Hillsides Community Blog

Happy Thanksgiving and Happy Giving Tuesday

By Joseph M. Costa, Hillsides President and CEO

As we gear up for the holidays with the impending Thanksgiving weekend, I am overwhelmed by the amount of supporters who devote their resources and energies to Hillsides, especially during this time of the year.

For example, last week, the Pasadena National Charity league filled some 50 buckets with food for families we serve who, without help, would otherwise not be able to celebrate Thanksgiving. Starbucks, which once again is putting toy collection boxes for Hillsides in stores throughout the San Gabriel Valley, will soon be on campus actually creating the boxes that will be put in the stores. And throughout the month of December, there will not be a day that goes by without some generous member of the community dropping by presents, toys, or necessities for the 14,000 children, youth, and families we serve throughout Los Angeles County.

As you spend time with your family this Thanksgiving holiday, please know how thankful we are for all of you. For those we serve, the needs are pressing and the hardships are many. This is why we hope that on November 28, Giving Tuesday, you will once more think of Hillsides. It’s easy to donate; just click here.

Thank you again for helping children and families heal, grow, and thrive. I wish you and your family a very happy Thanksgiving.

How taking this one action can help someone recover from trauma and feel hopeful

By Joseph M. Costa, Hillsides President and CEO

Thanksgiving is a time to be grateful for the yearlong abundance we have received.Illustrating these blessings is the bounty of food around table, our communion with family and friends, and the time spent with loved ones. Yet, not everyone has food, family, or time with loved ones.

For our children who live at Hillsides, the holiday time triggers feelings of depression and loneliness not being with their family. For youth living on their own, having enough food to eat is a challenge. For families in crisis, the financial burdens of holiday gifts, festive gatherings, and food for their children on holiday break who receive free meals during school add to their stressors.

Rosa, mother of six children — Violeta, 16, Miguel, 14, Armando, 13, Sofia, 10, Gabby, 8 and Ellie, 7, is an example of how this time a year can add to the difficulty of providing for her family.  Rosa was able to break free from an abusive relationship, which has caused the family to lose income and struggle to find an affordable place to live.  Rosa and the children live in a one bedroom apartment, all seven either sharing one full-sized mattress or sleeping on the floor.

Due to the financial instability and the past trauma, the children started showing signs of anxiety and depression, and Rosa sought help at Hillsides.  At Hillsides, she was able to receive the services her family needed to begin to heal.

Last holiday season, as the Hillsides therapist met with Rosa and her children, it became clear they would greatly benefit from the Hillsides Holiday Adopt-a-Family program, which helps by providing families with basic needs, food gift cards, and holiday gifts. At first the family was very shy about asking for items they needed.  It took multiple prompts, and finally the family requested items such as clothes, shoes, rain gear, and school supplies. When the items were delivered Rosa and the children were overwhelmed by the generosity.  They received new clothes, in their specific sizes, which replaced torn and outgrown clothes they had been wearing.  They received new shoes, new pots/pans, towels, bedding, a soccer ball, games, and grocery gift cards-needed basics, with a few fun items, to get them through their daily life and let them enjoy life.

Through the kind and thoughtful donors we have in our community, Rosa and her children are recovering from trauma and feeling hopeful about the future. This Thanksgiving I am thankful for your generosity, the abundance you share with others, and the cheerful heart you extend to families like Rosa’s. Thank you for keeping our mission of helping 14,000 children, young adults, and families heal, grow, and thrive.

To participate in our Adopt-a-Family program or learn how you can impact other families like Rosa’s this year, click here.


The Surprising Truth of How Many Local Youth are Hungry and Homeless

by Aurelio Mitjans

kids eating thanksgiving

Youth Moving On provides local youth with a Thanksgiving dinner each year to make sure they get at least one good meal and have the chance to come together as a community. 

Editor’s Note:  One of our core programs is Youth Moving On, which helps youth transitioning from foster care to adulthood.  Many of the youth we serve are homeless and don’t have the money to eat regular meals.  Here, Aurelio Mitjans, program director of the youth drop-in center, Peer Resource Center, writes about the challenges the youth face to meet their most basic needs, now and during the holidays.

Have you seen those Snickers commercials where people who are really hungry aren’t acting like themselves, and all it takes to bring them back to normal is a bite of a Snickers bar?

While the ads are meant to be funny, those of us who work at Youth Moving On see the serious side of them.  We work with young folks who are not the best versions of themselves because they lack many of basic needs required for a decent life. If these needs continue to go unmet, it can lead to or strengthen feelings of anger, fear, confusion, regret, or hopelessness.

