By Kristin Schultz
Gowns and glitter made an appearance as 120 people gathered for the Robert J. Ludwig Community Service Awards Gala at the Schenectady Jewish Community Center on Dec. 2.
CBS-6 anchorman Greg Floyd returned to emcee the event, which was held at the JCC for the first time in the gala’s seven-year history. A large faux-tree with white leaves dominated the decor and served as the room’s centerpiece and backdrop for photo ops and selfies.
As with most galas, the two main objectives were to raise money and to honor individuals and corporations for their personal and corporate contributions.
As for the first objective, executive director Mark Weintraub said the gala garnered more than $67,000 to support center programming.
On the second point, an individual, a bank and a nonprofit were recognized for their contributions to the JCC.
As honoree Sharon Cutler took to the podium, her family lit sparklers and cheered her on. Cutler received the Community Service Award for her years of service with the JCC.
In 1995, Cutler and her husband, Matt, who is also rabbi at Congregation Gates of Heaven, and their two boys settled in Niskayuna. They enrolled the boys in the early childhood programs at the JCC and launched not only their kids’ education but also Sharon’s efforts to help the center achieve its goals.
Sharon Cutler joined a parent group and not only gave her time, but also forged relationships that meant a lot to her family, as they settled into a new place.
“We were new to the community, and [the JCC] became my social center also,” Cutler said.
In 2006, Cutler led the charge to build a new playground for the early childhood center. In the years that followed, she served on the center’s board of directors and was board president from 2008 to 2011.
It isn’t all work for Cutler when she arrives at the Balltown Road building. She is also a member who uses the downstairs exercise room and takes advantage of other fitness opportunities.
Though her children are long-graduated from nursery school and are pursuing higher education, the experiences she and her children had with the JCC left a lasting impression, making Cutler an advocate for the educational offerings.
“I have always loved that, number one, the [Early Childhood Center programs] are play-based,” Cutler said. “That prepares children for school and life in general, rather than just teaching preschool reading and math.”
She also pointed out the benefit of the diversity of the parents and students who walk through the doors.
“Number two, I love the diversity,” she said. “For many of the children, it’s a first encounter with another religion or culture, and that creates an attitude of tolerance and acceptance of those who are different from you.”
Cutler serves on different committees with the JCC and works for the Capital Region Chamber of Commerce, as she has for the past seven years. She found out earlier this year that she was to be recognized at the gala.
“I was very honored and very humbled and thrilled,” Cutler said. “I love the JCC and was not expecting to be honored.”
Others recognized during the gala were M&T Bank, which received a corporate partnership award, and Ronald McDonald House Charities of the Capital Region, which received a philanthropic leadership award.
“We were thrilled to honor Sharon Cutler, M&T Bank, and Ronald McDonald House Charities of the Capital Region for their wonderful contributions to the Schenectady JCC and the local community at the 7th Annual Robert J. Ludwig Community Service Awards Gala,” Weintraub said in a prepared statement. “The late Bob Ludwig, for whom the awards are named, was such a pillar of the community that it is wonderful to see his legacy of community service carried forward by individuals, businesses and our fellow non-profits.”