Honoring a community conductor

Howard Sitron retires after a decade of serving Chicago

howardsitron image
Howard and his wife, Deb, will move to Philadelphia after he retires this summer.

Howard Sitron, a music lover, likens his job of leading JCFS Chicago to conducting an orchestra. The talented staff, the interagency collaboration, and a commitment to the JCFS mission are all instruments in a symphony that he feels privileged to direct.

He has spent the last decade of his career serving at the helm of JCFS Chicago, a JUF partner. His retirement this summer culminates a storied career of nonprofit leadership. Before joining JCFS in 2009, he served in leadership positions at Jewish Family and Children's Services of Greater Philadelphia, Breast Cancer 3-Day, and MossRehab.

"Our Chicago Jewish community has been very fortunate that Howard Sitron relocated to our community and led JCFS for the past 10 years," said Dr. Steven B. Nasatir, JUF Executive Vice Chairman. "He is a wonderful colleague, a national thought leader, a strategic thinker, and a superb Jewish communal executive."

Under Sitron's leadership, JCFS Chicago has made significant advances in serving the community. He is  proud of the founding of Encompass, an interagency partnership now under the auspices of JUF, which is devoted to expanding community-based services and opportunities to participate in the Jewish community for people with intellectual/developmental disabilities.

"Opportunities for individuals living with developmental disabilities has long been an under-met need in the Chicago Jewish community and beyond," he said. "This can only be effectively addressed as a community. Encompass is the way forward to lead a truly communal response."

Another major accomplishment of Sitron's JCFS career was merging the agency with HIAS Chicago and JVS Chicago. He spearheaded the process beginning in 2013, and united the agencies over the next five years. "We took the time to do [the merger] thoughtfully, protected staff and services, and strengthened the agencies' programming as a result," he said.

He also led in the development of the Esther Knapp Campus, which includes the Abe and Ida Cooper Center in West Rogers Park--offering services for people of all abilities, including programs for adults with disabilities and their families. A similar project for a social service campus in Skokie begins soon.

In addition to fostering partnerships between Chicago's Jewish agencies, Sitron has been integral in the creation of the Network of Jewish Human Service Agencies, an international membership organization to which JCFS Chicago belongs.

For Sitron, his favorite part of the job has been getting to work with the people in this community. "The generosity and commitment to the well-being of the community is a special platform to get to work from," he said. "It's been a gift to wrap up my career with this capstone opportunity."

His colleagues commend him on his leadership. "He has proven to be an exceptional leader for our community," said Stephen Ballis, a former JCFS board member. "He has an unbelievable combination of leadership qualities and is extremely empathetic and sensitive to the needs of the community."

His successor, Stacey Shor, says Sitron leaves JCFS with a fruitful legacy. "His leadership marked a period of incredible strategic growth for JCFS, and it's unusual to be in a position where we've been able to grow and meet more community needs while also increasing our focus," she said.

While others praise him for the agency's success, Sitron deflects the credit onto his JCFS staff. "Any good leader should give credit where it's due," he said. "I could do nothing without these folks. I just got to be the lucky guy who puts it all together."

In his next phase of life, Sitron will move back to Philadelphia with his wife, where they can be closer to their family. There, he hopes to rekindle a musical career. This time, instead of conducting the orchestra, he wants to join it--and pursue his passion as a trumpet player.

"I'm leaving with really mixed feelings," he said. "It's the right decision for my wife and me, but I'm going to miss the people who have been so good to us every minute of our time here. It's been a great ride."

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