The Pearlstone Center in Reisterstown will reduce its workforce by 75 percent due to a roughly 90 percent drop in revenue as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The 180-acre conference and retreat center and organic farm will lay off roughly half of its staff in the coming weeks and reduce remaining employees to part-time, said Pearlstone CEO Jakir Manela.

Approximately 65 full-time and part-time employees currently work at Pearlstone, which has repeatedly been listed as one of the nation’s 50 most innovative Jewish groups by the annual Slingshot Guide, a resource showcasing engaging and visionary Jewish organizations.

“This has been a very difficult time for all of us,” said Manela. “Our Pearlstone staff community is very special, we are like a family. I am so inspired by the incredible talent, dedication, and love shown by our teammates throughout this process, and together we are confident that Pearlstone will survive this crisis and thrive again in the future.”

Since the start of the pandemic, Pearlstone, which is an agency of The Associated: Jewish Federation of Baltimore, has refashioned its mission and launched the Pearlstone Kitchen, a kosher meal delivery service, as well as “Pearlstone’s Goat Talent,” a virtual visit with the center’s goats and chickens.

Jakir Manela, CEO of the
Pearlstone Center
(File photo)

In addition, Pearlstone is offering the public the chance to purchase and donate meals for healthcare heroes. Through a partnership with LifeBridge Health, community members can donate dinners to area hospitals. Several hundred meals have already been delivered to Sinai Hospital and Levindale Hebrew Geriatric Center and Hospital.

The Pearlstone Center also now offers smaller group getaway options that permit social distancing.

“Although the crisis has hit Pearlstone like a tsunami, our ability to adapt, and our partnership with The Associated and its leaders are helping us through this crisis,” said Manela. “We began to think about how we could sustain Pearlstone and be of service to the community until things began to return to normal. And we asked ourselves, as people yearn for nature and connection, how can we do that with everyone’s health and safety in mind. We knew we had to pivot, adapt and reinvent.”

Pearlstone recently secured a roughly $500,000 loan from the federal government’s Paycheck Protection Program that enabled it to avoid staff reductions, despite the cancellation of its popular Passover and Shavuot retreat programs.

The center hopes to host some kind of day camp this summer, depending on public health policies.

On its website (http://pearlstonecenter.org), Pearlstone describes its mission as “to ignite Jewish passion while connecting guests with the land and Jewish values; our peaceful retreat center, sustainable farm, and dynamic programming enable and inspire vibrant Jewish life.”

The center opened in 2001 on seven acres of land at 5425 Mount Gilead Rd., and 16 years later greatly expanded its campus to the parcel of nearby land formerly housing Camp Milldale.

Attendees gather during the Pearlstone
Center’s Sukkot Family Farm Festival in 2017.
(Photo by Steve Ruark)

The campus includes a retreat and conference center, lodgings, an organic farm, a full-service dining facility with certified organic produce grown onsite, rolling hills and wooded hiking trails, a meditation garden and campfire pit, a five-acre lake, sports fields and basketball courts, pools and a zip-line.

Pearlstone also offers workshops and programs on sustainability, solar energy, community engagement and green loans, and land stewardship, serving more than 12,000 guests annually.

In late April, the Jewish Community Center of Greater Baltimore, also an Associated agency, furloughed more than 350 full-time and part-time employees at its Park Heights and Owings Mills campuses due to the pandemic.

Ben Harris writes for the JTA global Jewish news source. Jmore Editor-in-Chief Alan Feiler contributed to this report.