Dorothy LeWolt

dorothy lewolt

Board of Directors, 1998-2000
Education Committee Chair

Dorothy LeWolt’s background, consisting of a degree in health education as well as training as a registered nurse, made her especially valuable to the Mental Health Association (as it was previously named). Now 99 years old, Dorothy’s career started in 1945, training as a U.S. cadet nurse during World War II. By the time she graduated the war was over and her nursing career turned to clinical work on Long Island, New York, where she lived with her husband, who had earned a Purple Heart in the army. The couple would eventually move to warmer climates, ending up in Los Angeles and Santa Barbara.

After their first child was born, Dorothy attended Cal State Northridge and received her degree in health education, enabling her to work in school settings. She would go on to work in the Goleta school district for two decades, serving as school nurse, as well as liaison with the local medical community. At 62, she retired, and began working as a substitute nurse, primarily in Montecito schools. It was during her retirement years that she began volunteering, finding her way to the Mental Health Association upon a friend’s suggestion.

Dorothy joined the board in 1998 and became chair of the education committee. She recalls the early days in the small house in Chapala Street.

“I was volunteering there when Annmarie Cameron was hired,” she said. “She came in as a young person, and she was so wonderful. Annmarie went through so very much – she was just tremendous and I think what she was able to accomplish is amazing.”

Dorothy also recalled the Fellowship Club, with nice luncheons and entertainment, stating how different it was before the move to Garden Street.

It is Dorothy’s contributions on the education committee and helping to start the Mental Health Matters program in 2000 that she had the greatest impact. Mental Health Matters is designed to introduce basic facts about mental health to elementary, middle and high school students, but it started, at Dorothy’s suggestion with just one sixth grade classroom.

“I was the new kid on the block, but I recall thinking that young children are not so young anymore and they should understand that the students at their school that may act differently often have a major health problem that is not their fault,” she said. “Mental illness is a disease that needs to be treated, just like diabetes. “

Dorothy said she had the time and some connections with school district employees to help get the program started. But she said the credit goes to her expert committee, who included Nancy Chase and a handful of others. The district teacher wrote the curriculum and Goleta Unified was instrumental in accepting it into their school.

What also helped was a young man that Dorothy met who was dealing with mental illness, yet was able to live independently. She introduced him to teachers to share his story, allowing teachers to put a face on the issues and show them the impact they could have.

Dorothy will turn 100 years old next year, and she still recalls her early days as a nurse. She spent one month in a mental health hospital in 1948 and she said that experience opened her eyes to the issues of mental illness and gave her the heart to help.

“I saw highly educated people who were capable, but were institutionalized. Now these same types of people are managing and living independently, in large part thanks to the Mental Wellness Center and other organizations that support their patients. I am extremely grateful for the progress that has been made.”