.
Naomi Scheinerman is the Director of the West Hartford JCC Camp Programs. When she first began her career at the JCC in 2017, she was the Children’s Director overseeing Kids Korner.
Her favorite memory of her time at the JCC, so far, was the Israel 70th Birthday Celebration in 2018: “It was so much fun seeing all of the families, including my own, engaging with so many different parts of our community and genuinely enjoying a beautiful afternoon.”
During her spare time, Naomi loves to sing in a women’s barbershop chorus, ‘Sound of New England.’
Ron Dionne has been the Maintenance Director since 1987. He is up before most of us, making sure the facility is ready for the first members of the day.
The JCC is committed to developing the staff’s skills and abilities, and offer countless opportunities for professional development, and Ron took advantage of that when the JCC sent him to the New England Technical Institute.
Like many of our staff members, Ron’s kids grew up at the JCC, and he says his favorite part of the JCC is that every day is new and different.
When he’s not making sure the building is operating perfectly, he can be found playing in a sanctioned bowling league.