Hillsides Community Blog

A 9/11 In Memoriam to Two of our ‘Angels,’ Lynn and David Angell


The recent devastating hurricanes have generated many stories of strangers coming together to aid those jeopardized by these ferocious weather systems. Although the recovery effort may be organized by relief organizations, it is nevertheless also dependent on the goodwill of volunteers who, despite their own hardships, come forward to the aid of strangers.

These selfless and heroic efforts remind me that we would be hard-pressed to address the needs of the children, youth, and families we serve if not for the legion of volunteers dedicated to working along with our staff to fulfill our mission to help those we serve heal, grow, and thrive.

As these natural disasters unfolded over the last couple of weeks, it coincided with the 16th anniversary of the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center in New York City. On that tragic day among the thousands who perished were an extraordinary couple, Lynn and David Angell, who were great supporters of Hillsides. Lynn, in particular, was an enthusiastic and ardent volunteer who was the driving force behind the creation of the library and the many enhancement services associated with it. She collected books, took over part of the auditorium for a reading center, organized other volunteers to read and tutor our residents, and insisted on a permanent home for the library in the Children’s Resource Center. Lynn serves as the great example of what one volunteer with a dream can achieve. Today a foundation created in their name continues to honor their lifetime contribution with ongoing support for the library programs and many other initiatives at Hillsides.

Although I never met Lynn or David, each time I get to New York City I make my way to the 9/11 Memorial to find their names, say a prayer, and hope we continue to know the blessing of many selfless and committed volunteers.

The challenges brought on by such powerful and extensive natural disasters remind us of how reliant we are on the kindness of strangers. It summons our best instincts to offer assistance regardless of sacrifice, and builds up the human spirit to realize a dream otherwise threatened by tragedy. Never underestimate the difference you could make as a volunteer for the many we serve.

For information on volunteer opportunities at Hillsides, please visit our volunteer web page or contact Laura Kelso, our community resources director, at lkelso@hillsides.org or 323-254-2274, ext. 1251.

Mama Lucy is the epitome of our values

“I really miss you a lot…I feel I need your support right now…I just feel I need you. I know you really cared for me when I was there.” These words express what a former Hillsides resident wrote to Lucy Abdelradiy, a seasoned child care counselor of 35 years. Known as Mama Lucy to those children who live at Hillsides and to our staff, she is the epitome of our values: quality care, respect, integrity, transparency, and compassion.

She is loving, nurturing, and respectful of every single child that has crossed her path. She shows them their worth, gives them reality checks, and expresses concern for their well-being. A faithful woman, Mama Lucy has been a constant in the lives of many of these children who have experienced at least six placements before coming to live at Hillsides.

Once they leave our program and transition into adulthood, sometimes begin raising their own families, Mama Lucy is one of the first individuals former residents come back to visit. For many of these children, starting families of their own, this gives them a sense of belonging somewhere. For one former resident who reached out to Mama Lucy, she knew she belonged at Hillsides. She recalled, “Hillsides was the best and where I was the happiest. I loved being around where I was loved and cared about by the staff there especially you.”

This sentiment is also expressed by Octavia, a former Hillsides resident, who came to visit Mama Lucy and was interviewed on a video on the “To Foster Change” website, an initiative of PBS Co Cal to raise awareness about children in foster care. Mama Lucy with her motherly love makes everyone feel welcomed and at home, especially children who have been removed from many houses.

Home is where your heart is. This saying is especially true of how our former residents feel for Mama Lucy and Hillsides. For some adults, who once shared a home with Mama Lucy, reaching out in times of need continue long after they emancipate.

Five Tips to Become At Ease with IEPs


By Jimmy Fernandez

Editor’s Note:  In his role as a program specialist at Hillsides Education Center, Jimmy Fernandez coordinates and facilitates the majority of the Individualized Education Plan (IEP) meetings for the school’s students.  Here, as the new school year is starting, he offers advice to de-mystify the IEP process and put parents’ anxieties over the meetings to rest.

Understand the Goals of an IEP

 An Individualized Education Plan (IEP) is a legally binding document that ensures a child with disabilities receives a free and appropriate public education (FAPE). Put another way, an IEP is a legal document that you and your child’s school develop to meet your child’s needs in the classroom. The goal of an IEP is to meet the needs of a student as if he/she were in a general education setting.

