Basha Silverman: CEO of Jewish Family Services of Delaware
Basha Silverman grew up assuming she would one day take over her parent’s furniture business, but at 19, she went down a different path.
Today, Silverman serves as CEO of Jewish Family Services of Delaware, a 122-year-old agency that provides therapeutic and support services to people in need, regardless of religion or other affiliations. As a $4.5 million nonprofit operating statewide, JFS employs 65 people and serves 6,000 Delawareans a year.
JFS is known for evolving to meet the community’s needs. “What’s on our a la carte menu now is different than it was in the 1890s,” Silverman said. Those services include everything from psychiatry to refugee resettlement.
This year marks Silverman’s fifth year at JFS. In that time, she built a reputation as trustworthy and collaborative, the kind of leader whose sleeves are always rolled up.
“I have a deep respect for this position, and this organization has got such an incredible reputation before me,” the Delaware native said. “It’s my responsibility to sustain that and grow it.”
Silverman pulled JFS out of financial insecurity and into a healthier position while reducing its dependence on government funding and philanthropy by establishing new revenue sources. She also led a merger between JFS and another small, mission-aligned nonprofit.
Silverman focuses on innovation and conceptualizes the best solutions, enthusiastically motivating her employees to implement and troubleshoot her ideas. Her staff is professional and highly trained, Silverman said, full of licensed therapists, social workers, and psychologists. JFS has won “top workplace” awards for the past six years.
“We have a very high bar when it comes to the quality of our talent,” Silverman said. “Our product is our staff. We don’t make anything, so we really take it seriously to assemble and retain and work collaboratively as a team.”
Silverman learned how to run a business from a young age, scrubbing toilets one minute and selling baby cribs the next at her parent’s furniture store. It’s also where she discovered her passion for helping people.
“I’d be talking to expecting parents, finding out where they’re from, what the baby’s name was, and my father would walk up behind me and say, ‘Close the sale,’” Silverman recalled. “He wanted me to move on to the next customer.”
In her parent’s Wilmington shop, Silverman developed a strong work ethic and learned how to take care of both the business and their clients – skills essential to her current role.
While working there, Silverman began volunteering at a social services nonprofit. She was 19 at the time and full of ideas. She wore Chuck Taylors to meetings and had a forward-thinking mindset with no political savvy. People saw her as the girl who was “super passionate,” Silverman said. The CEO of that nonprofit liked her chutzpah, according to Silverman, and asked if she wanted a job.
There, she helped start Delaware’s syringe exchange program and co-founded the Delaware Coalition for Health and Justice. She left 12 years later, after rising to report directly to the CEO.
Throughout her career, Silverman has always strived to serve people. She feels good when people tell her, “I went to JFS, and I got help.”
“Personally, I’m most proud of my daughters, and that they see me being a helpful, good person,” Silverman said. “This job gives me the opportunity to walk the walk I want them to see and be.”
Silverman was excited to be named CEO of the Year – but not for her own sake.
“Being recognized alongside for-profits raises us up,” she said. “More people are going to pay attention to JFS.”