Rabbi Sandra Cohen

Nominated by NAMI Colorado
Member, NAMI Denver
Listen to Sandra's Candidate Speech

Specific Strengths and Attributes:

  • Diversity of age, race, ethnicity, language, experience and national geography
  • Human capital management including professional experience in human resources and personnel development & management

Job Title or Position:

  • self-employed in Mental Health Outreach in Religious Communities

Additional NAMI Involvement:

  • NAMIWalks, NAMI Advocacy, NAMI FaithNet
  • NAMI Queens/Nassau (NY), speaker in Clergy Conference (2021)
  • NAMI Colorado, assisted in programming

Other Board Service:

  • Rocky Mountain Rabbis and Cantors, Executive Committee
  • Seeking Common Ground, Board of Directors (Chair)

Relationship to Mental Health:

  • Individual with first-person experience of mental health condition; Family member or direct/front-line support of someone with a mental health condition; Other Professional; Community Engagement/Employer

Candidate Strengths Assessment

The candidate indicated they have experience in the following areas that will help NAMI achieve its mission and strategic goals:

  • Adult Education, Advocacy, Mental Health Service/Support

Estimated years of experience in the above areas:

  • I have been offering pastoral care for over 25 years. I have worked in Jewish Adult education for 30 years. I have been doing classes, workshops, and Scholar-in-Residence programming around mental health issues in religious communities (and how to make those houses of worship and institutions more welcoming and helpful to those with mental illness and their loved ones) for 5 years or so.

The candidate indicated they have connections and networks in the following areas:

  • Social Media, Traditional Media

Additional information about the connections and networks:

  • I am engaged in working with religious communities of all sorts in creating ways to welcome and assist those with mental illness and their loved ones. I have a very large network of clergy and others working in religious communities, especially in the Jewish community.

Candidate Leadership Style

The candidate indicated the following descriptors represent their leadership style:

  • Consensus Builder, Peacemaker, Process Thinker, Risk Averse, Team Player

As a rabbi who has worked for several years on mental health outreach in the Jewish and other religious communities, and who personally has as mental illness (bipolar, depression), I believe I have unique qualifications to serve on the NAMI board. When asking about diversity, NAMI lists race, ethnicity, age, and national aspects (as well as a few other), but does not mention religious diversity. This, I believe, is a mistake. Around 80% of people with mental illness describe themselves as "spiritual," and around 60% go to their clergy person or religious community for help. I can help NAMI reach out to religious communities of all sorts, from Jewish to Muslim, from Hindu and Bahai to Christians and Buddhists. Rather than imposing programs from without, I believe in working with faith communities on understanding their core values, and then using those values, such as visiting the sick and welcoming the stranger, to aid the institution in creating mental health committees and mental health programming. Places of worship can serve as frontline help, through, for example, providing mental health resource information in bathrooms and lobbies and created spiritual support groups; they can help individuals and families with practical help and they can also refer to places like NAMI and its support groups. I believe it is time for NAMI to partner with religious groups as a way of reaching more people.

I have personally helped advance the NAMI mission in my community by walking NAMI walks, publicizing its mission in Jewish and other religious communities, referring people to NAMI who need support and, of course, with donations.

I work well in coordination with other leaders to accomplish goals as evidenced by my success in growing a small congregation from 80 families to 140 over the course of 4 ½ years, as well as my work with other rabbis on the Rabbinical Council, specifically in interfaith work and bringing rabbis together for common purposes, like communal education and religious programming.

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