Lending a Hand to Those in Need, Judith Wolfe Has Made Community Service Her Mission

by | Jul 19, 2019 | Closeup

 For decades, Judith Wolfe has been dedicated to helping others in the community, and the work she’s done with children, the elderly, veterans and others, has had a lasting impact on Santa Clarita and beyond.
Born in Milwaukee, her father was a doctor and her mother a school teacher.
A former kindergarten teacher, she moved to California in 1979 and got right to work providing care to those in need. She became a peer counselor through a program at the University of Judaism, now American Jewish University. Her field placement was at a senior center in the San Fernando Valley. It was through peer counseling she discovered social work and realized it was exactly the kind of work she wanted to do.
She decided to continue her education and graduated from the University of Southern California with a master’s degree in both social work and gerontology in 1987. Placed at the Veteran’s Administration Hospital as an intern, she worked in hospice with veterans with AIDS, as well as in gerontology.
Her interest in gerontology was sparked by earlier experiences, she says. Her mother was the youngest child of nine and there was a big gap between her mom and the next oldest sibling.
“I was always among elderly people, and I loved them,” she says.
Her father was stationed in a MASH unit in Italy during World War II and her family stayed with her grandfather. There were two of her mother’s siblings living there as well, an aunt who was hearing impaired and an uncle who was frail. “For the two years we stayed with them, my grandfather would take me everywhere. I absolutely adored him.” Judith stated.
She received a California License in Clinical Social Work in 1989. Credentialed as a field supervisor for social work interns, she received a commendation from the university, and awards for her support of caregivers in a dementia program.
Employed as a Social Worker at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Burbank, she was recruited by the Organization for the Needs of the Elderly in Reseda as director of their adult day care program. Fresh out of school, she didn’t feel prepared to head the program, but the group’s executive director told her that if you wait until you’re ready it’ll never happen. Her dream was to have a center that offered physical, occupational, and speech therapy.
She made a proposal to the county and was able to secure a space. Her plan was to develop an inter-generational program.
“A lot of families had a child in childcare and an elderly relative living with them,” she says. “With this program, both elders and children could go to the same facility.”
For the elderly, she envisioned a center that could help those experiencing Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease, and those recovering from a stroke. Philanthropist Mark Taper was enthused about the idea and donated $1 million. The center, known as the Joy Intergenerational Day Care Program located in Reseda, was founded in 1993. The program still exists and has been replicated at other locations.
In 1995, the City of Los Angeles awarded her a special resolution for achievement. It was that year that her husband decided to retire, and they moved to Palm Springs. But retirement didn’t really suit her. “I said, is this it? I want more.”
She began work at Charter Hospital in Palm Springs, helping chronically and mentally ill patients, then at several nursing homes as a social worker.
From 1999 to 2005 she served as member of the Desert Alzheimer’s Board. During that time her daughter was diagnosed with breast cancer, which inspired Judith to co-found a Gilda’s Club for Cancer Support, an organization launched by actor Gene Wilder after his wife, comedian Gilda Radner was stricken with ovarian cancer. It was the first Gilda’s Club franchise in California.
When her daughter had a second bout of breast cancer, she and her husband Elliott decided to return to the Los Angeles area, moving to Santa Clarita.
“We got her through that, and then I said, ‘Now what?’”
“When we got back to Santa Clarita I saw what was happening with the veterans and was very angry. PTSD (post traumatic stress syndrome) had become very common. You heard all the stories about them not getting services in a timely fashion. So, I decided that the veterans were my next project,” she says.
She and Elliott contacted actor Gary Sinise to donate to the charitable organizations helping returning warfighters.
“But we also wanted half of the money to go to USC for student veterans who were returning to USC to study social work,” she says. The Wolfes are endowment supporters of the USC School of Social Work Center for Innovative Research, and Judith has served on the advisory board.
She and Elliott co-founded Santa Clarita Veteran Services Collaborative, which offers aid to returning military personnel in the Santa Clarita community. Located at the Santa Clarita Veterans Center on Lyons Ave., the collaborative helps veterans connect with resources in the community, including doctors, dentists and therapists to provide either deeply discounted or pro-bono service. They also help vets find employers looking for workers, and the staff also helps veterans access government benefits.
From 2015 to the present, she’s been a member of College of the Canyons Chancellor’s Circle, and pro-bono supervisor of USC Interns assigned to COC Mental Health & Wellness Center. Recently, she has sought to make the Veteran’s Center a placement facility for USC Master’s in Social Work interns in the military tract.
In addition, the Wolfe’s support local philanthropic endeavors such as Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital, the Salvation Army, USC’s School of Social Work, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department – Santa Clarita Station, and College of the Canyons.
“It’s just my pleasure,” says Judith. “I don’t want any kudos, I don’t want my name mentioned, really, that’s not why I do it, but because it warms my heart and it makes me happy and it makes me feel purposeful. That’s the thing I get out of it.”