Hillsides Community Blog

Celebrating Foster Care Month: How One Little Girl Found her `Forever Family’

Hillsides is dedicated to the goal of creating permanency for the children and youth we serve. For the vast majority of the children, the best pathway is to support their parents and extended family to address any issues that might serve as an obstacle to stability.  There are, however, very sad instances where parents and the families may not be able to provide a safe, nurturing environment for a child.  In these cases, after exhaustive attempts to support the family of origin, parental rights are eventually relinquished and the child becomes available for adoption.

Our affiliation with Bienvenidos has introduced Hillsides to an extraordinary group of foster (also known as resource) families who have enhanced our capacity to support children separated from their parents by providing a welcoming, safe and nurturing home while working towards reunification. Additionally, some of these foster families are available to adopt if the biological parents and extended families are not able to be reunified with the child. Out of these very challenging situations, these exemplary foster families open their hearts and homes to adopt.Resource Family quote

On our website, you will find the story of a courageous couple who despite their fears that their hopes for a family would be unrealized, welcomed an infant into their home and eventually adopted her as their own. As traumatizing as being separated from parents and community is, the loss can be eased by knowing that you have been chosen to be loved.

The story of Leah and her adoring parents reinforces how hope can spring from hardship.  This wonderful couple is one of a hundred families licensed through the Bienvenidos Foster Care and Adoptions program. Some of these loving families serve as an ally for a child and family while anticipating reunification while others, like the family profiled, are prepared to welcome a child who is vulnerable into their family through adoption.

May is National Foster Care Month.  In Los Angeles County alone there are currently 18,000 children in foster care in need of a good home whether temporarily or permanently. Parenting requires selflessness and a willingness to sacrifice for the child’s best interest. We are very fortunate to have such generous families who give wholeheartedly to these children separated from their families. The need is great to secure many more foster families.  Please consider joining the ranks of such remarkable families and become a foster parent. For more information, please email fostercarerecruitment@bienvenidos.org or call 1-800-828-5683.

Why We Need to Make Our Voices Heard During Mental Health Awareness Month

Mental health advocacy quote

To say that there is a lot going on in Washington, DC these days is an understatement. Although the most recent events have taken the attention away from efforts to reform access to healthcare, the initiative that was passed by the House of Representatives and now forwarded to the Senate for consideration represents a development in public policy that potentially will have significant impact on all Americans for generations.

The American Health Care Act proposal places in question a number of provisions of the current Affordable Care Act (ACA) at the discretion of individual states as to the scope of health care coverage. What now is called essential benefits would be affected, including access to mental health care.

Over the last 20 years, advocates, including Hillsides, have pressed for greater access to mental health services, not only because these services are essential to all those we serve but because the availability of these services can create a significant and lasting positive impact. Failure to treat mental health issues often exacerbates chronic physical ailments and jeopardizes the well-being and long-term stability of many. Chronic mental health issues often place clients at risk of harm to themselves and, in some rare instances, of harming others. We have seen the horrific effect of the lack of mental illness treatment in suicide rates and violent exchanges that have left innocent people dead. To remove mental health treatment from the list of essential services to be covered in a health care plan and leave its inclusion to the discretion of individual states is a reckless and short-sighted proposal.  It will only lead to extraordinary disparity in care, limit considerably affordable access to this essential service, and result in needless harm to the mentally ill and our communities in general.

It is devastatingly ironic that such a proposal, endorsed by the House of Representatives, should be advanced during May, the month set aside to call attention to the plight of many who are challenged by mental illness. As I visit our residential treatment center or hear our community-based therapists discuss the challenges of their clients, I am increasingly concerned that limiting in any way the availability of indispensable mental health services will create considerable harm. Any reduction in access to mental health funding will without a doubt impair our effectiveness with our clients.

Many have dismissed the proposed legislation as a “statement of principles” offered to guide the upcoming discussion that will result in a final piece of legislation, which will be very different from what we have presently. If that is the case, then all the more reason for a voice to be raised to make clear that these principles do not serve the best interests of the most vulnerable, and in the long run, threaten the well-being of all. To offer the elimination of essential services as part of a negotiation tactic without an appreciation of the worry and concern that it raises for vulnerable people is cruel. The need for unfettered access to affordable and quality mental health services saves lives and safeguards the interests of our communities. To deny it or somehow make it more challenging to access or afford it is a statement to those in need that their lives are not valued and perhaps even dispensable.

In spite of what clearly is an array of issues that has captured the attention of legislators and policymakers in our nation’s capital, during this month of May, all are encouraged to reach out to their respective legislators and ask them to support the inclusion of mental health services in any healthcare legislation.

