More than 60 years ago, Richard Jackson’s time as a youth in Hillside programs made a profound impact on his future. In June 2023, he returned to Hillside to share his story with current youth in care, as well as staff and the community at large, in a two-day “Hillside Homecoming” tour filled with fresh connections and memories both old and new.

To begin his Homecoming, Jackson, 79, revisited the Ely Cottage on Hillside’s Monroe Campus where he had lived as a teen in the late 1950s and early 1960s. During a campus tour later that day, he learned more about the evolution of Hillside’s residential treatment and community-based services that deliver youth-guided, family-driven care to thousands of young people and their families every year.

With President & CEO Maria Cristalli, he engaged in a virtual staff meeting so Hillside employees from all locations could ask questions and hear his first-person perspective on Hillside’s legacy of service.

Jackson’s memoir Ward of the Court looks back on his origins in Rochester, and his subsequent life and career in human services and politics in rural Kansas. During his Hillside Homecoming, that story was the topic of an hourlong discussion on WXXI-AM radio’s Connections with Evan Dawson, during which he and Cristalli talked about the intersections between Jackson’s life, Hillside’s 186-year mission-driven history, and the ongoing need for Hillside services.

During a pizza party with youth in Hillside programs, he talked with young people about their own experiences and how life can take unexpected turns. “Life is a series of choices, and we must embrace and take responsibility for the choices we make. Accepting help from others is not a sign of weakness, but a demonstration of strength.”

The following day, Jackson was one of two keynote speakers at a special donor event. He challenged the attendees to continue supporting Hillside services: “With increased resources, Hillside can extend its reach and touch the lives of even more individuals. I implore you to embrace the opportunity to become true difference-makers, and together, let us shape a brighter future for those in need.”

He was joined at the event by Casanova Burgos, another former youth in care who described his own traumatic experiences as a teen, and how the Youth Advocates of Hillside Work-Scholarship Connection provided support that allowed him to regain his life’s momentum. “Hillside provided the foundation I needed when all seemed to be lost…. When I was unsure of what to do, they stuck by me. If it weren’t for their support, I really don’t think I would have graduated high school,” Burgos said. He went on to praise Hillside for preventing “countless numbers of youth from choosing the streets as a way of life with little to no hope.”

The donor event was made possible in part by a generous gift from The Bonadio Group. Hillside is grateful for that gift, and to all who attended to offer their support for Hillside services. And we’re so thankful to Richard Jackson and Casanova Burgos for sharing their stories!

Supporting Hillside’s mission makes you a partner in our work. Please consider making a donation to Hillside today!

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