Jewish Family Service director honored by United Jewish Federation of Utah | ParkRecord.com

Jewish Family Service director honored by United Jewish Federation of Utah

Silver has been with nonprofit since 2004

When Ellen Silver moved to Park City from New Jersey in 2004, she didn't think she would have opportunities to work with the Jewish community.

She was wrong.

Silver began working part time at Jewish Family Service, a nonprofit that helps facilitate heath, mental health and other needs that arise in the Jewish community and the community at large.

She was appointed as executive director in 2008.

Silver, along with past Federation president, Dr. Martin Gelman, will be honored at the United Jewish Federation of Utah's Ben Gurion Society Annual Dinner on Thursday, March 16, at Grand America Hotel in Salt Lake City.

"It's an honor, but I feel this recognition is really recognition for Jewish Family Services and the impact the agency has had on the community, not just the Jewish community, but the community at large," Silver told The Park Record. "We serve everybody, and that makes me really proud."

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When Silver moved to Utah from New Jersey, she had years of experience working with different agencies that served the community.

"As fate would have it, it worked out when I moved here," she said. " Jewish Federation of Utah just received some funding from the government and they were looking to get some match money and get a program off the ground. They took a gamble on me because I wasn't in the budget. So, to grow along with this agency is very special in itself."

When Silver first started at Jewish Family Service, there was only one full-time employee and a handful of part-timers.

"They occupied the office at the Jewish Community Center in Salt Lake City," she said. "Now, we have 11 full-time staff, and a fairly large space in Salt Lake as well as a branch office here in Park City at the People's Health Clinic, where we provide mental health counseling and meet needs that were out there."

Silver has seen a lot of growth at Jewish Family Service throughout her tenure.

"Back in 2005, the federal funding we got allowed us to begin to provide better services to older adults in Salt Lake City," she said. "The funding put JFS on the map as a respective provider for older-adult services that we called Project EncourAGE."

While working on that project, Silver and other staff members learned the importance of caregiver support.

"People are living a lot longer these days and their children are becoming their caregivers," Silver said. "So, these days, caregivers are in the 60s and 70s and never expected to taking care of their parents who are in their 90s."

To provide resources for these caregivers, Jewish Family Service started Caregiver Connection, which helps support and sustain caregivers and their roles.

"Over the years we developed some programs including a respite program, a friendly-visitor program and another program where volunteers will help with chores and transportation, just to give caregivers a rest," she said.

The nonprofit also started some programs that would help the elderly clients.

One is called Music & Memory, which is a community-based program that brings music to the lives of these elders.

The program provides personalized music playlists to older adults living with cognitive decline such as Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia as well as chronic illnesses.

In addition to program development, Jewish Family Service has expanded its coverage area.

"The first area we grew into was Summit County in 2010," Silver said. "We saw there was a need for behavior-health services up here. We had some funding that would cover staff a couple of days a week."

Jewish Family Service works in collaboration with the People's Health Clinic, another nonprofit that provides health services to the uninsured and underinsured residents of Summit and Wasatch counties.

"Mental health is a big issue and there are a lot of people who need help but can't afford it," Silver said. "So, we offer a sliding fee scale that accounts for most every situation and counseling with a licensed therapist."

The minimum fee is $25, but Silver said some clients pay below the fee.

"We allow people to pay what they can afford," she said. "That's why we're here."

In addition to counseling, Jewish Family Service hosts community events, Silver said.

On March 22, the nonprofit will present a program called the Conversation Project in collaboration with the Christian Center and the People's Health Clinic.

"We will also do a creative aging workshop at Temple Har Shalom that is open to the whole community this summer," Silver said. "This is a creative way to explore through writing what aging means to you."

Silver wanted to emphasize these services aren't offered exclusively to the Jewish community.

"We would love everyone to use our services," she said. "Our service areas include Salt Lake, Summit County, Wasatch County and a little bit into Utah and Davis counties on occasion."

Silver said a big portion of the Jewish Family Service growth is due to donor support.

"We do get a lot of foundation support from both in and out of state, and we are very grateful for that," she said. "However, we have worked hard to expand our constituents and donor base in the Salt Lake and Summit County communities, and they have allowed us to meet needs, including a food pantry."

In 2010, the food pantry served 85 families.

"Last year, we served more than 5,000 individuals," Silver said.

Working with Jewish Family Service has been itself a reward.

"We are a very proactive organization," Silver said. "We love working with families to improve their situations. To have a dedicated staff to do that is rewarding to me."

She also loves working with her board of directors.

"I have the hardest working board and that's why we're able to do what we do," Silver said.

Board member Joy Erickson, the former director of member relations for Temple Har Shalom, has been a supporter of Silver and Jewish Family Service for many years, and remembered a life-changing moment the first time she met Silver.

"I have two sons, and one of them was experiencing some mental-health issues at the time," Erickson said. "He was an adult and it was so hard to try to figure out the maze of [finding help]."

It never occurred to Erickson to contact Jewish Family Service.

"I ran into Ellen one day and she said, 'We'll take him,'" Erickson said. "As a parent, to know there was someone who cared, lifted a huge burden from me and helped me move the situation along."

Erickson has also seen the benefit Jewish Family Service had on Temple Har Shalom congregation members and potential Park City residents.

"I met with people, families who were interested in moving to Utah, and they asked about the community," she said. "They wanted to know about education, health care, social services, and I would tell them about JFS services. And that has been huge factor for them to make their decision to move here."

Silver is grateful for the opportunity to work with the community and looks forward to the future.

"We have some plans for further development," she said. "It will be a great adventure."

For information about Jewish Family Services and its programs, call 801-746-4334 or visit http://www.jfsutah.org.