Hillsides Community Blog

The True Meaning of the Holidays is Right Here in our Hearts


A family enjoying the holiday party at our Family Resource Center, East San Gabriel Valley.

By Desiree Rodrigues

It is that time of year again, the holiday season, when you are rushing about town trying to find that one last gift, sending off greeting cards and planning gatherings. Whether you are shopping or getting ready for parties, I am sure that the following question has crossed your mind: What do the holidays mean to me?

For me, the answer is family.

Let’s take a moment and think of the very first Christmas story. A father, Joseph, is taking care of his pregnant wife, Mary. He traveled in search of a safe place for them, asking for help along the way. He did what was necessary to provide for them. That very special story is in fact replayed day in and day out all across the world. Parents are creating safe shelters, providing the necessities, and nurturing their growing children physically and mentally.

This past week our Family Resource Center, East San Gabriel Valley office had its very first holiday celebration. Several clients and their families were invited to have dinner, partake in the gift receiving, and visit with Santa.  When planning the event, the main goal was to have the families come together, have a special dinner, and have fun. Mission accomplished!

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The author, left, with Santa.

Our families enjoyed the arts and crafts activities and taking a family portrait.  These are little things that not all of our families are accustomed to or have the means to do on their own, so the experience was rewarding.   I had the pleasure of taking the family portraits, and the look on children’s faces was priceless. I saw the joy in the eyes of the parents and grandparents as they posed with their little ones. I was reminded that night of the meaning of the holiday.

Many of the Hillsides’ programs have thrown similar festivities, all with the same goal and coinciding with our mission to strengthen families. To all who celebrated Hanukkah, and those who will celebrate Christmas and Kwanzaa, may you enjoy the time spent with your family and family of friends.

Boas Festas!  Happy Holidays!

Desiree Rodrigues, who has worked at Hillsides for eight years, is the program coordinator for the CalWORKs program at Hillsides. She is currently working on her degree in literature at Mt. San Antonio College in Walnut, and is looking forward to beginning California State University, Long Beach next fall. 

How Adopting a Child Can Reverse the Cycle of Trauma

Editor’s Note: November is National Adoption Month. In honor of the month, and of those parents who decide to take the transformative step to adopt a child, this week’s blog post centers on our Bienvenidos Foster Care and Adoption program.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Kaiser conducted one of the largest investigations of adverse childhood experiences, often referred to as ACE. The study identified the long-term impact on those who suffered traumatic experiences during their childhood. Because of these traumas, many fail at school, struggled to establish and maintain relationships, experienced high levels of unemployment, and are susceptible to mental illness, chronic poor health, and premature death. These conditions are rooted in abuse and neglect as children — destabilizing experiences that establish a tragic pattern of hardship, failure, and sadness. The study also revealed that the principle factor that can influence the negative consequences of adverse childhood experiences is the consistent presence of a caring adult in the lives of children who have been traumatized.

All of our efforts at Hillsides are aimed at breaking the cycle of adverse outcomes for the children, youth, and families we serve. We do that in a number of ways through various initiatives, but all are dependent on dedicated employees and caring volunteers. One very significant initiative is our Bienvenidos Foster Care and Adoption Services. Through our resource families (formerly known as foster families), homes are provided to children who would otherwise be living at group homes. There is no substitute for the family of origin. However, if for good reason, the family is unable to reunite, home-based family care is an indispensable resource for a child.

For some of our children living with a resource family, there is an opportunity for adoption. This past fiscal year, we finalized a record number of adoptions, 17. So far this year, five adoptions have been finalized and 14 are in the process. Adoption becomes a defining moment for a child and adoptive family. Pedro and his wife Nubia had been resource parents for one and a half years through Bienvenidos when three-week-old Lucia came into their lives. They fell in love with her and decided to adopt. Adoption is a lengthy process, but finally, on September 6 of this year, the adoption became final, and Lucia found her forever family. “It’s one of those moments that can’t compare to anything else in your life,” said Pedro as he thought back on the adoption ceremony. “It’s like your own child is being born.” Today, Lucia is a lively three-year-old who loves to laugh, dance, and carry her “Papa’s” lunch box for Pedro when he walks through the door each night after work. “Being her parent is a beautiful experience,” said Pedro.

