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VALLEY FOCUS | PERSONAL BEST

Mentor Helps Women Return to Job Market

September 24, 1998|DIANE WEDNER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

How does a UCLA graduate with a mile-long resume descend from the security of a $75,000-a-year job into the nightmare of a mortgage foreclosure, bankruptcy and welfare in less than four years? Just ask Jessica Fish, a Granada Hills single mother who has returned from the abyss and lived to tell about it.

"I was a supermom and super-professional who had been self-supporting since junior high," said the longtime Great Western Bank multimedia specialist. "My financial picture changed after my job layoff. I went through years of hell, but now I'm back on the fast track, thanks to Judy."

That would be Judy Rothman. The Woodland Hills resident does not view herself as a savior, although she admits to savoring her role as a mentor to women like Fish, who because of downsizing, divorce or other changing economic circumstances need help venturing back into today's changing job market.

Rothman, an executive recruiter and Internet consultant who was among the first women to find success in the academic publishing world, is a firm believer in women networking to help each other get ahead.

"It's been my experience that many women in corporate America don't take the time to help other women, the way men always have helped each other," Rothman said. "We've had to work so hard to get ahead that we need to just do the work and don't always talk about it."

Luckily for both women, the Jewish Vocational Service--which offers career counseling and job-search assistance out of its West Hills office--recently established the Wo-mentoring program, a one-year pilot project funded by the Valley Alliance.

Reacting to the lack of programs offered to women who are reentering the work force, the nonsectarian vocational organization sought to provide support and career development services through Wo-mentoring, which has already matched 20 women in the first phase of the program.

In April, the mentors and "mentees" attended a short training workshop, and they have checked in by phone or in person at least weekly since then to work on resumes and come up with strategies for seeking jobs.

"I've found that it's inspirational for aspiring career women to be matched with successful women," said project coordinator Bobbi Yanke. "Judy's been outstanding. She's given Jessica advice and helped clarify her goals."

Rothman, a New York native, knows what it's like to climb the corporate ladder in a male-dominated profession. "I was among the few women in publishing, and as I was being promoted I felt a need to help other women get in. It was lonely. The experience taught me the value of networking."

Fish, 43, had been lucratively employed at Great Western for seven years when her job there ended in 1993. By early 1997, a bitter divorce, the loss of her home and the end of her unemployment insurance sent her to a county welfare office. A trip to the Jewish Vocational Service office, where she was tapped for the Wo-mentoring program, quickly followed.

"Judy and I have a wonderful, synergistic relationship," said Fish, who now works for a Woodland Hills toy company. "She's supportive and has helped me reinvent myself, without judging me."

"Talking to Jessica is the best part of my day," Rothman said. "It's like business therapy. The reward is in watching positive things happen to her."

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Personal Best is a weekly profile of an ordinary person who does extraordinary things. Please send suggestions on prospective candidates to Personal Best, Los Angeles Times, 20000 Prairie St., Chatsworth 91311. Or fax them to (818) 772-3338. Or e-mail them to valley@latimes.com.

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