A former Pittsburgh resident, Valerie Chambers returned to the community wounded several months ago by terrorism and found hope. She lent her healing skills as the wellness coordinator of the Marcus JCC to a new program of JCC Association of North America providing crisis relief to communities in need. As part of JResponse, Chambers joined dozens of JCC employees from across the country and Canada who have using the skills to help staff of the JCC of Greater Pittsburgh get back on their feet and get a needed respite.
The JCC Association developed JResponse with IsraAID to respond to crises such as natural disasters by lending JCC professionals to help communities recover and rebuild. The massacre at Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh broadened the JResponse mission – responding to acts of hate and terror that target Jewish communities, according to Doron Krakow, JCC Association President and CEO.
We asked Chambers to share details of her volunteer experience and how Pittsburgh is rebuilding since the fateful day in October when 11 lives were stolen.
“I had a busy and unforgettable day (Dec. 21) at the JCC of Greater Pittsburgh,” she said. She was there with a team of six JResponders.
“I was definitely able to use my skill set and experience as a personal trainer to make a difference as a JResponder. While at the JCCPGH, I worked in the fitness center and helped with the day-to-day tasks in the fitness department. I also helped with their J Café program, which gives seniors over 60 affordable lunch options.”
Life seemed to have resumed in Pittsburgh since the tragedy, she said. “Seeing that everyone continued their lives, while grieving, touched me deeply. … It was also great knowing that we were giving employees time to reflect and hopefully heal a bit.”
For Chambers, being in Pittsburgh was a reminder of her previous life there.
“I lived in Pittsburgh from 2011 through 2014. I would walk by Tree of Life synagogue every day when I lived on Wilkins Avenue. My husband and I were members of JCC of Greater Pittsburgh, and I had my first child at Magee Hospital,” she said.
“I consider the Pittsburgh community my extended family, and I am incredibly thankful to be able to give back to it in any way possible. It was heartening to work in a team filled with committed individuals and to practice tikkun olam.”
Looking to the future, Chambers remains optimistic. “There are signs on all the storefronts in Squirrel Hill that read, ‘Hate does not belong here. People have crocheted and knitted Stars of David and hung them on telephone poles. Talking to my close friends and family in the area, and the new friends I’ve made on this trip, I feel that they’re hopeful for the future, despite all that’s happened.”