Young Audiences Arts for Learning New Jersey and Eastern Pennsylvania (YA) has a mission to inspire young people and expand their learning through the arts. YA works toward a future where all children in the region engage in quality arts learning that nurtures creativity, expands cultural awareness, and fosters the development of critical thinking skills.

YA is a valued school partner providing programming led by teaching artists across all artforms and numerous cultures. They provide arts experiences to students directly by bringing professional teaching artists to schools. This eliminates barriers to participation and makes the arts accessible to students of every socioeconomic background, geographic area, and ability. YA delivers programming in formats designed to complement the workings of a school, including workshops, residencies, performances, and teacher professional development. All programming is designed to meet school-defined needs.

Arts Lab

The Grunin Foundation met with YA back in 2016 to discuss solutions to chronic absenteeism in our schools. They introduced us to their Arts Lab program, which harnesses the power of the arts to reduce chronic absenteeism. YA had applied for the All Kids Thrive grant from the Princeton Area Community Foundation so they could establish the Arts Lab program in Mercer County schools. We agreed to match this $300,000 grant if they received it, and they did! We then began discussing implementing the program in Toms River. After meeting with Toms River Regional Schools administration and the Young Audiences team, it was decided that Silver Bay Elementary would be the home of the Arts Lab program.

Through performances, workshops, residencies, professional learning and family arts & creativity, YA worked with school administration, teachers, parents and students to tackle attendance issues and other challenges.

Arts Lab Pre COVID

Before the pandemic hit, Silver Bay Elementary students experienced Arts Lab in the classroom or as part of school assemblies. Here are just a few of the Arts Lab programs the Grunin Foundation team had the opportunity to visit in person before Covid hit…

Hip Hop Fundamentals – Hip Hop Fundamentals is an award-winning team of diverse professional breakdancers dedicated to Hip Hop Education, and the world’s only breakdance education company combining academic and social content with the world’s most dynamic dance form. Their mission is to educate, engage and empower. Hip Hop Fundamentals teaches academic and social content through the lens of Hip Hop dance. They honor the Black cultural roots of Hip Hop by upholding traditions and teaching diversity. Students (and teachers) not only get to watch and learn, they also can join Hip Hop Fundamentals on stage to show off their newfound Hip Hop skills!

Burble Fizz Kaboom – These are super energetic performances by theatre artist Rand Whipple, where students learn about the world of science through fun, humor and maybe a marshmallow or two. The unique ways in which chemical reactions, solutions, molecules, and phase changes are presented, keep students engaged and jumping to participate. They are able to be a part of the experiments and by the end, they are shouting out answers to scientific questions.

Dance to Learn – This program uses the art of dance to encourage students to explore, internalize, and transform classroom learning while developing their individual creative voices. We had the opportunity to watch a few Dance to Learn classes including the grand finale, where students acted out elements of their assigned theme (Ocean, Rain Forest, Safari, Jungle) using their own artistic interpretation through dance. It is an incredible way to integrate the arts as a learning tool for language arts, mathematics, science and social studies, physical education and music curriculums. Diversity, equity and inclusion is also at the forefront of Dance to Learn, which prioritizes excluded and systematically marginalized dance styles, and student populations.

Shifting Gears During Covid & What’s to Come

As we entered the Covid shutdown, YA quickly created a virtual roster for the Arts Lab programming. All Arts Lab teaching artists were prepared to deliver virtual programming by the fall of the 2020-2021 school year.

The pandemic has taken its toll on everyone, and addressing the mental health outcomes will be critical. The Arts Lab program will focus on Social-Emotional Learning, which can help improve positive attitude towards self and others and increase students’ academic performances. Programs will also focus on joy, fun, connection, learning and equity & inclusion by integrating the arts into the curriculum.

While we can’t wait to see these programs fully return in-person, we love how Young Audiences has kept everything going during Covid. To stay up-to-date with Young Audiences and Arts Lab, visit

Special thanks to our friends at Young Audiences Arts for Learning New Jersey and Eastern Pennsylvania (YA) for all they do to keep the Arts Lab program running successfully!

