by Katharine Cusick
It was a soggy Friday. A driving rain pounded the trolley tracks at Germantown Ave and Gorgas Lane as vehicles splashed noisily past the temporary offices of the Mt. Airy Learning Tree.
Inside the recently renovated – and dry – Animal Hospital building, newly minted MALT director Judy Weinstein sat down to discuss the educational organization, colloquially known as MALT, which she described as a more “positive slice of life.”
Weinstein recently became MALT’s executive director, bringing with her a vast amount of enthusiasm and experience in the nonprofit world.
No stranger to nonprofit work, Weinstein has been involved with Big Brother/Big Sister Association of Philadelphia, Center in the Park, Neighborhood Interfaith Movement, The Northwest Center, Women’s Medical Fund and others, both as an employee of a volunteer. Her volunteer work, she said, was excellent preparation for her new role.
“I was on several boards, and I was the chair of several boards,” she said. “So I have a lot of experience with board governance and board work.”
After Jonna Naylor, the previous executive director, stepped down, MALT’s board of directors asked Weinstein to fill in as the interim director to “figure out the new staffing model of going from four to three staff members,” Weinstein said. She was named executive director in June.
Weinstein and her family (her husband is well-known local businessman Ken Weinstein) have lived in in the Mt. Airy area for many years, and she began working at MALT as its Director of Special Programs in 2008. Because the organization has a small permanent staff, Weinstein said, she “did a little bit of everything.” For the most part, however, Weinstein oversaw special projects and fund-raisers such as the Historic House Tours, the MALT Ball (a dancing extravaganza), and a fund-raising concert in the Wissahickon.
She was also responsible for the “Make This Our Home Campaign,” which raised the funds to buy the Greene Street headquarters.
Founded by Chestnut Hill resident Barbara Bloom in 1980, MALT, Weinstein said, “has been this constantly growing and evolving organization.”
“We’ve been around for 32 years,” she noted, “and it feels like in some ways it feeds off of itself because the more students we have enrolled, the more people know about us, the more teachers and locations want to get involved. So it kind of has a little bit of a life of its own.”
MALT’s central mission, Weinstein said, “is to offer a wide variety of classes to the diverse population in this area and to promote lifetime learning.”
The organization has also remained committed to affordability.
“We’ve barely raised our prices in many years,” Weinstein said, adding that in challenging economic times “we really are trying to stay true” to that doctrine.
From its initial 17 classes that drew 125 registrants, the Learning Tree now offers more than 750 classes a year for more than 5,000 students.
“We have a really great track record with a lot of the classes that have been running for years,” Weinstein said.
Programs such as learning to swim, horseback riding and rowing have always been incredibly popular, but in the upcoming term, Weinstein would like to showcase the newer classes by offering early-registration discounts.
MALT will distribute its fall course catalogs in mid-August.
“People are really excited,” Weinstein said. “They always say ‘Oh I always see that catalog!’ and ‘you offer so many great classes; I’ve always wanted to take a class!’”
She said that often “people have a self-perception that they don’t have time to take a class.” Her goal, she said, is to encourage some of these busier members of the community to enroll.
MALT’s permanent location at Greene and Hortter Streets in Mt. Airy, which the organization purchased four years ago, was undergoing renovations for a significant portion of the summer. Weinstein and her colleagues will return to their home base on Aug. 10.