Hillsides Community Blog

Top 10 Reasons to Attend Hillsides Gala, Heart of Brazil

By Lisa Gavitt


Our annual gala, Heart of Brazil, is coming up on Saturday night, February 23, 2019, at The Langham Huntington, Pasadena. This event is our largest fundraiser of the year, and we hope to see you all there. In case you haven’t bought your ticket yet, here are the top 10 reasons to attend:

  1. You will be immersed in a first-class experience of Brazilian culture… so much so that you may even forget you are in Pasadena!
  1. You can break out your colorful statement dress and shoes in the middle of winter. If yellow or orange is your color, this is YOUR year.
  1. You will get to take part in an old Brazilian tradition and make three wishes. No genie in a bottle necessary!
  1. For all you protein lovers, Executive Chef Denis Depoitre of The Langham Huntington, Pasadena will be preparing a carnivore’s dream, a trio of meats. That is meat times three, people!
  1. Who hasn’t dreamed of owning a chest full of treasure? At the gala, you will have a chance to buy the winning key to unlock an extraordinary prize.
  1. You will sip on Brazil’s famous cocktail, Caipirinha. We can’t guarantee we can pronounce it, but guarantee it will taste delicious!
  1. Get your Samba on! A group of Samba dancers will be sharing the evening with us. This will make for a great photo op and they may even teach you a dance move or two.
  1. NBC4’s beloved weathercaster, Fritz Coleman, is the MC for the night. He will keep you laughing while you bid the night away.
  1. You will get the chance to win exclusive auction items, including a one-week stay at Hudson Yards, Manhattan’s newest luxury condos, a tour of the Telsa factory, and VIP tickets to The Magic Castle, to name a few.
  1. Most importantly, the money raised at the gala helps support the nearly 17,000 children and families Hillsides serves. For tickets, please visit https://hillsides.wedid.it/campaigns/5771.


Lisa Gavitt is the development coordinator for Hillsides’ Advancement Department. She recently graduated with a major in communications from California State University, Fullerton and studied abroad for one semester in Sydney, Australia. She has worked with children as a nanny, a tutor, and an English teach in Vietnam, but always dreamed of becoming an event coordinator. Her position at Hillsides has allowed her to fulfill her goals while staying in touch with her passion for helping children.


The Upside of Loss: A Runner Learns to Make Peace with a New Reality



The author and her husband after running a 10k.

By Alison Bell

I have been a runner since I was 18. Before that, I got my exercise fix through sports. From age 10 on, there wasn’t a team sport I didn’t like. I played on the girls’ junior high softball, basketball, and volleyball teams. I competed in junior tennis. In high school I was an outside hitter on the volleyball team and half of the number one double’s badminton team (yes, it used to be an offered sport). In college, I played varsity soccer, volleyball, and badminton.

I started running as a way to stay in shape in-between seasons, and it quickly turned into an obsession. After figuring out the perfect match of pace and distance, I settled into running six miles a day. I kept up this pattern for the next several decades. Nothing felt right until I finished my daily run. Running siphoned off my blue devils, righted some unnamed wrong that was resurrected each day and needed constant slaying. After my run, I felt renewed, purified. The impatient, imperfect part of me was buried, under layers of sweat and sunscreen, at least until the next morning.

I knew I was hooked on running, but as far as addictions went, it seemed harmless, if not virtuous. I took pride knowing that you could drop me anywhere, any time, and I could run for some six-plus miles with the best of them. Should there be a disaster that required me to get out of town quickly, I could make it to the hills with just my Sauconys and my steady runner’s heart. I was strong. I was independent.

About three years ago, my right foot started to hurt. At night, I couldn’t sleep. I imagined a small, mean child pummeling the top of my foot with a hammer. I finally had an X-ray and was told I suffered from severe arthritis on the mid-bone of my foot, probably from years of twisted ankles, which I was prone to. I was told to run as pain allowed.

After some tears, I decided to ignore the pain, which tended to only kick in the last mile or so of a run. So I ran on my bum foot another few years until nine months ago, when my left foot started to hurt in the exact same place. I went back to the same doctor, who proclaimed I had matching arthritis on my left foot.

Maybe it was the double diagnosis or maybe my feet just finally caught up with me because soon afterwards when I went out for a run, my feet refused to comply. They wouldn’t bend, the bottoms felt inflamed with a plantar fasciitis-like stiffness and pain, and every step was agony. To add insult to injury, my right knee throbbed. After consulting with a knee doctor, who warned me to stop running just for the sake of my knees, I went cold turkey. This meant giving up my daily fix, and also a twice-a-week ritual with one of my best friends, Maureen, with whom I had shared early morning Tuesday and Thursday runs for the last 20 years.

You would think my feet would thank me, but instead they got worse. They stiffened up in the morning, at night, every time I sat down. They were erratic, with minds of their own. They would shoot up with pain one minute, then the next, settle down and behave like perfectly reasonable appendages.

I was on the verge of becoming both a cripple and the cranky, insufferable person I’d been avoiding all my life.

I decided to see if new forms of exercise might save me. I’d always used Stairmasters as a last-ditch substitute for running, but I took to the elliptical machine in earnest, clocking in an hour a day. I began lifting weights more diligently to beef up my puny arms. I committed to yoga, where I learned I had a rotten core and couldn’t balance, which gave me new goals to shoot for. (My tree pose is still a wreck, but I kill the downward facing dog.) I started spinning. I bought a bike. I swam laps at the Rose Bowl. I started…. sigh … walking.

My feet haven’t exactly gotten better, but they haven’t gotten worse, and my mood has definitely improved. Today I feel in better overall shape than I did a year ago, and in fact I might even say that since I stopped running, I am in the best shape of my life.

As we hurl ourselves unwittingly into another year, it makes me think that the New Year is a time to re-evaluate old habits. Sometimes we have to say goodbye to even the healthy ones. Change is hard, especially when mixed with physical pain or the psychic agony of letting go of something you love. But sometimes it can lead to undiscovered potential or benefits. I am using muscles I didn’t know I had, and can’t help but think my knees and other joints will thank me one day for saving them the trauma of extra miles spent pounding the pavement.

They say that dreams of flying are one of the most common we can have. Flying expresses our desire to be free of confines, to soar to new heights, figuratively and literally. Now I dream not of flying, but of running. In my dreams, my feet carry me swiftly over forest paths littered with leaves, only the sound of my breath keeping me company. I am fast, pain-free, as light of heart as of body.

Turns out, the runner in me isn’t completely gone yet.

Alison Bell is the director of communications and social media at Hillsides.

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!

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