Michele Russo – President & CEO
Ann Betterton – Vice President for Institutional Advancement
Liz Winter – Education Operations Director

It’s hard to believe the summer has come and gone and we are in the final quarter of 2021. In many ways, this year has been more challenging than the last, but we continue to see the strength and resiliency of the amazing Central Jersey Shore community.

One of the challenges we are all still experiencing is the inability to efficiently plan around the Delta variant. We know that so many nonprofits had to “pivot” (we’ll never say that word again after this year) and find new ways to operate and fundraise over the last 19 months. There have been many creative solutions born from the pandemic – some were learning experiences and some will stick around for years to come.

We’re happy to share with you what we’ve been doing this summer and give you a glimpse into what’s to come for the Grunin Foundation.

Upcoming Events for 2021

We have decided to put any further Foundation-hosted indoor events and seminars on hold until the spring of next year. After surveying our nonprofit partners to assess their comfort level, we made the call to keep our September Catapult Institute as an in-person event at the Sheraton in Eatontown. We maintained distance and provided masks and sanitizer. However, this will be our final in-person event of the year and we will be moving some things around to start planning for 2022. We will continue hosting small in-person meetings and working groups as scheduled. You can also still sign up for our Catapult Institute Virtual Lunch Hours which are happening monthly.

Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) Working Groups

In July, we formally announced our Commitment to Equity and unveiled our EDI Framework, including changes to our website and the introduction of our EDI Working Groups. We began holding the EDI Working Group Meetings in September. Each group coincides with one of our three EDI strategies: Empowering Youth Changemakers, Amplifying BIPOC Leadership and Empowering Communities that Center Equity. You can read more about our EDI Working Groups here, and we will be providing updates on the work being done via blog posts on the EDI Working Group webpage.  

Grunin Foundation Board and Governance

As we strive to become a better funder, to help improve the quality of life for ALL residents of the Central Jersey Shore and to champion a more just and equitable society, we have been looking internally at our own board and governance process. In early 2022, we will be announcing new Grunin Foundation board members who will provide governance to help us ensure our grantmaking practices are equitable and in line with our mission, values, funding pillars and EDI framework. We are excited for the new additions to our board and will be sharing more information with you soon.

A Look Into 2022

We truly look forward to bringing our nonprofit partners and friends together next spring for a great Catapult Institute year and fun Foundation events where we can enjoy the celebration of just being present together. On behalf of our entire team, we are grateful for the trust, support and feedback our nonprofit community provides us. We wouldn’t be here without you.

We’re excited to bring you along for the next chapter of the Grunin Foundation’s journey and can’t wait to share more news with you soon. Stay healthy and we hope you have a rejuvenating autumn season.


Jay Grunin Jeremy Grunin

Lunch Break’s Mission

As a caring community, Lunch Break freely provides food, clothing, life skills and fellowship to those in need in Monmouth County and beyond. They strive to break the cycle of poverty for those they serve and guide community members in need to self-sufficiency and healthier, more productive lifestyles.

While the need was great prior to the pandemic, Lunch Break’s leadership, staff, volunteers and board could never have imagined how much more critical it would become.

The Impact of the Pandemic

Gwendolyn (Gwen) Love, Executive Director of Lunch Break, recalls watching the news in the beginning of March 2020. She knew the COVID pandemic was getting closer each day, but it never occurred to her or her staff and clients that everything was about to shut down. At the time, the Lunch Break dining room was at full capacity. The Client Choice Pantry was still open and clients came in daily to shop for perishable and non-perishable items needed for themselves and their family members. It was business as usual and Lunch Break was operating at full staff with employees and volunteers.

While Lunch Break’s Board of Directors and leadership team tried to put a phased plan in place to keep things running safely, they knew they had to get ahead of the health threat and sadly, shut down. It was a very emotional decision and the biggest concern was how it would impact clients. Lunch Break is more than a place to get a meal, clothing, pantry items or take part in life skills or wellness programs, it is a place for fellowship which would become even more important once quarantine hit.

That night, as Gwen drove home, she already had a plan in place on how to continue serving the community and met with staff the next morning to start the communication process. The most important part of the messaging was the “why.” They had to let their clients know why they were deciding to shut down and how they would continue to help them get the services they needed.

