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Gretchen Gross, an early childhood educator who founded Audubon in College Park, a national accredited program for young children, and served as its director almost continually for 38 years before retiring has been named this year’s recipient of the Jewish Community Center’s Ralph Kushner Volunteer Service Award. The award, established in 1998 and named after Ralph Kushner, a longtime community volunteer coordinator, is given annually to a community member who demonstrates exemplary volunteer community leadership.

“Gretchen has been a strong leading force for many years at the JCC,” says Richard Zakalik, JCC Executive Director. “During her presidency at the Jewish Community Center, her late husband Gordon built the Gretchen S. Gross Omanut (arts and crafts center) at Camp Centerland. Gretchen has helped the JCC grow and expand community programs and services through decades of personal generosity and board leadership,” said Zakalik. “She’s a hands-on leader and volunteer, who’s always participating, often bringing her tremendous talent as a photographer to capture the spirit and energy of JCC members, staff, programs and events, helping share stories of how we make a difference in lives every day.”

In addition to serving as the JCC President 2013-2015, Gross is Chair of the Camp Centerland Committee and a board member of the Foundation for Jewish Philanthropies. She is currently enrolled in her second year of professional training with the Harold Grinspoon Foundation’s GIFT program, joining with camp & JCC professionals from across the country to share best practices, successes and challenges of Jewish summer camps.

Gretchen’s leadership and philanthropy extends to numerous educational and not-for-profit agencies throughout Western New York. She has served on the New York State Division of the Women’s Steering Committee, board member at the Bureau of Jewish Education and as a frequent committee and task force member with the Jewish Federation of Greater Buffalo. She is involved with the Department of Jewish Thought at the University at Buffalo, has served on the Advisory Committee of United Way’s Success by Six and has chaired Kids Voting in Western New York.

She is a recent recipient of the Buffalo Jewish Federation’s Nathan Benderson Award, has been honored by the AJC, Buffalo Hearing & Speech Center, University of Buffalo, and the Foundation for Jewish Philanthropies among others.

“The entire JCC community is grateful to Gretchen for her generosity and leadership,” says Zakalik. “We look forward to thanking her and presenting her with the JCC’s highest honor at our annual meeting as we reflect on a year of accomplishments and share our vision for how the agency is planning a successful year ahead, providing services and programs that are more essential than ever to keeping our communities strong, healthy and well.”

The JCC’s annual meeting, open to all, takes place Thursday, June 11, 7-8 pm. online, via zoom.