Seven Expert Tips on How to Help a Family or Friend Experiencing Domestic Violence

Woman sitting alone and depressed

Editor’s Note:  For those readers who recently watched the hit HBO series “Big Little Lies,” you may still be reeling from the shocking domestic violence scenes  that revealed that domestic violence can be present where it is least suspected.  Unfortunately domestic violence is a reality for all too many.  The statistics are chilling:  On average, nearly 20 people per minute are physically abused by an intimate partner in the United States, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. And one in three women and one in four men have been victims of some form of physical violence by an intimate partner within their lifetime.

-by Natalia Hughes

Most of us personally know someone who is or has been a victim of domestic violence. As a result, it may be difficult to know what to do.  It may also be very upsetting that someone you  care about is hurting.

Friends or loved ones who experience domestic violence may be feeling hopeless or experience overwhelming fear and or guilt.  They may also feel conflicting emotions about the abuser.   Our instincts make us believe that we need to protect our friends or loved ones. However this can become dangerous because we are not part of the abusive relationship and as outsiders looking in, we can potentially cause more harm. For example, telling our friends or loved ones to leave a relationship when it is abusive can cause more harm for victim who may later chose to return to the abuser and be punished for leaving.  Other times, someone who goes back to an abusive relationship may be pushed away from family and friends, and become even more isolated.

What, therefore, should you do if someone you know is in this situation?  I am a firm believer that knowledge holds power.  In my field of work as a marriage family therapist, many of my clients present with current domestic violence or have a history of it in their relationships. Oftentimes, my client report feeling unheard, lost in the navigation as to where to turn for help, and devalued as a human.  Gaining knowledge and information is often the turning point and pathway to getting out of an abusive relationship.  Many of my clients have said that they would have left sooner if they’d known what resources were available for them.

Here are tips on how to be supportive, mindful and empowering to someone who may be experiencing domestic violence.

Be available if the person wants to open up to discuss their abuse.  For an abuse victim, it takes great courage to begin to talk about what is going on.  Lending your ear can empower them to eventually seek a safe and caring environment.

Don’t judge. It’s human to want to judge others; however, this has the power to take away a victim’s confidence and therefore lessen the drive to leave an abusive relationship.  Often we don’t even mean to judge, but it comes through in what we say, for example when you ask, “Why haven’t you left the relationship already?”  Keep in mind that there may be several reasons why the individual feels they cannot leave (the spouse is the primary wage earner, for example), even if it is difficult for others to understand.

Believe what is being shared with you. Sometimes we may question what a person is telling us.   However, no one knows what a relationship is like except for the people living it.  Showing or expressing doubts about what you are being told can cause the other person to feel devalued and to stop confiding in you.  Instead, try to listen with an open mind.

Don’t suggest or push suggestions of what you think the person should do (i.e. leave the abuser). This only adds pressure, and does not empower the individual to learn, grow or decide on their own.  Instead, reassure the person that the abuse is not their fault and that nothing they have done justifies violence against them.

Make it your focus to support the person and build their confidence and resource base.  The more victims of abuse know, the more empowered they become.  Often, the abuser tries to manipulate the victim by telling them that if they leave, they’ll be on their own and no one can help them or that they will get their children taken away.  Knowledge helps victims see they do have options and that the abuser is wrong.  Two resources to share:  1) LA County.  Dialing 211 for LA County provides everything from domestic violence emergency shelters to local agencies that can help with food restraining orders, babysitting, and transportation. LA County also has a toll- free 24- hour hotline:  1-800-978-3600. 2)  House of Ruth, a domestic violence agency  in the San Gabriel Valley at 909-988-5559.  This number will connect people to a crisis hotline.

Recognize that it takes a while to help someone understand what they are going through and even longer to decide what to do about it.  It is very difficult for victims to find the strength and courage to navigate away from their abuser.  Coming to terms with the abuse and how to handle it is a long process.

Lastly, don’t blame yourself for not being able to help a loved one or family. What keeps someone in an abusive relationship is strong and complex and sometimes we do not have the understanding or tools to break this cycle. Sometimes knowledge and empowerment can be enough to help someone escape abuse, but other times, no matter how hard you try or how present you are for that person, it is just a decision the individual is not ready to make.

As a therapist, understanding human behavior is my profession. However, even I cannot understand how experiences and situations such as abuse is hard-wired in the human mind. In the end, what I do know, however, is that abusive relationships are proof of the incredible power people can have over each other.


–Natalia, who received a master’s degree in Marriage Family Therapy from the University of Phoenix, is a CalWORKs therapist intern with Hillsides in our Family Resource Centers, Pomona.   CalWORKs is a state-wide program that provides employment services and other benefits to families in need.   

Natalia is a firm believer that the more we strive to learn, the more we will grow individually and as a culture. Her greatest passion is to teach others to continue to grow on their self-journey of discovery.  “I enjoy helping my clients find healthy perceptions of themselves, fortify their loving relationships, and apply self-growth in order to be balanced individuals,” she says.