Later that week, Lunch Break had already transitioned the dining room to grab and go and the Client Choice Pantry moved from in-person shopping to curbside pickup. No clients were allowed inside the building, but could walk, bike or drive up and get what they needed. While this may sound like a straight forward transition, there were many logistical challenges to ensure everything worked smoothly. Gwen and her team had to reconfigure volunteers as many decided to take some time off due to COVID health concerns. They also had to take stock of necessary items and mass purchase disposable containers and utensils.

As the pandemic progressed, it was time for the staff to work from home and they had just a few hours to gather all of the necessary items they needed from the office. This was a very quick turnaround as the employees were already in a good position technology-wise to continue working from home. If someone did not have a computer at home, Lunch Break provided it as well as any additional supplies needed.

The motivation and wellbeing of staff was crucial to making these changes work during the pandemic. In addition to employees working from home, there was an in-house operations team that took care of the kitchen and maintenance of the building. Gwen met with each of those team members individually to get an idea of their comfort level and figure out how to work together while staying healthy. They had a system of weekly check-ins and daily work flow reports to ensure everything was running safely.

Transitioning for Success

Next came modifications to the building to better serve clients. An awning was installed so pickups could comfortably continue even in inclement weather. Doors were changed so large items could easily be transported in and out. They also rented pods to have better access to necessities while they were outside.

As we moved further into 2020, some of Lunch Break’s suspended programs gradually started to come back, specifically the Clara’s Closet. While clients were still not able to come into the building, they could have volunteers shop for them. If there was something a client needed that wasn’t available, Lunch Break would ask for these items to be donated.

For Lunch Break’s Life Skills program, it was a quick transition to the virtual world and they saw an increase in participation now that classes were online. Transportation and childcare had been barriers, but the ability to access the classes from home made it much easier. Lunch Break purchased laptops and Chromebooks for those who needed them, ensuring everyone had access. Many of the classes were recorded so clients could participate on their own time.

A fun addition to the Life Skills program was a cooking class for children. Lunch Break knew that focusing on mental health, especially during a pandemic, was so important and they wanted to do something to help kids. They created a “Cooking with My Hero” YouTube series where children (Junior Chefs!) could pick a recipe and a hero in their lives, and cook together. Lunch Break did the shopping, funded the food and dropped everything off to the clients. They made a cookbook with all the recipes and sent to their donors as a gift.

Support from Donors

The support Lunch Break has received throughout the pandemic has been nothing short of amazing. Donors proactively contacted Gwen and started a COVID Emergency Fund that provided $900,000 to those in need. They also received many deliveries of supplies and other necessary items from generous donors, volunteers and community members. The community collaboration was also incredible as local restaurants provided food to Lunch Break that was paid for by other local businesses. Everyone truly came together to help those who needed it most.

The Future

Lunch Break never skipped a beat, even on the hardest days. As the Lunch Break staff begins to return to the office and services begin to come back to pre-pandemic levels, the drive to help the community is even stronger. Visit Lunch Break’s website to stay up-to-date on their programs.

The murder of George Floyd and the vast racial inequities highlighted by the pandemic prompted us to take pause to listen, reflect and reexamine our work as a Foundation. We had many open discussions with our team, nonprofit partners and philanthropic colleagues, to better understand the needs of the community, how others were helping to advance equity through calls for systemic change and what we could do to be a part of the solution.

Transparency and Humility are two of our core values, so when we recognize that we have made mistakes or have fallen short as a funder, we admit it and do our best to quickly right the course. As we started to take a deeper look at our Foundation and grantmaking practices, we realized that equity was not always a primary focus – not because we did not think it was crucial, but because sometimes doing good just isn’t good enough. While we always fund in alignment with our mission to improve the quality of life for ALL residents at the Central Jersey Shore, we had to ask ourselves what we were truly doing to make that happen – for ALL

In order to engage in deep transformative work as a Foundation, we knew we had to support learning at both the individual and organizational levels. From actively learning by gathering resources to attending racial equity trainings and joining task forces, we were embarking on a lifelong journey.

