Legacies: Community Counseling & Education Center

Celebrating 25 Years of Service

By Leslie Dinaberg


What began in 1984 as the dream of two women—to provide very low cost counseling and education to needy individuals, couples, and families, and to create a state-of-the-art training environment for graduate students—now, 25 years later, a vibrant nonprofit, the Community Counseling & Education Center (CCEC).


When Patricia Cooper and Jaclyn Henretig first envisioned CCEC, there were only a handful of places where people with limited incomes could go for counseling. The Human Relations Institute (which later became Pacifica) had a counseling center in Isla Vista where Cooper was a graduate student training to be a counselor and Henretig was her supervisor. That center was slated to close and the women felt passionately that the community still needed its services.


“Our immediate response was ‘let’s do something to keep it going,’” says Henretig, who now serves as Clinical Director.


“We were seeing a lot more people coming into therapy and talking about things like divorce and separation. People were starting to talk about the impact of alcohol on the family. Many people were growing up in homes where there was sexual abuse. We saw an opportunity to not only provide those kinds of services, but also support a student body with trouble adjusting to being away from home and struggling with depression and anxiety,” explains Cooper, now the Executive Director.


Despite the fact that they had no funding and limited resources at their disposal, they set up shop in a small office in the Isla Vista Medical Center. They got to work quickly, painting the walls and sewing cushions for the floor so they could seat their first clients.


“We did not know anything about running an agency, obviously,” laughs Cooper, from the downtown Santa Barbara offices they now occupy. CCEC may have graduated from pillows on the floor to second-hand couches and chairs, but the spirit of rolling up your sleeves and doing what needs to be done remains strong.


“We stayed with our original desire, which was to provide psychological and educational programs that were pertinent to the Santa Barbara community at an affordable price, and at the same time to have a great training program to meet the needs of the interns going through,” says Henretig.


“If I were to encapsulate the journey of the center, I would say that in many ways we were learning as we went about how to run an agency. But we also were very proud of the clinical training and supervision that we were offering and the direct services that we were providing to low income families. … We always felt like we were excelling in those areas,” says Cooper.


Today CCEC provides about 7,500 hours a year of bilingual counseling services for individuals, couples, families, and children, as well as a variety of support groups for children (in conjunction with Boys and Girls Club), single parents, and Spanish speaking families. It also offers continuing education classes to the general public. All services are either free or on a sliding fee scale, which Cooper says is becoming more critical in these stressful economic times.


While not a crisis center, CCEC does have ability to react quickly to support the community’s needs. For example, it worked closely with the Red Cross and offered free counseling services to people affected by the Jesusita Fire and prior to that, the Tea Fire.


“To have somebody to listen to you is oftentimes such a gift, and to have somebody’s undivided attention, it’s a gift and it’s something that we all crave,” says Cooper. “None of us ever feel like we get enough of that.”


“It’s truly been a pleasure for us to do the center. When I think of the things that I’m proud of in my life, certainly having the center develop as it has brings me a lot of sense of peace,” says Henretig. “Private practice is wonderful, but there’s only a few people that can afford private practice fees. This makes me feel like it goes out into the community regardless of how much money people have, and that’s a good feeling.”


For more information about the Community Counseling & Education Center, call 805/962-3363.

 Originally published in the Fall 2009 issue of Santa Barbara Seasons Magazine. To read the story as it appeared, click here for the first page, and here for the second page.