The Power of Volunteerism and How One Volunteer Led to a $5 Million Grant


From left to right: Hillsides Board Chair Donna Ford, Hillsides Board Member The Rev. Canon Edward Sniecienski, Hillsides President and CEO Joseph M. Costa, Margie & Robert E. Petersen Foundation representatives Gigi Carleton and Kevin Strauch.

This week is National Volunteer Week. At last count Hillsides had approximately 350 volunteers. Some of them provide a number of one-on-one services for our residents and community-based clients such as tutoring while others serve by sponsoring and participating in special group activities for children and families. This is an extraordinary group of people who offer an indispensable service that augments and enriches the care we provide to those we serve.

When I speak with volunteers, I encourage them not to underestimate the impact they can have on our clients and the organization as a whole. As an example, one of our current volunteer board members, The Rev. Canon Edward Sniecienski, was recently speaking with a parishioner. In the course of the conversation, they realized they both had links to Hillsides. Deacon Ed is currently serving on our Board of Directors, and the parishioner is a former board member. After Deacon Ed mentioned Hillsides’ capital campaign to provide improvements to our Pasadena campus, the parishioner identified himself as a trustee of the Margie & Robert E. Petersen Foundation and indicated his willingness to entertain a solicitation from Hillsides to support the work we do with transition-aged youth. From that very serendipitous after-church conversation eventually came the largest gift to Hillsides in our 104-year-old history: $5 million. This extraordinary gift will not only support our services to transition-aged youth but will benefit our capital campaign for the first phase of the $17 million project.

Deacon Ed may have had some idea about the funding opportunity as a result of his conversation with his parishioner, but I think it is fair to say that no one appreciated how large or how significant the opportunity was. The attentiveness and mission-focus of this one board member has had an enormous impact on all those who will be served at the student center under construction that will now bear the name of Margie and Robert E. Petersen Student Center.

Like Deacon Ed all our volunteers have an impact on the children we serve, each in their own way. Regardless of the activity, effective volunteers are compelled by the needs of our clients, unwavering in their support, and tireless in advocating for our children, youth and families.

To Deacon Ed, the Margie & Robert E. Petersen Foundation, all our board members who are so generous with their time, talent and resources and to all those who volunteer at Hillsides, thank you! What we achieve as a result of the commitment and dedication of all our volunteers must never be underestimated. Especially considering it is National Volunteer Week, we ask you to consider volunteering your time at one of our many programs, confident that your volunteer services will help create lasting change for all those we serve. For more information, please contact Laura Kelso at 323-254-2274, ext. 1251 or lkelso@hillsides.org.

Why Prince Harry speaking out about trauma can help with mental health stigma

2Many of the children and youth we serve have experienced great losses in their lives. For a child, the ultimate loss would be that of a parent, whether through death or because substance or alcohol use has resulted in their parent being absent and, in some instance, lost to the child. The trauma that results from such a loss was addressed very poignantly this week as Britain’s Prince Harry spoke for the first time in public about the impact of repressing his emotions after the tragic death of his mother and the chaos that characterized his life until he was able to seek mental health treatment. Such candor, especially on the part of a public figure, helps to dispel the stigma associated with mental illness and reassures all those who experience bouts of it that treatment can ease the pain and provide some hope for the restoration of well-being.

This very public exposure came the same week that we received news of a former resident who is experiencing a very chaotic and challenging period post-treatment with us. He, too, has lost his mother very tragically and in spite of our attempts to address this profound loss, was very resolute in his denial and now is experiencing great turmoil. Trauma is a reality for all of us and failure to address it can be devastating, so treatment is essential. For this former resident we can only encourage him to seek out some treatment and to reassure him in the process.

Like any physical malady, mental illness must be addressed. Would we ignore a persistent pain or refuse any treatment that would bring about relief and healing? The same is true for mental illness. It will persist until treated and the longer care is delayed, the greater the likelihood that the condition will worsen and threaten health and well-being. We often think of mental illness as a persistent and chronic condition, and although this may be the case, it is just as likely to be episodic, rooted in a particular trauma. Regardless, mental illness is treatable and need not be considered a fate to fear.

Prince Harry’s candor has created a moment when we can all recognize the impact that mental health has on our lives and encourage those who struggle with mental illness to seek out treatment, confident of the support of family, friends and community. His revelations and that of other public figures like former Congressman Patrick Kennedy come at a time when access to mental health treatment is threatened by ongoing efforts to replace the Affordable Care Act, which increased significantly the availability of care for those with mental illness.

Mental illness is the greatest disorder that goes untreated not only because of the stigma associated with it but because of the lack of access to care. Hopefully the discussion generated this week because of the attention the Royal Family has brought to this issue will help us be more aware of the impact that mental illness has on each of us and our society and help to thwart any efforts to diminish access to care for such a treatable illness.

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