The Journey

We won’t pretend to have the answers when it comes to helping eliminate structural racism and making the world a more just and equitable place. There are so many groups and organizations who have been engaged in this work for decades that we can learn a lot from. We started by consulting with Idea2Form (I2F) to develop a multi-dimensional Equity, Diversity and Inclusion strategy. Our I2F partners have years of experience creating social impact and advancing racial justice and have been a critical part of our work. 

For us to really understand how we could make a significant impact, we started internally with a team survey and one-on-one interviews with our I2F partners. This process helped us to identify blinds spots and differences in how each of us understood issues related to equity, diversity and inclusion. Once we solidified our internal team groundwork, we surveyed regional nonprofits and community partners to identify: 

  1. Obstacles to EDI in our area,
  2. Effective strategies to address these obstacles, and
  3. Individuals or groups interested in collaborating with us on EDI initiatives. 

We believe that it is not our Foundation that should be determining strategic priorities when it comes to EDI., but rather helping to uncover and support the work that needs to be done. Hearing from members of the community who are on the front lines every day is key.

From the survey responses, we learned that 96% identified diversity as extremely important, 81% grapple with issues of diversity in their day-to-day and 43% said they did not know of any current EDI projects taking place in the community. After carefully analyzing survey responses, three core strategies for change were chosen, inspired by the insight of our nonprofit and community partners:

  1. Empowering Youth Changemakers
  2. Amplifying Diverse Leadership
  3. Empowering Communities that Center Equity

The next step to deepening our work was holding three focus groups which were led by our I2F partners. The goal of the focus groups was to fully engage with participants and receive comments in a feedforward manner regarding the three EDI pillars we unearthed from our survey. Feedforward is the process of replacing positive or negative feedback with future-oriented solutions. We received honest and valuable information during these sessions and will be using it to move forward and create working groups in the near future.

Our Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Vision

As we work towards the ultimate impact of our equity, diversity and inclusion strategy, we envision:

  • Youth being seen as a key driver of change at the Central Jersey Shore and beyond
  • Diverse leaders being plentiful and widespread; and 
  • Equity being seen as an asset at the Central Jersey Shore and beyond.

We vow to stay committed to making our community a more equitable place and will ensure our partners share in this commitment. We know that change is an ongoing process and everyone is beginning their EDI journey at a different point, so we pledge to meet people where they are while remaining a fierce advocate for equity.

Our Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Commitments

As we work to integrate EDI principles into our current and future grantmaking and Foundation operations, we will focus on the following five commitments:

  1. Increasing access as a pathway to wellbeing
  2. Fueling entrepreneurship for those on the margins
  3. Reducing systemic barriers to economic excellence 
  4. Championing a just and equitable society
  5. Investing in and developing diverse leadership

We will not be doing this work alone. Our goal is to partner with those working to build more diverse and inclusive organizations and communities. 

One of our first projects in this space was convening higher education partners from Monmouth University, Georgian Court University, Brookdale Community College and Ocean County College to create the Monmouth University Social Justice Academy. The collective goal is to foster educational equity by bringing a four year Social Justice Academy to support participating K-12 school systems at the Central Jersey Shore. The academy kicked off in July 2021 with a year-long professional development series, including seminars and lectures led by experts in equity, diversity, and inclusion, and a two-week inaugural summer workshop to establish a strong experiential foundation for the program. You can learn more by visiting the Monmouth University Social Justice Academy website

The Future

Our EDI Strategy is not a band-aid solution, nor is it just an “on the surface” change. This is a forever journey that will be integrated into all we do at the Grunin Foundation. This is a chance to do better, to truly live into our mission of making the quality of life better for ALL residents of the Central Jersey Shore. And, in staying committed to our Transparency value, you will see changes and updates to our website, including our EDI framework and coming soon, information about how our projects align with our EDI commitments.

We believe it is essential to our mission to find meaningful ways to ensure equity, diversity, and inclusion in everything we do. As we strive to become a better funder, we pledge to co-learn and work with our partners, colleagues, and communities to help break down barriers, uplift marginalized voices, celebrate diversity, and champion a more just and equitable society.


