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    Center plunges into fundraising

    Beginning with a donation of $200,000, the Jewish community center plans events to raise $3-million to add space for its preschool.

    [Times photo: Scott Keeler]
    Reuben Siegman, 4, and Lindsey Kulchin, 4, both of Palm Harbor, show off their Rosh Hashana snack of apples and honey on Friday.

    By MAUREEN BYRNE

    © St. Petersburg Times, published September 30, 2000


    CLEARWATER -- As they usher in a new year in Rosh Hashana celebrations today, some local Jews are embarking on a new challenge: a $3-million building project at Golda Meir/Kent Jewish Center in Clearwater.

    Work on expanding Pinellas County's only Jewish community center, which offers a variety of social, education and exercise programs, is to begin within a year with a $1.5-million first phase. That will entail paying off the 12-year-old center's mortgage and renovating and enlarging the 24,000-square-foot facility at 1955 Virginia St.

    Part of the 12,000-square-foot addition will be a new home for the center's preschool, which has been operating out of three modular units on the 11-acre campus. The initial phase also will include two adult classrooms and office space, as well as enlarging the library and exercise room.

    The second phase, which would begin in two to three years, includes adding a gymnasium and auditorium to the facility.

    "What we're trying to do is service more and more people, certainly Jewish people, but everyone in the community," said Stan Newmark, president of the center's board of directors. "It's time to expand. It's time to bite the bullet and do what we have to do."

    The center has gotten a good start: An anonymous donor gave $200,000, Newmark said. The rest of the money will come from a capital fund drive and loans, he said.

    Newmark say he hopes the center's Humanitarian Award Dinner on Nov. 1 at Ruth Eckerd Hall will raise $150,000 toward the project. The $180-per-plate dinner, which will honor Dr. James P. Gills, founder and director of St. Luke's Cataract and Laser Institute, also will celebrate the center's final mortgage payment.

    In 1995, the Golda Meir Center on Jupiter Avenue merged with the Kent Jewish Community Center on Virginia Street. Golda Meir, which catered to seniors, opened in 1980, and Kent Jewish Community Center opened in 1984. Both centers were founded by Marshall and Reva Kent and Charles and Isadora Rutenberg.

    "It gives me a great sense of pleasure to have been a part of it and to see it grow and prosper," said Charles Rutenberg, who serves on the center's board.

    Until 1998, Pinellas residents could attend the Jewish Community Center of Pinellas County in Madeira Beach. Lack of interest in the facility forced it to close.

    Since the Golda Meir/Kent Jewish Center preschool opened in 1988, it has been operating out of the portable units. "The intent was for them to be there about five years," Newmark said. "It's time to do what we said we were going to do 12 years ago."

    Build a preschool, he said.

    Probably no one is more excited about the plans for a new school than its director, Jorie Massarsky, who has worked there for 11 years.

    "It's an answer to our prayers," she said, "We really couldn't expand anymore at this point."

    The preschool serves 60 2- to 5-year-olds. It also enrolls nearly 300 children and youths in its summer camp program.

    "We really need to look toward the future," Massarsky said. "The Jewish community is growing here and we want to be able to serve them."

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