Michael Waldman comes from a long line of social workers: his grandparents, aunts, uncle, parents and sister. So it’s probably not surprising that Waldman, 36, would follow somewhat in their footsteps. He’s the vice president and chief operating officer of the Jewish Community Center (JCC) in San Antonio.
Waldman’s career path began very early at the JCC in St. Paul, Minn., where he grew up. He went there for daycare, then nursery school. As he grew older, he went to the center for swimming, sports and theater programs. He became a counselor at the JCC’s summer camp, then teen director in the youth lounge, where youths hung out after school, did homework and played video games.
When the regular teen director landed another job, Waldman took her place, even while he was attending Minnesota’s Metropolitan State University, where he majored in communications and marketing. After college, he stayed on at the St. Paul JCC as youth services director and camp director until 2005, when he moved to the center in San Antonio.
At the JCC, Waldman says, “you’re selling something, in a way, membership and programs. But everything we do is helping people: either fitness helping bodies, summer camp helping kids develop and grow, youth programs helping teens take the next step in life, senior programs allowing them to connect to the community.
“You do it because you’re making a difference in the world, certainly not for the money.”
Waldman says he’s not particularly religious. “I’m not doing this to further a Jewish cause,” he says, “but I believe in the concept and ethics of Judaism, for sure. In some ways, it’s part of who I am.”
What matters most to Waldman is making a difference in the lives of young people. He still hears from some of those he mentored years ago. They include one young man “who was definitely on the road to somewhere very bad who is having a great life, is married with two kids now. …
“He does acknowledge that the time I spent with him in the youth lounge helping him do homework, forcing him to have certain behaviors and standards in a positive way had great impact,” Waldman says. “He acknowledges that I was the only one in his life doing that at the time.”
Waldman likes to think that some of his charges might even follow in his footsteps. “It would be great to have one of the kids who were there when I was become a director,” he says. “And I would hope my mentors look and go, ‘Wow, that crazy kid is now assistant director of a JCC.’ ”