Jay Grunin Jeremy Grunin

As we dive deeper into our equity, diversity and inclusion journey at the Central Jersey Shore, we will be creating three working groups, one for each of the strategies below, inspired by the insight of our nonprofit and community partners:

  1. Empowering Youth Changemakers
  2. Amplifying Diverse Leadership
  3. Empowering Communities that Center Equity

We plan to hold monthly meetings from September to December to determine priorities, metrics and near-term goals. Each working group will meet once per month from September through December 2021.  

The goals for each of the working groups for this year will be: 

  • Map projects/activities already being done across the Central Jersey Shore.
  • Gap analysis of the projects & activities.
  • Source ideas for future implementation (e.g., Are there opportunities for enhanced support of existing work? Creation of new program partnerships?)
  • Review opportunities for program measurement.
  • Make recommendations for 2022 activity.

We pledge to remain transparent throughout this journey and share the outcomes of the working groups on our website as we move along.  We also know there will be many opportunities for community involvement moving forward.

Learn more about what we are doing to help break down barriers, uplift marginalized voices, celebrate diversity, and champion a more just and equitable society.

We are so happy to introduce you to our DIAL Intern, Camryn Morrow! Camryn came to us through the Diversity in Arts Leadership Internship program and will be with us until early August. Administered by Americans for the Arts and national partners, DIAL matches undergraduate students from backgrounds underrepresented in arts leadership with dynamic communities, energetic host arts organizations, and mentors to guide students’ personal and professional growth throughout the summer. While we are sad we only get to work with Camryn for ten weeks, we are grateful to have been paired with her and built a relationship that will last long beyond her internship! Learn a little more about Camryn and all of the incredible things she has accomplished and planned for the future.  

Camryn is a fourth-year Human Development and Community Engagement major at the University of Cincinnati. A Cincinnati native, Camryn was surrounded by the arts and artists her entire life, which played a significant role in her passion for the arts and the community.   

Camryn’s education was also fully immersed in the arts. Her elementary school was a magnet school and exposed her to the arts from the very beginning. She also attended a creative and performing arts middle and high school. These experiences had so many positive impacts on her life. It made learning exciting and kept her engaged. She was also exposed to philanthropy and nonprofits in the arts. This is what really made her excited about future opportunities. Camryn said, “I realized that this is something I could do. This is in the cards for me.”   

Committed to following in the steps of people she met through service programs, Camryn was excited to give back and make a difference. As a high school graduate, her passions remained in education and the arts, and with a background in service and creative writing, she didn’t know how to blend it all to translate into a career. 

Camryn began working with Breakthrough Cincinnati, a transformative experience that came at just the right time in her life as she was contemplating her future and searching for community. Breakthrough Cincinnati pairs college students with middle school students to help put them on a path for success. Through this program, Camryn helped kids stay engaged in their coursework and build relationships. Some of the kids had to deal with challenges in their home life, but Breakthrough Cincinnati was a place full of love and support for all – students, leaders, and peers. Camryn has always loved working with kids, and this allowed her to not only help others but to create lifelong relationships.

At the University of Cincinnati, Camryn started as a Sociology major, and while she loved it, she knew it wasn’t for her. Ultimately, she found her footing with a major in Human Development and Community Engagement. In addition to her coursework, Camryn has interned for several arts organizations and has also gone back to Breakthrough Cincinnati as an intern.  

During her time in the DIAL Internship program, Camryn is working with the Grunin Foundation and the New Jersey Arts and Culture Recovery Fund (NJACRF). She is working on the NJACRF Impact Report project. She has had the opportunity to interview individual artists and arts organizations to help tell their stories of strength and resilience throughout the global pandemic. Camryn has used her knowledge and creativity to help us put procedures into place and assist in the structure of the NJACRF Impact Report. She is an incredible asset to both the Grunin Foundation and NJACRF!  

When Camryn has free time, she spends it with her friends, who empower her and allow her to be her best self. She loves reading and journaling and even started a book club at her University. Camryn also enjoys touring her city. Although she was born and raised there, she always finds something new, whether at a museum, cultural center, festival, or anywhere within the vibrant city of Cincinnati.  

Camryn plans to use her love of the arts, education, creativity, and passion for social justice to empower students and address inequities in education. We love working with her, and we know she will be highly successful in all she does! 

