For Susie Hurst, director of Family Life Education at Jewish Family Services, it feels like yesterday when she joined the organization to work with youth and families. Yet at the end of December, Hurst will formally retire from JFS following a 35-year career in which she has been a positive force for so many in the community.
A third-generation Kansas Citian who was raised in Prairie Village, Hurst was greatly influenced by her parents Phyllis and Harold Hurst.
“They always made Judaism and the Jewish community a priority,” she said. “I was involved in Jewish youth group as a teen as were my two sons. Jonathan and Coby. Now my three grandchildren attend Jewish pre-school at Beth Shalom, so the connection continues,” said Hurst, with a bright smile.
Hurst spent her undergraduate years at the University of Texas and earned her master’s degree in clinical psychology from the University of Missouri-Kansas City. In addition, she participated in the One Year Program at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Hurst’s love of Israel runs deep. She led five Kansas City Youth Pilgrimages to Israel, and the Jewish State is where Hurst met her husband, Danny.
“I returned to Kansas City after living in Israel for a few years and was looking to start my career that would combine my professional background in mental health and my passion for Jewish education,” Hurst said. “It was definitely b’shert that it just so happened that Alan Edelman and Rabbi Mark Levin had developed a new preventive program for Jewish adolescents, the C.H.A.I., Channeling Healthy Adolescent Interaction program.”
The program was developed in response to the increasing number of Jewish youth in our community who died by suicide. Hurst was tapped to lead C.H.A.I., housed at JFS, thus beginning her long relationship with the agency.
“My main focus was to address pertinent adolescent issues within a Jewish framework and to give youth, parents, educators, and clergy, someone to turn to for support and resources,” Hurst said. “It is also important to me that our teens have the opportunity to learn that Judaism is relevant to their lives and that Jewish ethics operate on the daily routine level and can be an instrumental resource in helping them with the difficult choices of adolescence.”
Hurst also made it a priority to take advantage of the informal time before and after programs to chat with the students “so they would feel comfortable reaching out to me in times of crisis”.
Over the years a number of teens and their parents participated in the Driving Risk Awareness Course. Hurst team-taught the annual course with former Kansas City, Missouri Police Officer Mark Terman.
“You added significantly to the safety and knowledge of our children. And for that, I am immensely grateful,” said one parent.
During the last decade, Hurst’s work expanded at JFS as she assumed the role of Director of Family Life Education. In her new role, Hurst developed programming across all age groups for those who are struggling with life’s challenges or simply looking to gain skills to enrich family life. One of the program components Hurst said had a big impact was the Peer Support and Referral training.
“The goal of this program was to help Jewish teens gain skills to better assist their peers in times of need,” she said. “There were many times over the years when participants helped friends and averted crises because of the skills they had learned and their knowledge of local resources.”
While involved with a number of programs over the years, Hurst particularly enjoyed facilitating the Making Marriage Work class which was a collaboration with the Rabbinical Association of Greater Kansas City.
“These classes helped couples develop and enrich their relationships by gaining skills necessary to strengthen their marriage,” Hurst said. “It was particularly gratifying when some of the teens from my days of leading the KC Pilgrimages would end up as students in the MMW class.”
“Susie has been an incredible asset to JFS—bringing her vast experience in teen mental health education to our team for 35 years,” said Don Goldman, JFS Executive Director and CEO. “I don’t know what JFS will be like without Susie—but I know I, along with the rest of the team, will miss her daily. I do wish her joy as she gets to spend more time with her family and grandkids.”
After more than three decades at JFS, Hurst said not working will feel a bit strange at first, but “I’m looking forward to having more time to spend with family and friends and hopefully do traveling that has been put on hold over these past couple of years.”