With the mission of “Bringing Jewish Values to Life,” the Jewish Community Center of Chicago (JCC Chicago) has been one of the cornerstones of Jewish life in the city for more than a century. The largest provider of early childhood education and supervision in Illinois, JCC Chicago reaches out to young Jews across the city through day camps, sports programs, family events, and Jewish educational materials. These award-winning programs are targeted at all people, from every walk of life and faith background. The organization strives to provide funds to enable those in need to participate, offering $1.4 million in assistance so far in 2015.
In 1903, the organization that became JCC Chicago was established as the Chicago Hebrew Institute, a philanthropic endeavor seeking to ease the transition to America for Jewish immigrants. By 1913, nearly 300,000 Jews were taking part in the Institute’s programs, which included social services, educational opportunities, and Jewish fellowship. Taking inspiration from Jane Addam’s Hull House, the Institute grew to include English lessons, job training, and charitable work, even as Institute professionals expanded their facilities to include gymnasiums, pools, and an indoor track. Later renamed the Jewish People’s Institute in the early 1920s, the organization went so far as to open the People’s Junior College in response to the closure of Crane Junior College during the Depression.
Following the end of World War II, the organization took on its current name and rapidly expanded, and by the late 1960s, it had opened eight neighborhood centers to serve Jews across the greater Chicago region. Following the turn of the century, JCC Chicago consolidated its centers into four regional service units and began focusing on four core programs: Jewish Education, Resident Camping, Day Camping, and Early Childhood Education. JCC Chicago serves more than 4,000 young people every year through its educational programs, 4,000 children at its eight day camps, and countless families through efforts like Grand Adventures and the Start Smart Sports Program.