Alison Cristall is the new assistant executive director of the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver. (photo from Alison Cristall)
Alison Cristall feels that she has come full circle, as she assumes her new job as assistant executive director of the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver. Among her earliest recollections are times at the Davis YM-YWHA in Montreal: going to preschool, taking swimming lessons and attending summer camps.
“I used to wait for my mom to finish her aerobics class while I hung out at the café eating French fries and doughnuts. Needless to say, I have extremely fond memories of my childhood, and our JCC was a very big part of it. My hope is that I can be a part of creating memories for others that are foundational to their lives,” she said.
Cristall officially started at the JCC on Feb. 7 and, in a recent interview, she affirmed her excitement about the new role and shared some of her thoughts.
“My priority is to listen to the staff, the community, members and stakeholders,” she said. “We are at an interesting time. In this time of change, I think understanding where our community is at, where our funders and stakeholders are, and understanding what their priorities are, is going to be foundational to how I proceed with the team.”
Cristall will be taking over many of the same responsibilities as Debbie Tabenkin, the recently retired director of programming and strategic initiatives, though in a reprised assistant executive director’s position. The last person to hold that job was current JCC executive director Eldad Goldfarb.
Cristall arrives at 950 West 41st Avenue with a wealth of experience around recreation centres and helping people be physically active. The Montreal native moved to British Columbia to obtain a degree in human kinetics and pursue her passion of health promotion and recreation.
While at the University of British Columbia, she developed Active U, a student-led health promotion program designed to increase physical activity and healthy eating for students living on campus. Upon graduation, she started work immediately on ACTNowBC, an initiative run by the provincial government to encourage a healthy and active lifestyle.
After the 2010 Winter Olympics, Cristall held a position with SportMedBC, where she oversaw the Sun Run in Training Program and its sister program, Aboriginal RunWalk, a provincially funded initiative to bring health and wellness programming to 100 Indigenous communities in the province.
For the past six years, she has been the recreation supervisor of the Trout Lake Community Centre, a job that did not get any less hectic due to the pandemic, because a building with an ice rink still needed to be maintained and some operations, such as summer day camps, continued.
“I had the time of my life at the centre,” Cristall said. “It solidified for me that running a community centre is my true passion.”
She added, “I am completely motivated by creating a safe, vibrant and relevant space for people to feel connected. When the opportunity came up to take this position at the JCC, I knew it was the right choice to leave the Park Board.”
Cristall recognizes that these are unprecedented times, and she hopes to take part in the development of new programs as the JCC begins to restart activities.
“The way centres have traditionally operated will change. We need to move forward and provide services that people need and are ready to participate in,” she said, emphasizing that an understanding of where people are emotionally, psychologically and spiritually in the return to some semblance of normalcy is crucial.
She points out that with this transition come opportunities for the JCC to grow. For example, a switch to providing some hybrid activities could open up what the JCC has to offer to a broader group of people around the city and beyond.
“It’s a good time to do an evaluation of programs and services and conduct needs assessments around the community, and to think towards the future,” she said.
Cristall spoke in glowing terms regarding her connection to the Vancouver Jewish community, from the time she first met her husband at a Hanukkah party to the present.
“This is such a lovely Jewish community and you can really find the areas where you fit in,” she said. “It is a community that is integrated yet still very close, and they take care of each other in a very amazing way, and the JCC is at the centre of it. There is something so grounding about having a JCC that can be the home for programs and services or some need within the community.”
The JCC board and staff are equally excited to have Cristall join them.
“Alison is an accomplished and experienced professional,” said Goldfarb. “She will help set the course and lead our team as we continue serving our community as well as gearing up towards the creation and building of our new JCC and community hub…. I look forward to working with her, our dedicated team and board as we shape the future of our community.”
Sam Margolis has written for the Globe and Mail, the National Post, UPI and MSNBC.