By Judith Kahn
Judy Goddess is a Sunset District resident, a writer and living proof that aging does not need to mean slowing down. A lifelong learner, she is an expert in several fields, including education and senior issues.
Over the years, her writing has focused on the issues of seniors, children’s education and families. She has served as an advocate, writing books and grants, as well as organizing and serving on committees addressing the concerns of these populations. She currently reports for sfseniorbeat.com.
“I was always interested in family issues,” Goddess said. “Perhaps that’s in my genes.”
At Northwestern University in Chicago, she taught four education classes on the history, philosophy, sociology, and psychology of education. But in 1974, she left the university when she realized she was not being exactly true to herself.
“I had been teaching the ‘company line’ about education rather than the reality of public education and failing schools,” Goddess said.
She then worked as the educational director with the Midwest Regional Office of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC or Quakers). AFSC had identified school breakfast as the most pressing issue in education, and she became an advocate for those struggling to feed and raise children in the projects.
Goddess spent a year writing her first book on the rules governing Chicago’s schools. She hired and trained advocates and community leaders for a program that also utilized Northwestern Legal Assistance to represent families requiring that level of support.
During her time in Chicago, she worked with United Charities (a multi-service family agency). Goddess also served as coordinator for a business team at New Expression, a citywide youth paper, as part of a staff of three adults. New Expression delivered 40,000 papers to schools each month. When she left AFSC, she began writing grants.
Goddess left Chicago in 1980, worked for a year in Oakland, then moved to Silicon Valley to work at the Center for Self-Reliant Education, affiliated with Foothill and De Anza Community Colleges. This organization helped women’s groups to develop programs in Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, and Monterey counties. At this time, she also wrote a book titled “California School Rules: A School-Smart Parent’s Guide to Advocating for Your Child.”
“When the book came out, I offered my services around and soon began volunteering with CACE, the California Association for Compensatory Education, the Former Title 1 program for low-income students.” Goddess spent several years grant writing during the day and answering parents’ emailed questions at night. She was ultimately elected president of the organization, representing CACE at meetings with the California Department of Education.
When she moved to San Francisco, her first job was in San Leandro, with the San Leandro Shelter for Women and Children.
“We also started a shelter for abused women while I was there,” she said.
Later, she took a job writing grants for El Centro de Libertad, a recovery program in San Mateo County.
“This was a whole new world to learn, and I stayed for about five years,” Goddess said.
At age 65, Goddess left grant writing to start a statewide parents’ union, but this plan was interrupted by a family emergency, prompting her to move to Santa Cruz and, eventually, assume an early retirement. She began attending classes for older students at Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI).
“Looking around the classroom, I realized we were all older and yet we never discussed aging,” she said.
Some of them formed a group called Aging Explorers, organizing monthly lectures on aging and forming community.
About this time, Goddess joined an OLLI journalism class that inspired her to write an article on the Older Adults Community Choirs. The New Fillmore published it and assigned other stories, launching her journalism career and encouraging her to pursue journalism classes at City College of San Francisco.
“I believe in neighborhood papers,” she said. “They’re particularly important for older people who are less likely to go online.”
Goddess began writing for the Sunset Beacon, Richmond Review, Ingleside-Excelsior Light (“for whom I wrote a monthly column before it went online”), and Potrero View newspapers. She also writes for El Tecolote, SF Bay View, and Beyond Chron.
She said she enjoys reporting because it introduces her “to people I wouldn’t otherwise know – often people who have made very different choices in their lives or faced more difficult or different opportunities,” she said. “It is expanding my world view, which I really value.”
According to Goddess, the most serious issues elders face today are hunger, housing and loneliness. Depending on their location and mobility, transportation can also be a major issue. She pointed out that there are many important programs in SF that enrich seniors’ lives, including OLLI at SFSU, and Fromm Institute at USF, among others.
Since the pandemic began, Goddess started a reading group with a playwright friend. Drama with Friends meets monthly on Zoom to read short plays by contemporary Bay Area playwrights.
Currently, Goddess works with Community Living Campaign (CLC), with 11 connector programs around the City to help seniors and those with disabilities age and thrive in place. They often begin with exercise classes, moving on to healthy aging, writing, crafts and more.
During summers, she and her husband, Rufus Browning, sometimes rent a cabin in the Trinity Alps. Alongside her many professional facets, she has raised her own family, including two sons and four grandchildren.
“I love spending time with them and watching them grow and take on the world,” she said. “They’re busy kids, but they try to make room for me in their schedules.”