Published : Thursday, September 19, 2019 | 4:40 AM
Hillsides, the respected nonprofit that helps vulnerable youths find a home in society, has built a new, $18.2 million centerpiece to its campus in West Pasadena.
On Thursday, Hillsides will christen the new Margie & Robert E. Petersen Student Center with a ribbon cutting ceremony. But this is no ordinary construction project. The new building is at the heart of the mission to give children in need the chance they need to be integrated into society through academics, counseling, physical activity and nourishment of body and mind.
It has taken seven years and a remarkable capital campaign to complete the project, said Joseph Costa, President and CEO of Hillsides. He said he grateful for the community support, a caring board of directors, and a staff that is dedicated to the welfare of every single child who comes to Hillsides.
“Hillsides has been around for 106 years and it has built a reputation for being very child and family-oriented,” Costa said. “I hope the community knows the generosity that we benefit from goes directly to the kids.”
On hand at the ribbon cutting will be luminaries and community leaders but also three young people who may not have had much of an opportunity in life had it not been for Hillsides.
“The people at Hillsides are my family,” said Alquisha Jones, a former Hillsides resident who now lives on her own and is pursuing her dream of becoming a veterinarian. “I was raised by them when nobody else understood me and my behavior. I’ve been through 12 different group homes and to have Hillsides sit me down and tell me they would not give up on me, meant everything. They stuck by my side and understood what I was going through.”
Jones said what she loved during her years living in one of the cottages on campus were the Christmas holidays and the continuous sports and academic activities.
“The program is amazing, they care for the kids,” she said. “And Christmas was always amazing. They took the time to get me adjusted to their system. They had the time for every one of us.”
It required a huge effort to raise the money required for the building. The capital campaign needed to raise the $18.2 million for the construction and started off strong and built momentum, Costa said.
A critical donation was a $5 million gift from the Margie & Robert E. Petersen Foundation, he said.
“The new building came in at $18.2 million and the Hillsides board launched the campaign with a collective gift of $4 million,” he said. “Right from the very beginning we benefited from the Hillsides board. The board was instrumental in identifying others in the community to support this project. I would say we raised $10 million from individual gifts. And then, we were able to get another $3 million from a variety of local foundations and then we got a very large $5 million donation from the Margie & Robert E. Petersen Foundation. They have a number of other interests other than automotive, one of them being youth at risk.”
The public knows the Petersen group for its automotive interests, its automotive and action magazine dynasty, which included Hot Rod magazine and the Petersen Museum in Los Angeles.
GiGi Carleton, president of the Margie & Robert E. Petersen Foundation, said that donation was right in line with the foundation’s mission.
“Mr. and Mrs. Petersen are the founding benefactors of the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles, and Mr. and Mrs. Petersen had an interest in children’s charities,” Carleton said. “We’re interested in the group that gets tapped out of the sponsor system when they’re 18. So between the ages of 18 and 24, where do they go? They need to know they have a life and can go to college or go to work. Hillsides provides a wonderful place where these kids can live, can get their meals and have physical education.”
“The building will make a huge difference for the kids,” Carleton said. “They’ll have more room and more capacity for meals, meeting rooms, counseling sessions, and it offers a lot of things. Kids don’t just survive on the fact that they go to school and have a place to live. They need guidance, counseling, they need to eat and they need recreational facilities.”
Carleton said it was actually very hard to find a facility where young people of that age could go and live and also build a life.
“You have to give these young people a life, and that’s what the Hillsides program and this new building will do,” she said. “We’re proud we’re able to participate and empower the young people with a facility of this type.”
Making it even more challenging, is the fact that Hillsides takes in young people who have often had multiple previous living situations fail, Costa said.
“Typically there have been a number of other treatments that have not been effective by the time a student comes to us,” he said.
“We provide a whole array of services and one of the pieces of that array is our treatment center on the campus,” he said. “We work with the Department of Children and Family Services and the Department of Mental Health to provide short-term care for children and their families who are involved with the Department of Children and Family Services.”
There are five residential cottages and each cottage houses 10 residents. Four of the five cottages look onto the common area and Costa said the layout creates a hub of activity for residents and for the day students.
The building houses a dining room and a new kitchen and a demonstration kitchen for the children. That dining room and kitchen replace ones in an original buildings which is 90 years old.
The new building will house a game room, a music studio, a small gym and two adjacent art studios and below, there will be parking for 32 cars.
Pasadena was supportive of the project also, Costa said.
“We spent about three years working with the City of Pasadena and developing a master plan,” Costa said. “Once that was approved, we started the process of the capital campaign. So we have been working on this for the last seven years, only in the last three has it been the construction period. But the lead-up to that, the launching of the capital campaign preceded it.”
And while the building clearly shows the faith the community has in Hillsides, Costa says he has a different way to gauge success.
From the time a child arrives at Hillsides the goal is to stabilize the child. The team works to develop a plan to get the child back to, if not with Mom and Dad, a member of the family, Costa said. If that’s not possible then they’ll try to place the child in a suitable foster home.
“The child’s successful transition into the community is how we measure our success,” Costa said.
Overall, the new building will help expand Hillsides’ services.
“The building becomes another tool with which the staff can treat the child,” Costa said. “There’s nothing more important than to nurture the child. The dining facility is really the heart of the campus. Then, the ability to get kids to express themselves is an important tool the therapists have to be able to get at some of the traumas and concerns, emotions these kids are experiencing.”
“Part of this project has been to restore the outdoor recreational facilities, including a new pool to get kids in a place where they can get energy out and enjoy being a child,” he said. “Getting out on the field is an important tool we have to be able to help the child normalize in the midst of a crisis and to get a feel for who the child is and how we can leverage that to help the child improve.”
Costa always had faith in the organization and the Pasadena community.
“When I took the job 10 years ago I was convinced that Hillsides was on the precipice of great things,” he said. “This program is the hallmark program for the organization and it is important for us to be state of the art, if you will, in terms of the best possible care for these kids. It’s what drives me, drives the staff and this does represent what is the finest care available for these children and families who are vulnerable.”
Costa said there are others who deserve credit in getting the project accomplished.
“Carrie Espinoza, the Chief Advancement Officer, has worked tirelessly on executing the campaign, she has been an indispensable partner to me and to the board in accomplishing these goals. She is committed and dedicated,” he said.
“But more than anything we want to say thank you to the community that has been so supportive of us, to allow us to provide these children with the care they would not be able to have otherwise,” Costa said. “It makes a big difference in their lives and the investment will pay great dividends in the future.”
Hillsides is located at 940 Avenue 64 in West Pasadena. For more information, call (323) 254-2274 or visit hillsides.org