Know the Difference between Accommodations and Modifications

Most IEP’s include accommodations and/or modifications. Accommodations are changes the teacher makes to help your child learn the same content or material as their classmates.  Modifications are changes to the educational content itself. In other words, accommodations change how a student is taught or expected to learn. Modifications change what a student is taught or expected to learn.

Provide as Much Information as Possible  

The more information parents provide to paint a fuller picture of student, the better the school will be able to provide appropriate services. Be prepared with relevant testing, letters from providers or therapists who regularly interact with your child, and a list of questions you have for the team. Be prepared to discuss the strengths, interests, and talents of your child.

Create a Team our child’s IEP team consists of you (parent or guardian), who is the educational rights holder, their classroom teacher, the special education teacher, the principal or special education director, a legal advocate, and any other specialists that work with your child. If your child is receiving a service, then the provider should be present at the IEP. You may also invite others to join the team meeting, such as a service provider or a family member who knows your child well. It’s a good idea to let the IEP team know if you’re bringing a family member, friend or advocate to the IEP team meeting ahead of time. Also, if your child is over the age of 18, your child now holds his own educational rights and he/she provides consent for the IEP.

Figure Out the Terminology

There are several important vocabulary key terms relevant to every IEP.  Need, data, and progress are synonymous terms used to determine whether your child is receiving educational benefit from the current placement.  Remember, the goal of the IEP and its goals and objectives is to demonstrate progress during the year.  Growth can be demonstrated by progress in social, emotional, goals, or academics.

In addition, each child with an IEP has a behavior support/ intervention plan (BIP) so the team can consider the targeted behavior that is impeding the child’s progress in the curriculum.  In other words, why is your child not able to access the curriculum? Providing data that shows the function (or purpose) of the behavior is crucial to the development of a productive behavior plan. The data will determine the antecedent (what is occurring prior to the behavior), the behavior, and the consequence of such behavior. The four areas evaluated are control, sensory input, avoidance, and communication.  Once the team is able to determine the function of the behavior, it must look to replace the child’s behavior by providing different interventions.  The idea is to replace certain unwanted behaviors with appropriate behaviors to enable that child to access the classroom curriculum.

Being as informed as possible about your child’s educational plan will start the year out right for your child – and for you. The more you know, the more you can advocate for your child.

 Jimmy Fernandez has worked at the Hillsides Education Center for 13 years. He holds an education specialists credential and has taught fifth through 10th grade at the school.  He holds a law degree and worked in the legal field for many years before making a career change to education.




Why We Need Strong Leadership to Safeguard our Values

by Joseph M. Costa

charlottesville nc

Photo Credit:  McEldowney/Richmond Times-Dispatch

Recently Hillsides restated our vision statement to read, “We envision a world in which children and young adults, families, and communities are able to heal, grow and thrive.” Unfortunately, the unbridled displays of white supremacism  in Charlottesville, Virginia last weekend and the ensuing violence, which resulted  in the tragic loss of three lives, are the most recent demonstration of a growing trend that has seen an almost 24 percent growth in hate crimes in 2016. Given that some 80 percent of clients we serve are Latino and eight percent African American, it is clear that the world we envision for our children, young adults and families is a perilous one that threatens our hope for them to heal, grow and thrive.

Some things we must safeguard are absolutes: violence is unacceptable, racism is evil, and intolerance is unjustified. We must be unequivocal in our condemnation whether we are an elected official or an average citizen. To see hatred on display in such a graphic fashion as last weekend’s violence in Charlottesville is frightening. The response must elicit a clear and swift condemnation and resolve to counter bigotry in its many forms.

All those we serve have experienced significant trauma. The events of this past week have only further traumatized them. Our clients are skeptical that they can hope for a full life when a segment of our society views them as a threat because of the color of their skin, ethnicity or religion. As always, given the unvarnished display of prejudice, we are committed to provide a safe place for our clients to address their fears, offer support and encourage advocacy.

In the spirit of advocacy, we are grateful to those elected officials and community and religious leaders who have raised their voices in condemnation of racism. Such a clear statement of support for what we value the most is greatly appreciated. We must insist all elected representatives unite in opposition to bigotry and clearly state it unequivocally.

