By Joseph M. Costa, Hillsides President and CEO
Older generations sometimes look upon younger people as aimless and dependent, raising questions about what the future will bring when a younger generation assumes a role of leadership. Just as the skepticism of young people takes hold, there are historic moments like the school shooting in Parkland, Florida that has left all of us marveling at how articulate, poised, and committed a younger generation is in the face of tragedy and grief.
I continue to be amazed and truly inspired by many of the young people we serve at Hillsides who, when confronted by enormous challenges, are extraordinarily resolved to improve their lives and demonstrate a high level of resiliency. The most recent example of such fortitude is the young woman who addressed the attendees of our annual gala, La Nuit des Rêves, last Saturday night.
Jasa Hawkins stood before a silenced audience of some 350 people and told her story of dealing with her family’s dysfunction, living in foster care, being homeless and pregnant, unemployed, and desperate. In spite of all these challenges, she was driven by a desire to improve her life. Focused and determined, she reached out for help and found just that at our Youth Moving On (YMO) Peer Resource Center. A refuge from the streets during the day, she was able to find support and, through our employment readiness program, a job at Starbucks. Like so many vulnerable young people, employment is a crucial issue that must be addressed to create a pathway to financial independence and a better future. Today, Jasa is employed, enjoys affordable housing, and is once again hopeful.
Her journey to this moment was made possible not only because of her determination but because of the many who stood by her, especially her YMO youth advocate and other staff who welcomed her at the Peer Resource Center and crafted an array of services that leveraged her will to improve her life. Her presentation at the gala was a testament to her resiliency and to the dedication and commitment of Hillsides to create lasting change for Jasa and all we serve.
Let’s never underestimate what can be done in the face of tremendous odds when resolve and hard work are applied.