Messages from the President & CEO

A ‘Special’ Community Tradition

Welcome to our new website, and a new way of looking at Hillside! Each month on this page, I’ll share new thoughts about our mission; our work with youth, adults and families; our extraordinary employees; our community impact—and all the ways that you can be a part of our success.

For my first message, I’d like to note the kickoff of an annual Hillside tradition. Each year at this time, we launch Special Santa —a remarkable effort that unites every Hillside program, and the generosity of individuals and businesses throughout the regions we serve.

Too many young people who participate in Hillside programs live at or below the poverty line. For these children and their siblings, holiday gifts can be rare or non-existent. No matter your cultural or religious background, we can all agree that every child deserves the joy of unwrapping a toy or gift at a special time of year.

For nearly 40 years, Special Santa has made that possible. Last year alone, donations put more than 6,500 gifts into the hands of over 4,000 young people served by Hillside. It’s a powerful act of community good will—and this year, with your help, we’ll make that magic happen again.

While you’re visiting our site today, I hope you’ll take a look at how the all-online Special Santa program works. And before you leave this page, please consider exploring the other sections of this new Hillside Strong area of hillside.com. Hillside is a dynamic agency, and we can’t wait to share our story with you.

Hillside President & CEO Issues Statement on Daniel Prude Grand Jury Finding

In response to reports earlier this week of a result in grand jury proceedings in the death of Daniel Prude, Hillside President & CEO Maria Cristalli shared the message below with staff:

Eleven months ago, Rochester Police Department officers responded to a call involving a man experiencing a mental health crisis named Daniel Prude. One week later, he died after being hospitalized as a result of what occurred during that call.

Yesterday, a grand jury chose not to indict any of the officers involved in that incident. I know I’m not alone in my heartbreak and frustration over this news.

In Rochester and around the country, stories have become staggeringly common of people of color who face terrible and disproportionate outcomes following police interventions. A few nights ago, a young Black man in Texas was arrested while simply walking home from work. And of course, just last month a 9-year-old Rochester girl was pepper-sprayed by police during another non-violent call for assistance.

Protests in Rochester re-emerged last night in response to the grand jury’s decision. Thankfully the protests were peaceful, but they nonetheless reflected a community’s pain, and a need for accountability that remains out of reach.

We can’t bring Daniel Prude back, or erase the trauma experienced by that 9-year-old girl. But we can fight back against the systemic racism that makes these acts possible. Hillside will continue to advocate with local and state authorities for structural change in how mental health services are integrated into police response protocols. And within the Hillside community, it’s inspiring to see the consistently strong—and growing—engagement among so many of you concerning these issues.

I implore you: Stay engaged. Keep talking. Do not lose hope. We can make a difference, together.

Maria Cristalli
President & CEO

“Change can begin with a single act”: A Message From Hillside President & CEO Maria Cristalli

Maria Cristalli, Hillside’s President and Chief Executive Officer, today shared an open letter with employees concerning a January 29 incident in the City of Rochester. Her message is shared below.

Dear Hillside Colleagues,

Last Friday afternoon, a 9-year-old Rochester child was handcuffed and pepper-sprayed by police during a response to a nonviolent mental health call. As a member of the Hillside family and as a human being, I am deeply troubled by this heartbreaking incident.

No child should ever be treated this way. Children in distress deserve compassion, support and empathy. This incident is another painful example of the need for sweeping changes in behavioral health services. Hillside has a responsibility to be part of a sincere and action-oriented community conversation on reform.

Additionally, the systemic racism tied to this incident can’t be overlooked. We all understand the linkages between race and a lack of access to vital mental health services. Individually and as an organization, we must stand against all forms of racism and oppression, and support like-minded efforts to do the same.

Hillside leaders have reached out to the newly formed Person in Crisis team at the City of Rochester to offer our support and assistance in working with children experiencing behavioral health challenges. We will also connect with the facilitators of Crisis Intervention Team training to offer assistance on crisis prevention/de-escalation strategies for children.

Complex multigenerational problems can’t be solved overnight, but our work shows us every day that change can begin with a single act. The children and families of the communities we serve—and of all communities—deserve our best efforts.

Maria Cristalli
President and CEO

Hillside Encourages Participation in National Day of Service

Maria Cristalli, Hillside President and Chief Executive Officer, released the following message to all staff today:

Dear Hillside Colleagues,

Two occasions next week are significant for all Americans. On Monday, our country will observe Martin Luther King, Jr., Day, honoring the civil rights leader who was one of the most influential voices in American history. Two days later, the inauguration of Joseph Biden and Kamala Harris as President and Vice President will mark another historic moment. As the first woman and the first person of color to become Vice President, Senator Harris will have shattered a barrier that once was considered unbreakable.

To celebrate Dr. King’s life and work, the President-Elect and Vice President-Elect have partnered with AmeriCorps to create a National Day of Service on January 18. More details are available at https://bideninaugural.org/day-of-service, including examples of simple ways in which we all can take action and help others. Other useful links are included at the end of this message.

As part of the Hillside family, each of you already contributes significantly, every day, to the health and welfare of your community. Still, there could be no better tribute to Dr. King’s legacy than a thoughtful extra effort that underscores our passion for helping others. I hope you will join me in volunteering and being virtually involved in service to our communities.

Thank you for your commitment to the youth and families we serve, and to the communities we all call home.

Maria Cristalli
President and CEO

Other links:

Hillside Statement on January 6 Washington, DC, Attack

in response to the January 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol, Hillside President & CEO Maria Cristalli issued the following statement to Hillside employees on Friday, January 8.

Dear Hillside Colleagues,

Earlier this week, a violent attack took place in Washington, DC, that was an insurrection against the United States. This attack has been on all our minds, and will continue to occupy our thoughts.

Our country was founded on guiding principles that include the rule of law and the orderly transition of power, guided by free elections. This outbreak of violence, and its aftermath, directly violated those principles.

Although most of us here at Hillside were physically distant from the attack, our colleagues in Prince George’s County were just miles away—and many likely have friends and family nearby who may have felt at risk during the episode. Let’s please keep our Prince George’s County people in our hearts.

In addition to our right to vote—it is every American’s right to peacefully protest. It is clear the response to the insurgents on Wednesday was very different than the actions taken by authorities during the protests concerning racial injustice that occurred throughout America last year. The incident as a whole once again underscores the clear racial inequities in our culture today, and the need for identifying and challenging white privilege and supremacy wherever they may exist. At Hillside and throughout our communities, we all have a lot of work to do.

Thank you,
Maria Cristalli
President and CEO

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