How MindALIGNED Began

mindALIGNED began as a collective impact initiative to create arts-engaged schools in Monmouth and Ocean Counties. Educators, philanthropists, parents and civic leaders at the Central Jersey Shore convened to form mindALIGNED, which is modeled after the Creative Learning Initiative, a program in Austin, Texas. The Grunin Foundation was at the table for its inception, and we share the belief that when creativity and the arts are used in the classroom, students are more engaged and learning improves.

The goals of mindALIGNED are to re-invigorate learning, inspire greater engagement, and provide a brighter classroom experience for teachers, students and parents alike. By 2030, the hope is for every school district and community in Monmouth and Ocean Counties to become mindALIGNED and arts-engaged.

mindALIGNED is spearheaded by Count Basie Center for the Arts (The Basie), in partnership with leadership from the Grunin Foundation, Monmouth University, Young Audiences of New Jersey and Eastern Pennsylvania, government and arts councils, teachers, school administrators, and the Monmouth County Department of Education. It was piloted in 2017-2018 school year with six participating schools in Monmouth and Ocean Counties. By the fall of the 2019-2020 school year, that number increased to 17, and the program was going strong. Today, there are 10 district partners, 19 schools participating, 690 trained teachers and nearly 12,000 students impacted!

Creative Teaching

There are many ways the arts can be used to teach lessons across all subjects. Creative Teaching refers to a set of instructional techniques drawn from the arts to teach any content area; engaging students, driving inquiry, promoting rigor, and creating personal connections to learning. One example of a creative teaching method is statue. The statue technique invites students to take what is most important about a single idea or multifaceted topic and express it as a physical representation (a statue), that the class can interpret and discuss.

Creative teaching methods are so diverse that they can be implemented to teach any subject. Statues can be used to teach vocabulary words, depict character descriptions, show energy roles in science and even express graphs, shapes or lines in math. And that’s just naming a few areas in which statues can be used within curriculum and lessons. This is also just one of many examples of creative teaching techniques.

How COVID Changed Education

Without knowing that COVID was about to transform education as we knew it, Professional Development had already been ramping up. During the second week of March in 2020, schools were holding mindALIGNED family nights, where parents learned how to use creative learning techniques with their children at home. While this was very important to both the parents and children, no one realized just how valuable this would become, as the shutdown of the schools was impending.

When COVID finally caused schools to close, the mindALIGNED program had to be incorporated in different ways. The Basie team supported the schools but also gave them space to carry out the program in a way that worked for them. There have been many virtual trainings, Professional Development sessions, coaching time and even virtual field trips over the past fifteen months.

Mental health was also a key factor in rethinking how mindALIGNED programs would be implemented virtually. The mental health of the students was important prior to COVID and now it was extremely crucial. Teachers included mindfulness moments in their lessons, relationship building exercises and focused on social-emotional learning.

The new, fully virtual world was creating many opportunities, some that would continue to be beneficial even when schools fully open. It allowed the teachers to go more in depth with virtual Professional Development, which is something they wanted to do for a while. Different school communities were finally able to come together to learn virtually. And there were more workshop requests than usual – teachers could simply turn on their computer and the teaching artist was right there.

mindALIGNED Impact

Measuring impact can be challenging (especially during a global pandemic), but it is critical to ensure programs are achieving goals, to use for future funding and to assess if any changes need to be made. Dr. Deborah E. Ward has been working with the mindALIGNED initiative to provide external research and evaluation. Dr. Ward’s research has found that 100% of teachers responded that the program and creative teaching strategies improve student engagement, the visibility of the arts in schools, and students’ creative expression, while 89% of teachers said the professional development training provided them effective teaching tools. Samantha Giustiniani, Senior Director of Education & Outreach at Count Basie Center for the Arts and Director of the mindALIGNED program along with her team, were able to use some of the downtime during COVID to utilize UpMetrics, an impact visualization tool. Utilizing data collected by Dr. Ward, this has been very helpful with fundraising activities, storytelling to the community and shaping the teacher and student experience in the classroom.

The Future

Next year will be a recovery year for administrators, teachers, students and parents. The mindALIGNED team will continue to help teachers finish the necessary Professional Development and get incorporated safely back into the schools. While the virtual world has certainly presented some great opportunities, everyone is looking forward to forging ahead and being in the classroom again!