Resource and adoptive families assume tremendous responsibilities when they welcome a child in their home. It is a daunting task that deserves our respect and support. Recently I heard a resource parent speak about her 25 years of welcoming children in foster care into her home. She mentioned that her success could be attributed to the support that she receives from her family and community. These selfless and dedicated individuals and the children they serve welcome and need our support. For those of you interested in either becoming a resource family or adopting a child, please contact our Bienvenidos Foster Care and Adoption program at 1-800-828-5683 or fostercarerecruitment@bienvenidos.org.

*Names have been changed to protect their privacy.

What Are We Grateful For? Let Us Count the Ways


Joshua Mathieu, workforce development specialist at our Youth Moving On program, is pictured here fourth from right, with colleagues at the early Thanksgiving dinner they held for youth at our Peer Resource Center.  Joshua says he is grateful for the supportive staff he works with.

At Hillsides, we have much to be thankful for as Thanksgiving approaches.  We asked staff across the agency  what they are thankful for, and here are some of their responses.  Perhaps the best part about learning what people are grateful for is seeing the smiles on their faces as they ponder the question.  Taking a moment to reflect on life’s blessings is an instant happiness booster. As you read these, you may want to stop and ask yourself, what you are thankful for?

“I am thankful for ….” 

“My accomplishments of this year, from getting a promotion to finally graduating from college.  I’m also grateful for the opportunities to travel and for being close to my family.”  — Giann Arroyo, Systems Administrator I, IT team

“To be alive and healthy.” — Lisa Gavitt, advancement coordinator

“In light of recent events, a home and a family.”  — Samira Vishria, director of professional development

“Having a place to go every morning where I feel comfortable, productive and challenged, not stressed.” — Elvira Contreras, Graphic Designer

“The calling to be a nurse and to help others. I am so grateful to work with a team of nurses who give the best of themselves each day to our clients. Working with friends and amazing hard- working professionals is a great blessing in my life. I am so very grateful for my husband Jack, my sons Jeff and Adam and their families.”  – Kim Weleba, Hillsides nursing office supervisor

“A team who is passionate about working with children in foster care and getting them resources and finding them resource homes.” – Cindy Macias, senior director of Bienvenidos Foster Care and Adoption program

“Bottom line, I am grateful for the Hillsides staff.” – Stacey Roth, Hillsides executive vice president and chief operating officer

“All of the amazing volunteers who every day astound me with their capacity to give back, to care, and to improve the lives of the children of Hillsides.” – Laura Kelso, director of community resources

“Forty years of having been able to achieve the ‘American Dream’ after emigrating from Mexico.” — Linda Gutierrez, foster care social worker

“My family, my health, and my family’s health and happiness.”  — Ashley Mendoza, intake coordinator

“My friends and family and the opportunities I have been given in the industry I work in.”  — Grayson Kelso, director of data services

“My health insurance, specifically Medicare, and today’s technology that can bring cost-free medical solutions around the world for suffering people.  I am also grateful for organizations such as  Smile Train,  a nonprofit  providing corrective surgery for children with cleft lips and palates, Doctors Without Borders, and Seva, which helps preserve and restore peoples’ sight  around the world.” — Robin Rhodes, chaplain

“The supportive staff I work with, and an environment that promotes wellness and self-care.” — Joshua Mathieu, workforce development specialist

“All of our donors, who have been so instrumental in helping us to complete this big capital project? And the fact that we have benefited from a very generous community here in Pasadena. I am also grateful for the incredible Hillsides staff. ” – Joseph M. Costa, Hillsides president and CEO

Happy Thanksgiving from f Hillsides!

A Time to Give Back and a Time to be Thankful

Family around table for Thanksgiving dinner

By Joseph M. Costa, Hillsides President and CEO

Recently I met with a group of staff who provide crisis services to children and families who are at risk of being separated. They described a household of three generations that was dependent upon the oldest female, who suffers from chronic mental illness. Their saga is one of dependence on public funds to maintain lodging and basic services. The staff shared with me that the funding for the family’s lodging was in jeopardy. The loss of their current temporary lodging would threaten the permanent affordable housing that the family has been awaiting.

The situation was urgent; the possibility of this family returning to the street and making due in their broken-down car was hard to contemplate. After a number of phone calls and identification of some emergency funds, the crisis was temporarily averted.  However, as Thanksgiving approaches, there continues to be some uncertainty as to the long-term prospects of affordable lodging for the family.

