Campus Supervisor Joseph (Jo Jo) White, who has been with Hillsides for 28 years, compares his job with combat. “I may not win every battle, but I can win the war,” he says.
For him, winning the war means “helping kids get better.” One way he does this is to encourage children to make healthy choices even when they’re feeling frustrated or angry at what life has thrown at them. What has sustained him throughout the years, he says, is the “reward of the little things,” like “being able to see the kids drop their walls and allow people to help them.”
Briana Elliott, 26, who lived at Hillsides from 2003-2005 and now volunteers there, says that White helped her tremendously. “He was my go-to person whenever I had an issue,” she says. “He had this incredibly calm presence-- you could yell and scream and he’d stay cool, never get upset. He was also a good listener, and that’s hard to find.”
Elliott credits staff members like White for helping her heal from an abusive past that included 10 different homes before coming to Hillsides at age 13. “At Hillsides, the staff gave me the guidance I needed to learn that I am good, that I can be somebody,” she says. “This was the first place where I felt like I could grow in a positive, not negative, way.”
Another former resident, Jessica Hernandez, who lived at Hillsides from age 5 – 19, emancipating in 2002, remembers visiting with her boyfriend after leaving Hillsides. She tells how White pulled the young man aside, and told him that he’d better treat Hernandez right. “We raised her like our daughter,” she recalls White saying. This act of caring has stuck with Hernandez today, and made her realize more than ever that White, and other members of the staff who helped raise her, are her family.