Visit for more in-depth information and to stay up-to-date on the mind ALIGNED program.

Strengthening community is the foundation of the YMCA of Greater Monmouth County (The Y). They believe that lasting personal and social change can only come about when we all work together to invest in our kids, our health and our neighbors. That’s why they focus their work in three areas: youth development, healthy living and social responsibility.

In September of 2019, the Community YMCA and YMCA of Western Monmouth County, united to become the YMCA of Greater Monmouth County. While everyone was excited for the new synergy that would enable both Ys to benefit from shared resources and enhance their ability to respond to the community’s most pressing needs, merging organizations still presents many challenges.

Laurie Goganzer, former president and CEO of The Community YMCA, was appointed to lead the newly formed YMCA of Greater Monmouth County in the same role. Laurie was fairly new to this Y, and began here in 2017 after holding leadership roles for 25 years at Ys across New York and California. She was now tasked with one of her career’s biggest challenges – building trust with the staff and board across two organizations, now joined as one.

With this strategic alliance, the YMCA of Greater Monmouth County became the 2nd largest Y in New Jersey. Now it was time to create a shared vision and strategic plan. In January 2020, the process began and soon after, COVID hit. While the pandemic had changed life as we knew it for everyone across the world, the global pause created the perfect conditions for the Y to work on its strategic planning. They had more time to focus and were very successful at creating a shared vision for their future.

Sadly, the financial impact of COVID on their non-profit organization resulted in a layoff of 85% of her workforce, the majority of which were frontline employees in direct service roles. Layoffs are difficult to begin with, but after just building trust with her combined staff and board, this was emotionally and physically draining for Laurie and the team. “We had already gone into the pandemic both inspired and tired,” Laurie said. Still, they had to move forward so they leveraged the strategic planning process to help.

Prior to COVID, the facilities at the YMCA of Greater Monmouth County were considered  health and wellness centers. Once COVID hit, they shifted gears, changed their business model and became community care centers. Collaboration had already set up the Y for success, as they worked with 70 partners before the pandemic. Now, more than ever, it was crucial to work together.

Community care was the top priority, so Laurie and the team took a step back and assessed what the critical needs were for both the members and community. They started focusing on food insecurity and worked with Fulfill to become food distribution centers. The Y held food drives, collecting and distributing donations at their locations to give back to those in need. They also served over 30,000 meals. Additionally, they quickly began emergency childcare for children of essential employees.

The Y also held blood drives where community residents, Y staff and members could conveniently donate. They received over 1,000 pints of blood on location, saving over 2,500 lives. Their Red Bank location also became a testing site for COVID in May of 2020, and they were one of the first YMCA vaccination sites in the country. Partnering with VNA Health Group, they provided over 15,000 vaccinations!

If you ask Laurie what the silver lining is from the last fourteen months, she would say communication, which has definitely ramped up for the YMCA of Greater Monmouth County. They became closer with stakeholders, volunteers and donors. They consistently stayed in touch with Y members and board members. They even raised more money during these tough times because people could truly see the good work being done for the community, and understand that the Y is so much more than just a place to exercise.

Moving Forward

As things begin to open and we move towards physically healthier days, we will be facing our next collective challenge – the mental health crisis that is arising from the pandemic. The Y never stopped their mental health services and quickly shifted to virtual offerings. From stress management and anxiety relief webinars to traumatic loss, addiction recovery and therapeutic counseling for all individuals and families, the Y is now offering a hybrid model of mental health options.

Laurie and her team are now looking into what to continue doing to stay successful as community care centers as well as what to stop doing so they can focus on what matters most. She continues to do everything she can to motivate her staff, board and Y members, as well as show the community what the Y really is. While most hear “YMCA” and think of fitness and swimming, they now know that the Y is a charity, with a core mission to strengthen the community.

Laurie said, “We are not just IN the community, we are FOR the community. We are working with our partners to do more and we are using our strengths to give back.”

Visit to keep up-to-date with all that the YMCA of Greater Monmouth County plans to do for our community!

