“I’m on a basketball team? A real team? And I get to play in real basketball games?”
First-grader Christian Morales was ecstatic to learn that he was not just signing up for a weekly basketball class, but he was signing up to be a part of the Mayerson JCC Blue Jays basketball team. Christian always wanted to feel like he was a part of a team, and he found that at the J.
The Morales family joined in 2017 to use the pools at the J and enroll Christian in Camp at the J.
“We then got really involved in other programming in 2020,” Laura Morales, Christian’s mom, said. “It’s been nonstop since!”
Despite feeling nervous on his first day of Camp at the J, by the end of the day, Christian was excited to come back.
“He was a bit nervous; he gets a bit shy,” Leon Morales, Christian’s dad, said. “He choked up a little bit at drop-off. But once I picked him up, he was in good spirits. It was the best day ever.”
Since joining, they have taken advantage of almost all of the youth programs at the J – from Pokémon tournaments to archery classes. With so much uncertainty because of COVID-19, the Moraleses wanted to make sure Christian had a successful school year—his first in elementary school. All Day at the J was a lifesaver for the Morales family, as it really filled a critical need during school closures.
“Because of All Day at the J, we were both able to continue to work while Christian still got to have a really amazing school experience filled with tons of educational activities, sports, various teachers for different subjects and specialties, and friends!” Laura said. “It was awesome for him to make friends with kids from different schools who he otherwise wouldn’t have met. He kept up with school, and once they went back into the classroom, he was exceeding all the milestones they have for his age.
“The most important thing to me, for Christian as a kindergartner, was to have that social-emotional growth that you get when you learn how to make new friends, work together, work out an argument, and play together,” she continued. “He is our only kiddo at home, and it would not be fair for him to miss out on that experience.”
When the time came to go back to school fully, they found a balance by sending Christian to After Crew, the after-school program at the J. Christian loves it so much that he strongly reminds his parents not to pick him up too early.
“He is so excited to get to ride the JCC bus each day from Pleasant Ridge Montessori and get a snack at After Crew,” Laura said. “Extending the social part of the day allows him to be more active because they do sports, swimming, and more. It also allows us the flexibility to work our full-time hours and spend more quality time together after he is done with After Crew.”
Laura owes a lot of Christian’s experiences to the staff that make it amazing. Coach Mike and Coach Rob have helped him with his basketball skills, sportsmanship and teamwork. Teacher Sarah was one of his favorite teachers for All Day at the J; they kept him learning and engaged.
Because of the staff and the atmosphere in general at the J, Laura feels like Christian has become a “sweet, well-rounded kid.”
“It takes a village and, man, what an amazing village we have at the J,” Laura said.
For the Moraleses, creating connections at the J is a family affair. While they have taken part in almost every youth program, they have also been involved with programming for adults or other events.
Because of that, they have been able to forge friendships with other parents who bring their kids to the J. The summer is a great time for them to connect with other parents as they are hanging out by the pool and watching their children swim.
“I know I’ve met a lot of different parents that I probably wouldn’t see or meet on a regular basis,” Leon said.
“I tell everyone we are literally ‘all in’ with the J because as long as we are available, we are likely ‘in’ for anything the J is offering. We love it, and we love that it’s a positive place our whole family can enjoy for many, many years.”