Jewish Family Service executive director announces retirement

Ellen Silver announced she will retire as executive director of Jewish Family Service in October. She has been with the nonprofit since 2004, and was appointed executive director in 2008.
David Jackson/Park Record

Ellen Silver decided it’s time to retire from Jewish Family Service.

And she has earned it after working at the community service nonprofit for 19 years — 15 as executive director.

“I plan to leave in mid-October,” she said. “It’s been a great ride, and I love this work, so it’s all very exciting and bittersweet. But it’s also time for new leadership, and it’s time for me to figure out my next steps and experiences.” 

Silver’s history with JFS started when she moved to Park City from New Jersey in 2004, and took on a part-time job at the organization’s first offices, which were located in Salt Lake City.

“At that time, there were only three people on the staff,” she said. “Now we’re at 17, and soon to hire another.”

The increase of staff size isn’t the only growth that Silver has seen in her tenure after she was appointed as executive director in 2008.

In 2019, after years of working in Park City from a base in Salt Lake City, JFS opened a Park City office at 1960 Sidewinder Drive, Suite 103.

“I knew that I wanted to have an office in Park City, because I saw there was a need,” she said. “While we help the community through Jewish values, our services are nondenominational. We are here for the entire community, so we serve everyone regardless of religion, financial status and orientation.”

During Silver’s time as executive director, the Park City Community Foundation awarded Silver the 2020 Trisha J. Worthington Community Service Award, which is given for work in charitable and community endeavors. JFS also celebrated its sesquicentennial in 2022.

In addition, Silver helped JFS develop new programming that would assist the local senior population. 

Those programs include, but aren’t limited to the following:

  • Music and Memory, an innovative tool established in 2013 that provides personalized music playlists that engage the minds of senior citizens who are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia and reconnects them to the world through music-triggered memories.
  •  Gleeful Choir, a performing chorus that features singers with dementia and their caregivers.
  • Dementia-friendly activities — one-hour sessions for people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and dementia.

“We have an arts and aging program, and have an art show that is on exhibit at the Sorensen Community Center in Salt Lake City through July,” Silver said.

JFS has also developed programming for families including the safety net programs that help families financially; caregiver support, Parent Plus workshops to help parents and children strengthen their relationships; and a Mind Body Skills Group that helps individuals improve their physical and mental health. 

Mental health is also a need that is close to Silver’s heart, and JFS offers professional and bilingual counseling on a sliding-fee scale.

“The lowest cost on the scale is $25, but nearly 80% of our clients only pay $10 or below,” she said. “That’s on purpose, because we need to make sure everyone has access to mental-health services they need.”

Providing mental-health and financial aid has always been a focus of the JFS, but it became the nonprofit’s top priority during the coronavirus pandemic, Silver said.

“Many people in our community at that time were dealing with anxiety and depression,” she said. “So it was such an accomplishment for us when the agency was able to step up and do such important and amazing work. I think the thing I’m most proud of during my time at JFS is that we’ve been proactive in meeting the needs of the community.”

When Silver was appointed as the executive director of Jewish Family Service, she had been well prepared after starting her career back East as a clinical therapist for families that have suffered trauma and loss, specifically those who worked with first responders, their families and other survivors of the 9/11 attacks.

“When I took the position, I hadn’t intended to be here this long, but I’m thrilled I was,” she said. “It was something just to watch the agency grow. We have an environment that encourages people to grow, train and take care of themselves. And for all of those reasons, I think that is something I feel good about.”

Silver will remember a number of great experiences she enjoyed with her board and staff. Silver is especially grateful that they stood by her while she took care of her husband after his Alzheimer’s diagnosis.

“I feel like I was able to stay in this position through Barry’s illness because of this amazing board and staff who has supported me all the way,” she said. “I hope these relationships will be sustained, even though I’m not in the office every day.”

Silver, who lives in Park City, is also grateful for the local community’s support.

“It has been amazing,” she said. “Since I live up here, I have a vested interest in what happens up here. So I want to stay involved as much as I can as a volunteer.”

Jewish Family Service is currently working on a strategic plan that will help inform a national search for a new executive director, Silver said.

“What comes out of the plan as far as what the agency will look like in the next three years will help us decide what the best skill sets and qualifications we will look for in the next person coming in,” she said. “We’ll probably have an interim director come in for a few months while we conduct the search.”

Silver’s plans post-JFS include traveling and spending time with family.

“I have a 90-year-old mom who is in California, so I want to be available to her,” she said. “My brother, who lives in the same area, is going to welcome a new baby soon. So I’ll probably spend more time visiting them as well. And then here in Park City it will be nice to wake up on a bluebird day and go skiing.”