CEO, Jewish Family Service (JFS) of Houston
A beloved and transformative leader of social services within and beyond Houston's Jewish community, Linda Lait Burger is a gracious model of commitment, courage and compassion whose unwavering focus on improving lives has served as her key guidepost throughout an award-winning, celebrated career.
Linda's dedication to Jewish communal work was sparked early on by her El Paso, Texas, upbringing as part of a close extended family that embraced Friday Shabbat dinners as the highlight of the week. Linda attended Jewish religious school and camps, was active in B'nai B'rith Youth and even ran Soviet Jewry marches when she was 14.
After graduating with a Master of Science in Social Work from the University of Texas, Linda moved to Houston to pursue "Jewish job opportunities." Her goal was met when the Jewish Community Center called, and it was there where she met her husband, Andy. They bonded during the Singles Federation Mission to Israel in 1981 and were married the following year.
Linda next served as managing editor of the Jewish Herald-Voice, then jumped at the opportunity to take a position at the Jewish Federation "where I always dreamed of working." In her 17 years of dedicated service at the Federation, Linda took on a myriad of responsibilities, designed ground-breaking fundraising software and "witnessed exemplary programs for impoverished people around the world." She took a two-year hiatus to move with her children, Michael and Lauri, when Andy was transferred to a post in Aix-en-Provence, France.
Upon her return to Houston, Linda became the Houston Chapter Director of the American Jewish Committee. Under her leadership, the organization won the AJC National Szabad Award for Outstanding Chapter of the Year for the first time in its 60-year history.
In 2005, Linda moved to Jewish Family Service (JFS) of Houston where, as only the fourth CEO in its 104-year history, she continues to significantly transform and expand the agency's resources and its ability to respond to safety net basic needs, community emergencies and individuals who need ongoing help with counseling and other services.
Notably, the JFS Alexander Institute, launched under Linda's caring leadership to help "create a world in which serving the disabled becomes second nature," provides a robust menu of model vocational and social programs such as Celebration Company, MainStreet Opportunities and Project Shalom. All continue to exceed the expectations of both participants and the community.
Linda's leadership acumen extends outside JFS Houston. In addition to serving on the Board of RespectAbility, Burger is an advisor for the Center for Future Planning Advisory Council of the National ARC; Chair of the Network of Behavioral Health Providers in Houston; and past Board Member of both the International Association of Jewish Vocational Service and Association of Jewish Family and Children's Agencies, for which she served on the task force that combined the two into the Network of Jewish Human Services Agencies.
A recipient of the 2001 Hans Mayer Award for Communal Service and 2015 Joan Alexander Chesed Award, Linda was in 2016 honored by the National Council of Jewish Women with an NCJW "Woman of Influence" award.
When asked what motivates her to do the work she does, Linda says, "I view working for Jewish communal needs as both a privilege and a responsibility. A portion of what I earn does not belong to me, but is an agreement with G-d to share my blessings with places and people in need." Particularly proud of being a mentor for young women who aspire to be Jewish communal leaders, she is also profoundly proud of her family which, along with husband Andy, includes her daughter Lauri, son Michael, daughter-in-love Allison, and beloved granddaughter Ellie Miriam.