The Count Basie Center for the Arts (The Basie) is New Jersey’s premier center for the cultural arts, dedicated to fostering powerful, inclusive artistic experiences and creative exchange of ideas. The Basie’s mission is to inspire, educate and entertain through its distinct and engaging cultural and artistic offerings that reflect the diversity of the region. 

When most people hear the name Count Basie Center for the Arts, they envision the beautiful, historic theater, but it is so much more. As a nonprofit organization, The Basie is committed to enriching the community’s quality of life by generating opportunities for participation in the arts, partnering with schools, collaborating with other mission-based organizations and driving regional economic prosperity.

Serving the Community During a Pandemic

It was Friday the 13th in March of 2020 and Tony Bennett took the stage at The Basie. All was right inside the theater that night. Even as the COVID-19 news was getting worse and hitting closer to home, no one thought that this could be the last concert for the year. The next day, an artist who was scheduled for a 5pm concert had cancelled. One by one, cancellations were coming in for the rest of March and April…then May and June. As the team looked into the fall schedule, they knew it wasn’t going to happen in the traditional sense. With guidelines changing by the minute, it wasn’t easy to shift plans on a dime as there was so much involved in setting up performances.

At a somber board meeting last May, future possibilities were discussed but one thing was certain – the doors were not going to remain closed permanently. Adam Philipson, CEO and President of Count Basie Center for the Arts said, “We know the power the arts have on mental health and now, more than ever, we need the arts for long-term healing. ” The show must go on, and it did.

Adam, the staff and board members knew they had to go all virtual with as many offerings as possible. Classes, shows, award ceremonies, talent searches – all happened virtually and gave the community a space to enjoy creativity, feel safe and most importantly, feel like they were collectively a part of something again.

As the months went on and the guidelines for indoor gatherings were not changing, The Basie team sat in the trenches and wrote their own playbook on how they could continue living their mission while staying and keeping others healthy.

The Basie isn’t a stranger to tough times and learning how to adapt. When Superstorm Sandy hit, The Basie’s first question was, “how can we be an asset to the community?” They used their space as a charging and warming station and offered free movies to bring some relief in a time of crisis. And today, during the global pandemic, it is no different except now, The Basie is suffering right along with the rest of the world. They decided to change the narrative and used their marquee to showcase inspirational messages, quickly becoming a beacon of hope.

The Basie team stayed on top of the CDC instructions and found ways to creatively host events while adhering to the guidelines. They safely staged the largest drive-in concert in the country with over 900 cars of people in attendance! They also began an outdoor summer concert series that together with the Drive Ins saw nearly 40,000 people come through by the end of the season. It was clear – people were hungry to have a moment of normalcy again.

Adam was inspired by all who continued to show up to the concerts. He knew that if they could keep bringing the arts and entertainment safely to the community while staying within the CDC guidelines, people would be there time and time again.

In October, Adam and his crew figured out how to open a new venue in the Grunin Education building called The Vogel, using part of the Count Basie Center for the Arts campus. The Vogel held 150 people who could safely sit 6 feet apart at tables. They hosted more than 70 sold out shows. Nothing seemed to stop The Basie team from finding new ways to bring the arts to the community. They created a second, 150-seat venue with more sold-out shows. As Adam said, “If you do it right and do it safely, people will come back and stay healthy.”

Summer Plans

Last summer, The Basie opened an outdoor venue but they were constantly fighting the weather. This year, they have a beautiful, outdoor, but covered, concert space at Suneagles Golf Course  in Monmouth County. So far, they have booked 70 shows and sold almost 20,000 tickets. They hope to have 100 shows this summer.

Today, they are thinking about taking down the pop-up stage in the historic theater to make more room as restrictions ease up. As we move towards the days of zero capacity limits, Adam and his team will continue to work on sustainability and keeping the arts alive at The Basie. Adam is so proud of his team and board of directors who are always strategically thinking and working to figure out the next steps and how to get to the next level. As Adam said, “Whatever comes our way, we will be ready to inspire, entertain and educate.”

The Future

We look forward to the day when The Basie can be back to full capacity; however, they have done an incredible job pushing through the challenges and getting creative to make it work. Visit the Count Basie Center for the Arts website to learn more and stay up-to-date on their shows and programs!