From multi-media to mission-driven—and what I’ve learned along the way

It’s taken me 40 years to embrace the fact that I am a planner. 

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The author, saying goodbye to her daughters, Maya (left) and Samantha (right) as they headed to JCC Camp Chi.

It's taken me 40 years to embrace the fact that I am a planner.  

In high school, I knew where I wanted to go to college and what I wanted to study. In college I set my sights on working at large, global media companies and ultimately spent the better part of two decades working at ABC, CBS, and Harpo Studios. So, when a close friend told me about a job at JCC Chicago, my first reaction was a big pause. This was not in my plan. 

Age, and with it, some wisdom, has also taught me to embrace life's biggest surprises, because with those surprises can come some of the greatest gifts. When I started working in the Marketing and Communications Department at JCC Chicago in the Fall of 2015, I really had no idea what to expect; how I could impact the organization and how my new role could affect me. The impact of working for a Jewish, mission-driven organization continues to surprise me, inspire me, and fulfill me in some of the most unexpected ways. 

A few weeks ago, while standing in the parking lot of Westfield Old Orchard mall on a steamy summer morning, I gathered with scores of anxious and emotional parents-that iconic picture of Lamers buses ready to transport the next generation of kids up to JCC Camp Chi. I've done this twice before with my oldest daughter, so that combination of heart-pounding excitement and stomach pit sadness was not new for me.  

However, on that particular morning, I was not there with my own children. Instead, I was there as a JCC volunteer to ensure everything ran smoothly and every camper was on the bus, ready to go. Being there without my own family was like watching a movie filled with every intense emotion-something I hadn't previously noticed at the buses when preoccupied with my own kids. 

Along with every excited, anxious parent was a child, or two, or three, filled with his or her own mix of emotions. There were first time campers, older returning campers, campers with special needs, and campers who had already driven hundreds of miles from their homes out of state to meet the bus.  

This moment, for each of these children and their parents, was huge. Huge. It was evident that for some kids, this very day might have been the biggest in their lives so far. Free from the worry about getting my own kids on the bus, I took it all in-even calming some nervous parents and reassuring a few hesitant kids. As the buses pulled away, I stood there alongside the other parents, waving, smiling, heart-pounding, so proud of those kids and so proud to be part of an organization that makes experiences like this happen. 

Where I work, moments like these, big and small, fill the weeks, months, and ultimately the years. And my not-in-the-life-plan job lets me be part of these experiences in so many ways. My not-in-the-life-plan job allows me to connect with the community every day, to be part of enriching one person's life and on a really, really good day, impact thousands.  

My not-in-the-life-plan job continues to challenge me professionally. It's offered me the chance to partner with some of the most talented people with whom I ever worked-people filled with passion, dedication, and boundless creativity. Like every other job I've had, this one has kept me up at night, brought some long, grueling hours and deadlines that seem to never go away.  

This wonderful, challenging, thrilling work I get to do continues to amaze and fulfill me. This job was not in the plan, but every day it feels like this is exactly where I am supposed to be.  

Elizabeth Abrams is the director of Program Marketing for JCC Chicago. 




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