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Kirsten Robinson: A 26-Year-Old’s 25 Years At The J

By Kirsten Robinson

Not too long ago, someone asked me how I would feel if I could no longer work at the Levite Jewish Community Center. It didn’t take me long to answer. “If I couldn’t work at the J, I would feel devastated because I have a passion for this place. It would be crushing. It would be like losing everything — family, friends, my personal history, my way of life, the things that drive me, the things that put meaning in my life.”

Why do I say these things? The answer begins with who I am.

Now age 26, I’ve been participating in activities at the J since I was less than a year old — for more than 25 years!

It has been a unique experience that has shaped me. Growing up, I attended Birmingham and Homewood schools. My family moved around so I kind of “bounced around.”

The J was my constant — the one place I always could go that was there for my family and me. My uncle, John Besse, was the Athletics Director at the J, and through him, my sisters and I became involved in almost everything the J had to offer.

Sports was my passion — and my uncle was involved in almost every sport at the J. He opened lots of doors for my sisters and me. I think all the time about the opportunities the J gave my family through sports, and how we felt like we were part of something bigger — “the J family.”

OPPORTUNITIES

I grew up in a single parent home with two siblings. If it weren’t for the J, and the opportunities extended to my sisters and me, there is no way I could have developed the love for sports that I did.

As a result of my training at the J, I wound up playing varsity soccer for Homewood High School — even though I was just in seventh grade! I was 12, playing with 18-year-olds. It was at the Jewish Community Center where the whole idea of my playing with older age groups started.

I graduated Homewood High School in 2009 and was awarded a soccer scholarship to the University of Kentucky. I felt so honored because I always wanted a college education. At Kentucky, I was a starting player on the varsity team all four years.

I got a degree in social work. I pursued social work because while at the University, I did community service at an agency called Hope Lodge. The facility offered a place for cancer patients and their families to stay while patients received treatment. I was there to hang out with them, play bingo, celebrate holidays, and cook and clean. I even got three of Kentucky’s famed basketball players to come help cook for our Christmas party!

I discovered that helping people was what I wanted to do. This experience planted in me a desire to care for people, empathize with people, and, especially, to reach out to people going through tough times.

After college, I wound up back at the J, because people had reached out to me wanting me to come back to work there.

Eventually, I was asked if I would assume more responsibility. The opportunities grew, I accepted different roles and now, at the age of 26, I’m in a dream job — Director of Athletics. Who could’ve imagined that?! I’m so happy.

ALL WALKS OF LIFE

As a child, teen, and now a young adult, I have been reminded over and over that the Levite Jewish Community Center is a place where people from all walks of life are welcomed and accepted. For me, a bi-racial, Christian woman, growing up at the J seemed natural and was a wonderful experience. I also had an opportunity that not many of my Birmingham and Homewood classmates would ever experience — I got to know many Jewish people and made many close Jewish friends.

I remember when I was younger explaining to my classmates at school that I was a member of the Levite Jewish Community Center. I would get the same question I get today: “Are you Jewish?” I’d answer, “No, but the J accepts everyone, you do not have to be Jewish to be a member.” Growing up at the J, I learned about Jewish holidays, bar and bat mitzvahs, and Hebrew words.

I thought this kind of experience — learning about other faiths and cultures — was normal. What I found out as I got older, was that these experiences were not typical — and many people had very little knowledge of Jews.

Today, as a Jewish Community Center staff professional, my goal is to make sports available not just for our LJCC members, but for as many kids as possible. I recently received an amazing grant from the Birmingham Jewish Foundation to start a new sports partnership between the J and Avondale Elementary School.

To me, providing sports for kids is a form of social work — through athletic activities at the J, we can enlarge their lives, give them unique growth experiences, and develop in them lasting traits that will help them be better citizens as adults.

Working at the J is great, especially for young professionals. You are pushed to attain higher standards but have the freedom to make decisions and develop new ideas. The feedback I get is amazing. The culture I work in makes the impossible possible. For example, I have been encouraged to pursue graduate school. I feel valued, “seen” and acknowledged. I always feel the leadership team at the J is on my side — even when I make mistakes.

Twenty-five years later, after almost literally beginning my life at our Jewish Community Center, I could not imagine being more fulfilled. Everyday, I tell people, “I have the dream job.”

Thank you, LJCC!

The LJCC is funded in part by the Birmingham Jewish Federation, the Birmingham Jewish Foundation and the United Way of Central Alabama.

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