Car Washes and the Love of a Devoted Caregiver: A Hillsides Alumna Looks Back on How Hillsides Made Her the Success She Is Today
By Alison Bell
This past December, more than 300 generous supporters provided holiday gifts for the families and children Hillsides serves.
One donor, Stephanie Castillo, stood out.
The 38-year-old Managed Care Support Manager – Operations Finance at Rockport Healthcare Services in Los Angeles, is a former resident of Hillsides. She lived on the Pasadena campus in the Residential Treatment Services program from 1987-1993, from the ages of 10- 15.
“I felt like I was in a good place in my life and wanted to give back in return,” says Stephanie. “I have been in the kids’ position, and know how it feels to know that someone from outside cared enough to give donations.”
So Stephanie organized a toy drive at her office, including family and friends, for the children in the residential program. Hillsides gave her a “wish list” of the children, and she and her co-workers fulfilled every one of them and plus more.
“It was great to get so much support, and everyone wants to do more next year,” she says.
Back when Stephanie was living at Hillsides, she probably never could have imagined that one day she’d be in the position to help children in foster care like herself. Abused and neglected as a young child, she was removed from her family and lived in a foster home before coming to Hillsides.
“For me, the move was life-changing,” says Stephanie. “I never was offered much at home, and Hillsides offered me so much – activities and the chance to socialize. 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.”
At Hillsides, Stephanie started out in one of the five on-campus cottages, Jenny’s Cottage. Here she met childcare worker Lucy Garabedian, who everyone calls “Momma Lucy.” One of the first things Momma Lucy and the other cottage staff taught Stephanie was the value of chores. “You got rewards if you did your chores, and it helped me want to strive to be a better me and do more for myself,” she says.
At Hillsides, she also took ballet and ice skating lessons, and played soccer, basketball, and softball. Summers she went away to camp and during the year, took field trips to places like Disneyland.
“These were all important new experiences for me,” she remembers.
But the highlight of living at Hillsides was Momma Lucy. “I was so attached to her, everyone thought I was her daughter,” says Stephanie. “After all the abuse and neglect and being told don’t speak unless you are spoken to, Lucy was the first person to nurture me.”
Stephanie recalls Momma Lucy nurturing her “just by being herself” – through her “loving, bubbly personality.” “She loved us all unconditionally, across the board,” she says.
After three years, Stephanie moved to one of Hillsides two satellite homes off campus for older children and teens that are given a chance to live more independently. Leaving Momma Lucy was extremely difficult for Stephanie, but with time, she adapted and became grateful for the care she was given there. “They taught me how to cook, grocery shop, budget, and go to classes, so it was a good transition for me to learn all about adulthood,” she says.
When Stephanie was 15, she left Hillsides for another home geared toward older teens. Before she turned 18, she had graduated from high school, found a job and a place to live, and was supporting herself.
She credits her early success at independent living with one of her best memories of Hillsides – running a car wash business. Hillsides gave her a weekly allowance as well as a clothing allowance, but “it wasn’t enough to get what I wanted a kid,” remembers Stephanie. Momma Lucy encouraged her to find a creative way to earn more money, so Stephanie began washing the Hillsides staff’s cars for $5 a wash. She would then give the earnings to Momma Lucy or another staff member, and they would put it away for her in savings. “This established my first taste of independence,” she says.
Through her 20s and 30s, Stephanie worked hard and 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 “absolutely loves” her job.
Today, 20 years after leaving Hillsides, she regularly visits with “Momma Lucy.” “She’s still my mom,” says Stephanie. “She’s dedicated to me, and if there is anything she ever needed, I am right there, no hesitation.”
Looking back, she says that Hillsides gave her the strong foundation upon which she’s built the rest of her life. “Hillsides made me the woman I am today.”