Jewish Family Service celebrates a sesquicentennial of service |

Jewish Family Service celebrates a sesquicentennial of service

Donations will be matched throughout September

For information about Jewish Family Service, their programs and the 150th-anniversary programming, visit
Ellen Silver, Jewish Family Service executive director, says she feels lucky and proud to be part of the organization that is celebrating its 150-year anniversary of serving Utah this year.
Park Record file photo

Jewish Family Service celebrates 150 years of helping Utahns during some of the hardest times in their lives. Ellen Silver is honored to be the organization’s executive director in its sesquicentennial.

“When you think about the longevity and the fact so early on, Utah wasn’t a state, yet, when it was started to help families,” she said. “I feel so much pride to watch this organization meet the needs of the community today and think of how long we have sustained our mission of helping people.”

Jewish Family Service, known throughout the state as JFS of Utah, started in 1872 as the Hebrew Women’s Benevolent Society, with the goal of helping Jewish transients heading west, Silver said.

The founding members included the wives of prominent Jewish businessmen, including Ida Bamberger, whose husband Simon would become the first non-Mormon, and only Jewish Governor of Utah, she said.

Throughout the years, JFS, which is based in Park City and has an office in Salt Lake City, kept true to its mission of helping people, and expanded its services to anyone who needs it, Silver said.

“While we help the community through Jewish values, our services are nondenominational, and I think that is the most important message,” she said. “We are here for the entire community, so we serve everyone regardless of religion, financial status, orientation.”

Those services include a food bank, affordable mental health counseling in both Spanish and English, granting emergency funds to families facing homelessness and other devastating crises and providing resources and comfort to older adults and their caregivers, Silver said.

“We want to make sure that everyone gets the services we need, so we work with a very liberal fee scale, especially in our counseling programs, to help the unemployed, the uninsured and underinsured when they need it most,” she said.

Beefing up the JFS counseling services is one of Silver’s projects.

“When I first came to JFS, I think we had three people on the staff,” she said. “Now we’re at 19. Seven of them are clinicians, and two are full-time native Spanish speakers.”

To further help the community, JFS started an education-assistance program to help staffers with bachelor’s degrees earn advanced degrees, Silver said.

“That way they will be able to work in new roles to meet the needs of the communities,” she said. “We also find ways to meet the needs of the community through flexible work hours, internships and training.”

The onset of the coronavirus pandemic these past couple of years put Jewish Family Service and its donors on the front lines to help those who had difficulty paying bills due to lost jobs or reduced working hours, Silver said.

“We were grateful for the support from the community,” she said. “Donors, funders, the Park City Community Foundation and the school’s outreach coordinators became great partners to quickly get the emergency assistance into the hands of those who needed it. So, if there is ever a silver lining of the pandemic is that people have gotten to know JFS and the work we do.”

Speaking of donors, in honor of JFS’ 150th anniversary, a generous group of supporters has offered a $150,000 challenge grant match that started Sept. 1 to further help the nonprofit serve Utahns in need, Silver said.

“Any gift received through the month will be doubled, as we try to meet that challenge, and we hope we not only meet that match, but also exceed that match,” she said. “We will roll out a video and social media campaign and will host a fundraising brunch in Park City.”

The schedule will be posted on the Jewish Family Service website,, Silver said.

Silver started her work with Jewish Family Service when she moved to Utah from the East Coast in 2004.“I felt so lucky to continue my Jewish communal service, and work in an organization like Jewish Family Service that is based in Jewish values, but helps the entire community,” said Silver, who was named the organization’s executive director in 2008. “I have had the pleasure of working with our amazing staff and board throughout the past 14 years as executive director. I have a great, energetic, working board and a passionate and committed staff. Their dedication is unparalleled. That’s why we’ve been able to meet needs and grow the way we have.”

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