The public dialogue over the last week has exposed the racial divide that persists generations after freedom was painfully gained for African Americans. More than ever, we need a President who can name the challenge without justifying violence and serve as a mediator, not an instigator, of division. This is a time when communities must speak clearly against hatred and violence and support efforts to ease the fears generated by racially fueled prejudice.  Only then can we restore a sense of hope and create and sustain “a world in which children and young adults, families, and communities are able to heal, grow and thrive.”


Seven Ways to Improve Your Emotional Intelligence

Two stone hearts

By Leslie Santana

Psychologist Howard Gardner, a John H. and Elisabeth A. Hobbs professor of cognition and education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education at Harvard University, argued that instead of intelligence being a single ability, humans had the ability to develop multiple intelligences, nine to be exact. One of these is emotional or interpersonal intelligence.  Some people have a natural proficiency in this type of intelligence, but others have difficulty with this. Here are seven ways I’ve found through my practice as a therapist to help develop your emotional intelligence and in doing so, led a happier, more fulfilling life:

  1. Opening the Door 

Emotions are like visitors that knock on your door on any given day and leave once they have gotten what they have came for. Emotional development starts by opening the door and allowing those emotions to be felt. Part of coping with distress involves allowing the emotions in instead of ignoring the knock on the door.

  1. Releasing all Judgments 

This is where our societal norms come into play and interfere with our healthy development of emotional intelligence. All emotions are equally important. Because they are equally important and vital to each person, they are neither better nor worse than each other. However, our society emphasizes happiness and discourages any anger or sad emotions. This unfortunately causes an imbalance in each person and contributes to distress. We should focus on emotions equally because experiencing each emotion equally contributes to a balanced psyche.  To illustrate, take a look at the duality of the ying-yang circle, the Chinese philosophy of how opposite or contrary forces are complementary and interdependent in the natural world.

  1. Gaining emotional Insight 

This is my favorite part of the therapeutic process and is really the driving force in recovery. Emotional insight is each individual’s unique experience throughout his or her life of every emotion. It’s like a library of memories that begins at birth. Part of developing emotional insight consists of recognizing what events trigger certain emotions and why. It consists of recognizing what emotions visit you the most, what emotion you have the most difficulty experiencing, and what emotions are encouraged and discouraged in your nuclear family and culture.

  1. Disentangling Emotions 

Emotions are so complex that they get enmeshed with other emotions, other people, and cognitions (thoughts). The feeling of love can get enmeshed with feelings of disappointment. Most commonly, feelings of sadness manifest themselves as anger. People can too, enmesh emotions with each other. For example, an individual can transfer anger to his or her partner, causing an unhealthy cycle of resentment. A mother might overcompensate feelings of disappointment to a child and thus cause the child to develop unresolved issues as well. Lastly, emotions can also become enmeshed with core beliefs. This statement is a good example of tangled beliefs and emotions: “I feel like everyone thinks I’m a joke.” No feelings were actually described here and this statement is actually a distorted cognition. A disentangled statement would be something like this: “My belief that people think I am a joke causes me to have feelings of sadness and disappointment.” An individual who masters this skill is able to not be affected by the emotions of others and can separate emotions from each other and from cognitions.

  1. Practicing compassion

To say the least, emotions are complex. They are not easy to balance and can be tough to experience. Be compassionate towards yourself and others when emotions are at play.

  1. Closing the door 

This is probably one of the trickier parts of emotional intelligence and can shed some light on how an individual comes to develop mental illness such as depression. If you begin by ignoring the emotion, it becomes more difficult to find peace with the emotion once you have allowed it in. This is why it is important to start from the beginning. It is also important to remember that just because an emotion knocks on your door, doesn’t mean you need to act on it. Allow yourself to listen to what the emotion is teaching you about yourself. Closing the door to anger, contempt, and sadness is difficult so it is important to realize when you could use some outside help.

  1. Connecting the dots 

Developing emotional intelligence is an active intervention that requires constant attention but gets stronger with practice. In connecting the dots, you begin by opening the door to your visiting emotion, releasing all judgments of that emotion, understanding your personal experience of that emotion, developing compassion for yourself and others, and closing the door to that emotion.  By connecting the dots and following the steps of emotional intelligence, the greater your sense of well-being will be.

Leslie is a therapist at Bienvenidos Family Resources Center, Montebello.  She recently graduated from California State Polytechnic University, Pomona with a Master of Science in psychology and is currently working toward becoming licensed as a marriage and family therapist.


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