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Judie Cotton and the VBS Counseling Center

04/18/2022 10:40:33 AM

Apr18

Judie Cotton, President of the Valley Beth Shalom Counseling Center (VBS CC), was born in a small town in Pennsylvania of 65,000 people. There were just two shuls in town and her family belonged to both. Ever since, Judie couldn’t imagine a time where she wouldn’t be active in a temple community. In 1965, Julie became a member of VBS, spending many years on the Board of Directors, circulating through different positions such as Synagogue President, VP of Religion, Temple Activities, Youth, and Membership.

A leader in the community, Judie has been the President of the VBS CC for over 20 years. However, that wasn’t her first professional destination. Before changing careers, Judie was the President of a major fundraising organization fighting against teenage drug abuse which helped to create programs such as D.A.R.E. Thanks to Rabbi Harold Shulweis (z”l) who had the idea of starting a counseling center at the synagogue, Judie found her calling. Rabbi worked closely with Dr. Walter Rothschild, former Chief of Psychology for Kaiser Southern California, and Dr. Art Sorosky for over a year to create the teaching program for volunteer counselors. During the 1976 High Holiday sermon, Rabbi Schulweis called for volunteers on the bima.  Dr. Sorosky led a cohort of 18-20 volunteer counselors through a two year course, shortly after. Judie shares, “It was a very serious program, similar to a real masters in its intensity.  Instructors came from UCLA for free. Applications were required and we each interviewed for the program. After that graduating class, they did three more of those intensives.”  

Judie graduated from the program, went on to earn her Masters in Psychology, and opened her private practice. She never left the counseling center even during her studies. Rozita Koreie, one of the volunteer counselors, explains her admiration by this dedication:

 She works tirelessly and does not stop or slow down for any reason….She makes herself available to the group 24-7 for consultations. I called her in the evening on a weekend when I had a client in crisis and needed advice.  She educates the group regularly and ensures that all new laws are implemented accordingly. She is always looking for ways to create new groups to meet the diverse needs of the population we serve.


Since 1978, the VBS CC, has been its own non-profit 501c3 separate from VBS. The all-volunteer staff comes from various professional backgrounds. There are attorneys, Masters students, and licensed clinical social workers and therapists.  Judie makes it clear that “all volunteers are of such a high caliber and receive continuing education and supervision from licensed professionals.” There are a total of 27 volunteers, including the volunteer book-keeper. Each volunteer has at least three clients each week, and many run therapy groups as well.

The pandemic completely altered the way the VBS CC operates, increasing the need for mental health support. Judie sees that the pandemic “has done a terrible thing for people’s sense of security. Things are opening up, but not everyone shares the same sense of safety.” All counseling has been happening off campus for now, whether it’s online, over the phone, or outdoors. Judie illustrates the flexibility and commitment of the VBS CC: 

All [the VBS counselors] are meeting people in parks, going on walks with them, making themselves available over the phone, zoom, and facetime. Regardless, the quality of our service is the same. Confidentiality is sacrosanct. We are in the congregation, and making people feel comfortable opening up to you is of the utmost importance. We never tell anyone who our clients are. We cover all the privacy laws that any licensed professional would.” 

Judie also shares her gratitude for the work she gets to do with her fellow volunteers: 

“The level of professionalism and trust we have in one another is so high. We all want to help each other, and none of us are getting paid. We all want to keep the caliber high. That’s a gift. And we like each other!! We’re preventing suicides, severe depression, anxiety. We are holding marriages together. This is the work of mental health professionals.”

Check out the VBS Counseling Center or call 818.784.1414

If you’re looking to get involved, the VBS CC is looking for a volunteer psychiatrist!

 

 

Special thank you to Judie Cotton and the volunteer counselors at the VBS Counseling Center: 

 

Debi Arditi     Joan Blair      Jane Blitz     Jan Dann     Arlene Spivak Davis     Lisa Dick      Don  Duitz

Farzaneh Eshagian     Karen Getelman     Gail Gold      Karen Goss      Marcia Halperin      Jenn Hill.    Marcie Howard   

Sheila Krasnoff, PhD      Harvey Keenan      Rozita Koreie      Sheila Krasnoff     Cindy LeBauer      Jerry Levine     

Charmaine Lipschitz      Gail Mintz      Linda Pachino      Emilee Peters      Elaine Rayman Aronson      Susan Samuels

Heather Silver      Barbara Starr      Eileen Sudeck      Barbara Weitzberg



Article written by Nitzan Barlev

Sun, April 14 2024 6 Nisan 5784