In reviewing the case, it was abundantly clear that the family’s situation was precarious, and that the slightest misstep could result in catastrophe. Situations like these are heartbreaking and stressful for clients and staff alike as we race against deadlines and what seems like arbitrary protocols to assure this family secure housing and appropriate care.

The family’s needs and challenges, especially at this time of year, is a reminder of how dependent we are on one another. Things we may take for granted seem like impossible luxuries for others.  The availability of funds to address a housing emergency, vouchers for food and other necessities, and the attention of caring individuals is what will make this Thanksgiving special for this family. For those of us who support this family during the holiday, our ability to assist them will also affect our family gatherings this Thursday, reminding us of what Thanksgiving is all about.

This is the story of just one family we serve but there are many more families like this one, living on a precipice, challenged by poverty, chronic illness, and little opportunity. Although the situation of these families is more poignant during the holidays, the struggles they experience know no calendar; they are constant until something breaks in their favor. Until affordable housing is secured, illness is treated, employment attained, and the next generation educated, the cycle of challenges maintains a powerful hold.

Each year at this time, we gather together with our own families, grateful for the abundance we have.  Yet, the needs of the children, youth and families we serve reminds us of the opportunity we have to make a difference and help families who are vulnerable. Please consider what you might be able to do to help those we serve.  You can help fulfill holiday wishes of children and provide families with holiday meals by making a gift to our holiday drive. To contribute, please visit https://hillsides.wedid.it/campaigns/5780.

Thank you for all you do for those we serve.  Without your generous support, it would not be possible to respond to their needs. With your help, this holiday season will be memorable and restore a sense of hope for the new year.

Know that on this Thanksgiving, as we gather and give thanks, that we are most thankful for the faithful support we receive from our community of benefactors. Happy Thanksgiving!

The Hidden Meaning and Value of Your Child’s Halloween Costume

By Desiree Rodrigues

It is that time of year again when we see fall leaves and pumpkin patches in every available lot, and stores are loaded with Halloween items.  When you strip away the cultural meaning of Halloween, you are left with costumes and candy. For adults, Halloween has become a night where one can forget about their adult responsibilities and become a kid at heart again, but what significance does the holiday have on a child?

In an article written for the parenting website Red Tricycle, “The Fascinating Things Kids Who Like to Play Dress-Up Have in Common,” the story discussed a study that involved a group of 180 children. The children were separated into three groups, and each group was asked to work on a 10-minute task.  If they got bored, however, they could play with an IPad. One out of the three groups was allowed to dress up as princesses or their favorite superheroes. It turned out that while overall, 63 percent of those ten minutes were spent on the IPad, the children in costumes worked on the task longer than the other two groups. The researchers concluded that the children in costume identified with their characters’ superhero traits, which motivated them to stay on task. DSC_2403

What can we learn from that study when it comes to preparing for Halloween? Costumes for a child are empowering. They can help a child recognize a superpower, otherwise known as a skill. Costumes can also give a child an opportunity to explore who they are or what they want to become when they become older. Trying on an outfit brings about a change in one’s attitude, so why wouldn’t a costume have the same effect? While I was researching this article, I searched the Internet for pictures of popular costumes for children. Among the Wonder Women and Captain America’s, I was pleased to see real-life icons that have influenced society, such as Amelia Earhart, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Neal Armstrong.

I believe that as parents or those who are influential in a child’s life, we need to have a conversation with our young ones and find out what is important to them. If a child picks a fun and whimsy costume, run with that idea. If they choose a superhero, make sure to ask them, why they relate to the character or what do they feel makes them super?

If your child doesn’t have an idea of who 1they want to dress up as, this is your chance to find out who they want to be when they grow up or who they feel like they can relate to right now.  The possibilities are endless, and this will allow their imagination to soar. This may be the only time that most children have the chance to dress up as someone different from them, so make the most of the opportunity and do not just pull the first costume off the shelf.

Costumes don’t have to break the bank –with a little thought and some time on Pinterest, you can come up with some creative ideas. The most important thing to remember is to make it a family affair and for your child to feel comfortable, mentally and physically.

Desiree Rodrigues, who has worked at Hillsides for eight years, is the program coordinator for the CalWORKs program at Hillsides. She is currently working on her degree in literature at Mt. San Antonio College in Walnut, and is looking forward to beginning California State University, Long Beach next fall.




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