Vintage photo of JOIN participants. Debra Silver is on the far right.
Vintage photo of JOIN participants. Debra Silver is on the far right.

Debra Silver, who lives in Beverly Hills and is a member of Temple Emanu-El, reflects that her career has been incredibly rewarding.

She was just married and new to Detroit when Wisconsin native Debra Silver got a job at JVS Human Services back in 1982. She thought it would be for a couple of years.

Instead, the social worker turned career counselor — who admits she knew nothing about career counseling when she first started — forged a 38-year career with the agency.

During that time, she has guided the working lives of more than 1,000 local people and inspired close to 400 Jewish college students to consider a career working in the Jewish community through a paid summer internship program called JOIN.

Natalie DuBois with her baby, Judah
Natalie DuBois with her baby, Judah

Silver, who lives in Beverly Hills and is a member of Temple Emanu-El, is set to retire in August and reflects that her career has been incredibly rewarding. “Being given the chance to impact people, to empower them to make changes in their lives, was my calling, I think,” she says. 

Silver’s journey across the Midwest began in Milwaukee, at a singles event where she met her future husband, Scott. Debra had just finished her postgraduate social work degree at the George Warren Brown School of Social Work at Washington University in Missouri and had secured a job at a crisis intervention center in Milwaukee. Meanwhile Scott, originally from Detroit, was thinking of returning home to open a business offering vocational rehabilitation case management closer to his family.

Scott and Debra Silver
Scott and Debra Silver

Love and marriage swiftly followed, and with the couple now living in Michigan, Silver needed to find a job. Luckily one of her husband’s aunts knew someone who worked at JVS Human Services, and this contact gave Silver the names of some staff for her to network. That networking led to a job offer.

“My initial job was to be a full-time career counselor, but I honestly didn’t know anything about the career part. What I did know was that I had really good counseling skills from my work in clinical social work, and JVS felt that I could train to become a career counselor,” Silver says. “As it was, I fell in love with career counseling because of the difference I could make in people’s lives.”

Vintage photo of JOIN participatns
Vintage photo of JOIN participatns

When three children came along — Randall now 36, Eric, 34, and Sarah, 30 — Silver made her career at JVS work, sometimes job sharing, and then, as the children got older, she increased her hours. Ten years ago, she became supervisor of career development services.

Inspiring Students

One important aspect of Silver’s job was supervising the JOIN program, an acronym for the Jeannette and Oscar Cook Jewish Occupational Intern Program. This unique opportunity provides paid summer internships for Jewish students to gain work experience, attend educational seminars and learn about the Jewish community, developing lifelong connections.

JOIN began in 1973 and ran until 1980 when the recession in Detroit forced its suspension. In 1987, however, Silver and her then-supervisor Gail Stewart decided the program needed to restart.

Debra Silver with her three granddaughters, Mia Paige Silver, 3, and Isabella Faye Silver, 10 months (on left), and Eloise Margot Cherluck, 11 months
Debra Silver with her three granddaughters, Mia Paige Silver, 3, and Isabella Faye Silver, 10 months (on left), and Eloise Margot Cherluck, 11 months

As the JOIN program coordinator, working with 12-15 students a year, Silver has been instrumental in guiding a generation of young people into careers in the Jewish community. Local rabbis, educators, communal leaders and board members have all graduated from the program benefiting the Metro Detroit Jewish community. Some have even gone far afield. 

“I see JOIN alumni everywhere,” Silver says. “Once I was watching the Today Show and there was a story about the King David dig in Israel, and the man being interviewed was one of my students!”

From August, however, Silver will be focusing more on her family, spending time with her three small granddaughters, and taking frequent trips to Wisconsin to visit her 90-year-old mother.  

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