Wilfredo “Freddy” Gonzalez says that for him, “the fire of writing started burning in third grade.” Over the years, that fire has blazed to include not only being a published author, but also instilling a love of reading and writing in his students at Hillside’s Halpern Education Center.

Hillside’s school system is comprised of five schools—on each of the agency’s four residential campuses, and at Halpern, which provides a NYS-certified curriculum interwoven with Day Treatment services to students in need. Gonzalez has worked at Halpern for almost 20 years as a teaching assistant and substitute teacher.

“Time has flown by,” he says. “But there are so many rewards in working with these young people, and being able to see them grow. Once I got to Halpern, there was no turning back for me.”

When he’s not teaching, Gonzalez is often hard at work pursuing his other passion. He’s published six books for younger readers, including slim and colorfully illustrated chapter books as well as young-adult fiction. His latest, the YA novel Clay Hats, earned the “Readers’ Favorite Five Star Seal” from Goodreads Review and a rave: “Wilfredo Gonzalez forces us to look closely at the often-frayed thread that binds and holds a community together.”

When the agency-wide Hillside Reads literacy initiative kicked off earlier this year, the Halpern community created a unique event that celebrated all forms of the written word. At that event, Gonzalez signed copies of his books and talked to students about his own passion for writing.

“I don’t talk much about that part of my life here, so it came as a surprise to some of the kids,” he says. “But a lot of them were so excited to see what I’d written and to be able to take home some of the books to read on their own. It was really rewarding for me, and I was grateful for the opportunity to share this with the students.”

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