By Renée Beyda
The next time you drive by Avenue S and Ocean Parkway in Brooklyn, lift your eyes way up high to the third-floor corner of the Sephardic Community Center. There, behind a section of glass blocks, in an office filled with crayoned pictures taped to the wall and cartons of snacks piled-high, sits a frisky dog named Lola and her proud owner, the very special Lillian Ebani, Director Youth Services, Director of Camping Services.
What makes Lillian so noteworthy is how much she does, how well she does it, and what she says when you inquire about the motivation behind her magic.
For over 30 years (18 of which have been at The Center) Lillian has brought an abundance of joy to tens of thousands of community children.
Her involvement with Camp David, Passover trips, Magen David Trips to Cabo, and Center Sleepaway Camp have been tremendous. From her office and her cell phone, which, like Lola, doesn’t leave her side, she also handles the monumental task of coordinating The Center’s Sunday and after-school enrichment programs for the youth throughout the year, year after year.
Cooking, dance, gymnastics, a variety of arts, all kinds of sports, martial arts, mad science, lego-building, model airplane-building, music, and springtime baseball leagues are just some of the programs Lillian helps to create for 3 – 12 year-olds.
“The activities are important,” Lillian explains, “Because, in addition to the socialization benefits, these are things kids aren’t necessarily learning in school.”
When asked why she is so dedicated to her job, Lillian says, “As time goes on, I get to know a lot of the kids and staff members, and I see what I can bring to their lives. I especially value my role in encouraging the youth to be passionate about a direction.”
“Once we had a staff person who wasn’t really taking to the kids, but she was a quality girl and we didn’t want to let her go. I thought of the idea of having her take pictures throughout the day. Sure enough, she got a lot of positive feedback and eventually became a successful photographer in the community. It’s things like that that make my job gratifying.”
Lillian tries to take notice of the kids doing something good so she can cheer them on. One time she saw a young boy at tennis throwing and trying to catch a beanbag on his racquet. When the bag actually landed in the right place, she said, “Wow, you did it!” Lillian promises, “The grin on his face will be a sight that will always stay with me.”
“I want kids to have self-esteem, to like themselves, and to view the bigger picture – how they’re going to affect others in life. We are all unique in this world, giving what we have to give, and if someone has a passion to do something, he or she should pursue it.”
Lillian talks about her years as a counselor at Camp David, “If my division head didn’t say then, ‘Wow you are really awesome’ to me, maybe I wouldn’t have gotten to the next level. I see now how people, not things, not possessions, not money, but people, were able to affect my life and make it go in a certain direction. And now I am able to give back.”
Amir Levy, the Chief Program Officer at The Center says, “Lillian puts both her heart and soul into everything she does for our community’s kids. Her talent for creating innovative and exciting programs is second to none and her unconditional dedication to our Center and community is a gift we will always cherish.”
With a degree from NYU in psychology and a masters in education from Brooklyn College, Lillian discusses ways in which she’d like to impact the community further. She says, “One of the things that have become important to me is to have parents recognize anxiety in their children and to work with it. If we ignore anxiety, it leads to problems and even issues with addiction. I can look back at certain kids and am not surprised that they’re having problems now. I don‘t want that to happen. Let’s deal with it the right away right way, because if we do, chances are we can help build a well-rounded, healthy adult. I’d love to be able to give back on that level.”
Lillian says, “I’m 43 and I don’t have children, but I feel like I have thousands and thousands of children. You know how people pray on Yom Kippur for their kids, well, I also pray for my kids.”
To reach Lillian Ebani, call 718-954-3149 or email her at l[email protected]
Renée Beyda is a wife, mom, writer, artist and community member.