Prior to interviewing for the position, the new Jewish Community Center of Youngstown executive director hadn’t been closer to Youngstown than Cincinnati. But “I fell in love with it when I came and visited,” Denise Wolf said. Though she lived in Arizona and Florida for many years, Wolf grew up in Chicago. “We have a family home in Minnesota and I love the Midwest,” she said. “I planned on going back there by the time I retire anyway, and now I’m there and I’m not retired yet.” Wolf’s first day was Jan. 29.
Previously, Wolf was the Tuscon (Arizona) J’s chief operating officer for 16 years. As COO, Wolf oversaw Early Childhood; Children, Youth & Camping Services; Health & Wellness; Special Needs Services; Art & Culture; and the day-to-day operations of the large agency. Prior to Tucson, Wolf lived in north central Florida and was the executive director at Congregation B’nai Israel and the executive at The Bridge Center in MA, a recreational and equine center for individuals with special needs. She began her career at the North Shore JCC as the assistant aquatic director and the youth and camping services director before heading to Brandeis for her master's degree. Wolf graduated from the University of Florida with a bachelor’s degree in exercise science and adapted physical education.
Her favorite part of her job is the people, both members and staff. “It’s a community and it’s my Jewishness,” she said. “So my personal part of it is my Jewishness because I didn’t grow up very religious. I fell into a JCC for my first job when I was in high school as a lifeguard. And I fell in love with the whole J thing.” She believes Jewish Community Centers are inclusive places where everyone can make their Jewish journey.
“Even if you’re not Jewish, it’s still a place for your journey because we’re open to all. That’s what I love about it. It’s a very personal thing for me, and I want to make it a personal thing for everyone because the J’s everywhere are wonderful places.”
Wolf is looking forward to “meeting a zillion new people,” as well as creating new programs for the community based on needs and interests. “I’m excited for this new journey in life because I’ve been a single mom who has brought up my children here and everything’s been about them. I’m so excited for my time now,” she added. “They’re going to be going to college, and now it’s a new life for me. So I plan to settle myself and stay there for a really long time.” Andrew Lipkin, Youngstown Area Jewish Federation CEO said, “I know that Denise will be a fantastic addition to our Senior Management team at the Federation.” Wolf is the mother of two sons. Jake, 20, is a student at Northern Arizona University. Cody, 18, is a senior in high school. Her parents and her dog Lobo will make the move to Youngstown with her, while her sons will join her in the summer.