It sounds like a significant endeavor — to open your home to the visiting teen athletes of the 2015 JCC Maccabi Games.
And while the impact of the experience will transcend the week of Aug. 2, leaders and organizers for the Games are hitting the streets to ensure that the community understands how accessible the opportunity is for all of Jewish Milwaukee.
“It really comes down to ‘Do you have two beds and two seatbelts?’” said Host Family Committee co-chair Cheryl Moser. “Certainly, the responsibility of housing teen athletes is real.
“But, at the end of the day, this is an incredible experience for both host and athlete — and one that doesn’t require a significant investment of time.”
The host family experience, which is largely considered one of the most important elements of any successful JCC Maccabi Games, begins the moment a family registers at MilwaukeeMaccabi.org. In the weeks leading up to the Games, the host family is matched and connected with at least two teen athletes.
“The beginning of July is when we really need host families to be fully registered. We’ll begin the matching process then, and ensure that the needs of both the host and athlete are met,” explained Host Family co-chair Neena Florsheim.
“The beauty of our community, and the community of Games participants that will visit Milwaukee, is that Jews of all backgrounds and all observation levels can feel at home,” added fellow co-chair Ronna Pachefsky. “We’ll have a diversity of options available, including providing kosher hospitality, for everyone that will call Milwaukee home that week.”
The Games begin on Sunday, Aug. 2, as visiting delegations travel to Milwaukee and make their way to the Harry & Rose Samson Family Jewish Community Center for check-in and orientation.
“The JCC will be buzzing with activity and overflowing with the energy of our guests, staff and volunteer teams,” said Florsheim. “Having witnessed this in Detroit last year, I’m excited to have that happen right here at our own JCC.”
After the athletes have checked in, received their credentials and had their team photos taken, they will meet up with their host families and enjoy a few hours getting acclimated to their accommodations.
Later that evening, host parents will accompany — and enjoy — the opening ceremonies at the BMO Harris Bradley Center.
“Short of actually being a teen athlete, I don’t know if there’s a way to get closer to the Games than being a host family,” added Moser. “It’s certainly the next best thing to being an athlete’s parent.”
Each day, the host family will be asked to provide the athlete breakfast, offer laundry accessibility and transport the athlete to Nicolet High School at the beginning and conclusion of each day.
“Once the Games have begun, it’s a fairly low-barrier experience for the host,” said Pachefsky, “and there will be a team of staff and volunteers ready to serve should any needs arise.”
Beyond having special access to the Opening Ceremonies, host families are also encouraged to attend any athletic competition during the week of the Games.
“It really becomes a special relationship, and past communities are always so proud of how seriously these surrogate families take the opportunity — and how many of them are in the stands to cheer on their ‘kids’ during their competitions,” said Moser.
The evening of Wednesday, Aug. 5, is scheduled for host families to spend time with their athletes and show them all that Milwaukee has to offer.
“Host families are already coming together and coordinating family night, and the Steering Committee is building a list of scheduled activities and events that are happening throughout the community,” said JCC Maccabi Games assistant games director Kelly Biedinger.
Closing Ceremonies will be held at the JCC on Thursday, Aug. 6, and host families will receive an exclusive invitation to participate in portions of the ceremony.
“We couldn’t possibly host the JCC Maccabi Games without all of Jewish Milwaukee opening their homes to these athletes from around the world,” said Pachefksy. “From Opening Ceremonies to Closing, our host families will have a unique seat at the very front of everything the Games have to offer.”
To learn more about the host family experience, see the list of visiting delegations or complete your registration, visit MilwaukeeMaccabi.org.
Chad Tessmer is Chief Marketing Officer of the Harry & Rose Samson Family Jewish Community Center.
1st published in the Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle