PASADENA – Two Hillsides employees are celebrating a momentous milestone this February – a combined 64 years working at the Los Angeles charity. Resource assistant Carolyn Clegg is marking 34 years at Hillsides and school liaison Melvyn Washington is observing his 30th anniversary.
“These two are some of the hardest working and most dedicated colleagues I have been associated with,” said Tom Johnson, Hillsides director of program services who has worked closely with both. “Melvyn’s selfless devotion to the children has made him a pillar of Hillsides. Carolyn has touched hundreds of lives, and made it her personal mission to promote emotional growth by extending love and care to hurt children.”
Both Clegg and Washington began their careers at Hillsides as childcare workers at the residential treatment program, Clegg in 1980 and Washington in 1984. Over the years, Clegg also worked as a program director for the residential program and as a cottage supervisor. Washington has juggled many duties over the decades as well, including a long stint as program director.
Along the way, in Clegg’s words, “It’s been a journey.”
Clegg remembered the intense emotions she felt when she first started working with the children at Hillsides, many of whom have experienced abuse or neglect. The depth of the trauma the children had lived through overwhelmed her, and she wondered if she was right for the job.
“I walked around with a letter of resignation in my pants’ pocket for six months because every day I was going to resign,” recalled Clegg. One day, however, the note got destroyed in the wash “That was the end of that,” she said. She’d already realized that despite her initial hesitation, helping children heal through empathetic listening and a warm, caring heart was her life’s calling.
For his part, Washington said that working at Hillsides “saved him” as a young man because it helped him deal with his childhood issues. “Growing up, therapy was frowned upon,” he said. “But working here, it was on-the-job therapy. I was encouraged to work through my issues and face my feelings.”
He also found himself buoyed by the support of his supervisors and fellow staff. For the first time in his life, he got the message that he was valued and able to do anything he set his mind to, a message he has passed on to countless children during his tenure at Hillsides
In his current job, which he has held for nine years, Washington acts as an educational consultant for children living at Hillsides who attend public school. His many duties include setting up teacher conferences, student study teams, and individualized education plans and finding educational programs that best suit the needs of our clients.”
Clegg wields her influence from a cozy on-campus office filled with books, games, and art supplies where children who need an extra dose of nurturing can drop by for some “Carolyn” time.
How do Clegg and Washington keep going in a demanding social services field known for a high burn-out rate?
“I’m an overachiever,” answered Washington. “Everyone always says, if you can save one kid, you’ve done you’re job. Well, I am going to save as many kids as I can.”
Clegg said that each child is so special and each story so unique, she could never grow weary of her job. Both Clegg and Washington said they also feel renewed each time former residents of Hillsides return to visit.
“One of the first things they ask is, `Is Melvyn still there? Can I talk to him?’” said Washington. “It’s a great compliment.”
Clegg said that her heart warms when she sees former clients leading happy, productive lives as adults. “I know then,” she said, “we’ve done something right.”
Despite their many years of service, luckily for Hillsides, retirement isn’t in the cards for either of these two any time soon. As Clegg said, “I feel I still have a lot to give to these kids.”
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