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Avocation became vocation, leading Shapiro to head JCC

By Leon Cohen
of The Chronicle staff

February 12th, 2009

In more ways than one, Mark F. Shapiro owes becoming the new executive director of the Harry & Rose Samson Family Jewish Community Center ultimately to his mother.

Mark F. Shapiro

Mark F. Shapiro

As Shapiro, 41, related in a telephone interview last week, he used to own a truck brokerage company in his native Chicago-area. But he was at the same time director of the Jewish youth group in which he had grown up, that of Congregation Solel in Highland Park.

“One day, my mom told me it might be a good idea to switch my vocation and my avocation, because I seemed to love my hobby a lot more than my job,” Shapiro said.

Shapiro sold the business and in 1993 became assistant director at Camp CHI, the overnight camp of the Chicago Jewish Community Centers, located in Lake Delton, Wis. He has been a Jewish community professional ever since.

Becoming the Milwaukee JCC executive director, he said, “has been a very humbling experience, to say the least. To have the board unanimously approve my appointment and to have the kind of support of the staff and well wishes from people has been humbling and exciting at the same time.”

Jane Chernof chaired the nine-member executive search committee, which also unanimously recommended that Shapiro get the post.

“We have complete confidence in his ability and in the direction in which he wants to take the JCC,” Chernof told The Chronicle in a telephone interview. “He is a motivator, he addresses the needs of the membership” and “he is very well respected by the staff.”

And Todd Lappin, chair of the board of directors, said in a statement that the search process “really showed the committee and board how dedicated Mark is to the center and what a great team-builder he is, not just within the JCC, but within the entire community.”

Indeed, Shapiro’s plans for the JCC “involve the staff, the lay leadership and members of the community in helping to form the long range vision for what they want our center to be,” Shapiro said.

“Having completed the building phase, the focus is now on program and meeting the needs of the community,” he continued. “My goal is to lead the center through a long-range strategic planning process that will identify the best possible ways for us to serve the community.”

Moreover, Shapiro added, “One of the things the center has to be prepared to do is work in collaboration with other Jewish community organizations. I think with the current economic times, all of the Jewish community organizations are going to need to come together and pool resources.

“With the combined efforts of our staffs, we will be able to deliver much more affordable and higher quality programs and services for the benefit of the overall Jewish community.”

‘Being Jewish was fun’

His mother may have given him valuable career advice, but Shapiro credits both his parents with showing him that “being Jewish was fun.”

His mother was a teacher at the Solomon Schechter Jewish Day School in Northbrook, Ill. Now retired, she still goes there to read stories to children on Friday before Shabbat.

His father, now deceased, was a pharmacist. Both parents were “strongly observant, traditional Conservative Jews” for whom “Friday night was spent with the family — no telephone, no television,” Shapiro said. “We sat around the table and talked until there was nothing left to talk about.”

Shapiro became deeply involved through the youth group in high school “and I just never stopped.”

After studying psychology at Indiana University and doing his stint in the trucking industry, he spent nine years working at Camp CHI. There, he met Sharon Schneider, who at the time ran the teen camp. They are married and have two daughters, Carli, 10, and Sophie, 8.

In 2002, Shapiro became executive director of the Perlstein Resort and Conference Center, which is associated with Camp CHI. In 2004, he was appointed associate executive director of the Milwaukee JCC, and for the past nine months, he has been acting director.

Those nine months have demonstrated to Lappin that Shapiro is the right man for the job. “I had to work with him closely”, said Lappin in a telephone conversation.
“He’s good; he learned fast. Most important, he has the respect of the staff and the board and the membership.”