Carolyn Clegg, a resource assistant who has worked for 36 years at Hillsides and blessed with what one child calls a “loving grandma” personality, wields her influence from a cozy office filled with books, games, and art supplies where children in the school who need an extra dose of nurturing can drop by for some “Carolyn” time. “The kids have a safe place here,” she says.
The children feel secure just being in Clegg’s presence. One student, Brendan*, 13, sits with her every day after school as he waits for the bus. “It makes me look forward to the end of the day,” he says. “It helps just knowing there is someone I can talk to who cares about me.”
Many former residents of Hillsides make it a point to visit Clegg, and she says she is “overjoyed” to see them. She still continues to dispense part encouragement and part advice.
“When residents come back, they feel like they are visiting their family. It’s important for them to know that there are still people here who care -- that this just wasn’t a place they passed through, that they have not been forgotten,” she says.
In a field known for burn out, Clegg says she continues to stay passionate and engaged in her job. However, she says that when she first started out as a childcare worker in 1980, she wondered if she was right for the job.
The children she was working with had experienced so much abuse and trauma, she didn’t know if she could bear their suffering. “I walked around with a letter of resignation in my pants’ pocket for six months because every day I was going to resign,” she recalls.
One day, however, the note got destroyed in the wash. “That was the end of it,” she says. She realized that despite her initial hesitation, she belonged at Hillsides because the children needed her. What kept her going so long ago, and keeps her committed today, is her life’s work, the children.