Many of the youth we serve are homeless. They’re also hungry, really, really hungry. Food is so vital to what we do here at the Peer Resource Center, where we always have snacks and microwavable meals ready. It’s the one thing we know most, if not all, youth who walk through our doors daily will take advantage of. They say your stomach is your second brain. You have to feed it. If it’s empty, it’s hard to focus when trying to get things done. The only goal I’ve ever achieved on an empty stomach is having my wisdom teeth pulled, and that is because the doctor made me do it.

Youth Moving On essentially serves most of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Food is a big part of that. If we’re not giving it away, we’re teaching people how to cook it or teaching career development skills so youth can get a job or paid internship through one of our employment partners so they can buy their own food.

As wealthy, diverse and powerful as Los Angeles County is, we are also always at or near the top of list when it comes to food insecurity in the United States.

I honestly don’t think the Peer Resource Center would be very effective without food. It’s a huge part of our budget. I like to think we contribute to Costco’s stock price’s (COST) steady growth.

It’s tough seeing people go hungry. It’s toughest during the holidays. This should be the happiest time for year for everyone, but it’s not. This is when we see a spike in depression and thoughts of self-harm. Depending on who we’re talking to, we need to think twice before asking that seemingly harmless question that gets thrown around every year:  “Do you have any plans for the holidays?”

Holidays? Many of our youth don’t have holidays, at least not like you and I do. At Youth Moving On, we try our best to give them positive experiences to the best of our ability through things like family-style dinners and Christmas gifts. This has a lot to do with those of you who generously donate, and fuel our mission and our youth’s stomachs.

And for you, we are grateful. I’m sure our youth would say the same.

Thank you to all who generously give to Hillsides.  If you would like to give back to homeless, hungry youth during the holidays, you can do so here.



5 Ways Giving Makes You Happier and Healthier

By Alison Bell


Adelante, an employee resource group at Northrop Grumman, gives back to Hillsides last holiday season.

If you have a few extra dollars to spend, you might figure you’d be happier treating yourself to a dinner out or a new shirt. Not true, research shows.  People who give to others rather than spend all their money on themselves are actually happier. In addition, studies also prove that there are many other advantages of giving on our psyche and our health.

With Giving Tuesday and the holidays coming up, this time of year is also the season to give back.  There are plenty of opportunities right now to give to Hillsides for the holidays, for example, which you can easily do here. We all know that giving to Hillsides helps the children, youth and families we serve heal, grow, and thrive, but did you know that giving is also good for us?

Here is what current studies are showing.


  • Boosts happiness.  Three separate studies by Harvard Business School professor Michael I. Norton and his colleagues revealed that it’s not how much you make, it’s how you spend it than brings you joy.  They also found people are happier if they give some of their money away. One study showed that spending as little as $5 over the course of a day on another person led to demonstrable increases in happiness. In addition, studies run in both Canada and Uganda have produced results that giving increases a sense of well-being, suggesting this is an innate human response that transcends culture and place.
  • Activates the feel-good part of your brain. In research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, people had the option to either donate money to a charity or take a pay out.  Surprisingly, researchers witnessed a similar pattern of brain activity whether or not the subjects decided to keep the money or give it away.  Both behaviors activated the midbrain, the part of the brain that is associated with basic desires, such as an appetite for food, revealing how giving is hard-wired into our brains to give us pleasure.
  • Produces “happiness” chemicals.Research has shown that helping others causes our bodies to produce dopamine, endorphins that block pain signals and oxytocin, known as the tranquility hormone.  Oxytocin is also a bonding hormone, thought to be responsible for new mother attaching to their babies. Even just thinking about donating to a specific charity produces these chemicals, studies show.
  • Lowers your blood pressure.Elizabeth Dunn, a psychology professor at the University of British Columbia in Canada, measured people’s blood pressure before and after giving.  She discovered that blood pressure fell  when people gave significantly to other people or causes, but did not change when they spent money on themselves.   When the cause was near and dear to the giver’s heart, these results were even greater.
  • Decreases stress.Dunn’s research also shows that when people don’t give, they feel shame.  She found this out when she ran an experiment where she and fellow researchers gave people $10 and let them decide whether to spend it on themselves or give it away.  Those who kept the dollars for themselves reported feeling ashamed. The greater the shame, the more a person’s cortisol levels rose. Cortisol is known as the “stress” hormone, and elevated levels over time may lead to disease. So the next time you generously donate money,  you may be actually even extending your life!


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.

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