LOS ANGELES, Dec. 14, 2016 – For the second year in a row, Stephanie Castillo has arranged a holiday toy drive for the children of Hillsides, a foster care charity headquartered in Pasadena. She gathered together a group of co-workers, family, and friends, and together, they donated some 75 gifts for the children.
And while each holiday season, some 300 generous supporters provided gifts for the families and children Hillsides serves, Castillo stands out.
The 39-year-old manager at Rockport Healthcare Services in Los Angeles is a former resident of Hillsides residential treatment program for children in foster care. She lived there from 1987-1993, from the ages of 10-15.
“I am in a good place in my life and want to give back in return,” said Castillo. “I have been in the kids’ position, and know how it feels to know that someone from outside cares about you.”
Castillo was removed from her family and lived in a foster home before coming to Hillsides, a move she recalls as life-changing. “Hillsides offered me so much – activities and the chance to socialize,” she said. “I was very, very shy as a kid, always scared, but the nurturing there helped me grow into a well-rounded young lady and gave me a lot of opportunities in life.”
She took ballet and ice skating lessons, and played soccer, basketball and softball. Summers she went away to camp and during the year participated in field trips to places like Disneyland – all new experiences. She also learned important life skills, such as budgeting and cooking.
The most meaningful experience at Hillsides was becoming close to childcare worker Lucy Garabedian, who still works in the residential program today and is known to the children as “Mama Lucy.”
“I was so attached to her, everyone thought I was her daughter,” said Castillo.
The toy drive in part, is a reflection of Lucy’s love for her. “She helped raise me and I want to pass on her work,” she said.
Garabedian also encouraged Castillo to become a young entrepreneur when Castillo expressed an interest in earning extra spending money. She helped Castillo set up a car washing business for Hillsides employees, which established Castillo’s first taste of independence.
Castillo left Hillsides at age 15 for another home geared toward older teens. She went on to graduate from high school, find a job, and a place to live all before the age of 18.
Through her 20s and 30s, Stephanie kept transitioning to bigger and better jobs, most in the healthcare field. In 2013, she was hired by Rockport Healthcare Services, where she oversees a four-person team and loves her job. She also recently became engaged.
Castillo credits the charity for her success, and for putting her in the position to give back to the place that once nurtured her.
“Hillsides made me the woman I am today,” she said.
Hillsides provides high quality care, advocacy, and innovative services that promote safe, permanent environments where children and youth can thrive. Headquartered in Pasadena, the agency and its affiliation with Bienvenidos serves 13,000 children and families in Los Angeles County throughout its 35 sites, including school-based mental health offices in Los Angeles, Pasadena, and Baldwin Park. Foster care and adoptions services in approved resource family homes serve families in Los Angeles, Orange, San Bernardino and Riverside Counties. To learn more about both agencies, visit www.Hillsides.org and www.Bienvenidos.org. Visit Hillsides on Facebook @hillsideschildren, on Twitter @Hillsides, or on Instagram @HillsidesPasadena.