Hillside Provides Compassion, Community, and Care

By Giving List Staff   |   November 17, 2023
The residents who call Hillside "home" are a diverse group of individuals with a variety of intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD). Embracing the various challenges they face, each day at Hillside is filled with programs and opportunities for them to gain independence and accomplish their goals.

Originally conceived in the late 1930s as a model residential facility for children with cerebral palsy, Hillside has evolved over the years to now providing services to 59 adults living with a range of moderate to severe intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD). Hillside provides 24-hour intensive medical support plus empathetic caregiving through on-site programs that include occupational, physical, speech, recreational and aquatic therapy, sensory motor training, and independent living skills. Hillside’s emphasis on individualized person-centered care and the staff’s extraordinary level of love and compassion for the residents gives each individual – many of whom have been at the facility for decades – the opportunity to achieve their highest possible level of independence and accomplishment. 

A large group of staff and residents was able to attend this year’s Fiesta Parade thanks to Hillside’s new, large, adaptable van funded by The Women’s Fund of Santa Barbara.

When Hillside was founded, families typically kept their relatives with I/DD out of public sight – hence its somewhat ironic location in the then-remote neighborhood of Hidden Valley. Over time, through both State and Federal mandates and evolving societal morals, individuals with such disabilities are increasingly being integrated within the broader community. Hillside has been at the forefront of such efforts, working with its local partner agencies and organizations to provide residents with more cultural connections and opportunities for social engagement. 

“Our residents want to enjoy their lives just like everyone else,” says Hillside President and CEO Michael Rassler. “They very much have the same wants, goals, and desires.”

While there have been lots of improvements, those with I/DD haven’t been given as much opportunity to transcend being confined by their disabilities, and therefore their ability to integrate more fully into the community. That’s where Hillside’s latest efforts come in, including procuring a new, larger, adaptive van funded by the Women’s Fund of Santa Barbara that has enabled more residents to visit Santa Barbara’s parks, libraries, the beaches, and the Zoo, or simply enjoy a meal in a restaurant.

“Everybody talks about diversity, equity, and inclusion. Hillside is a shining example of that in practice,” says Cheryl Sweeney, Hillside’s Chief Development Officer. “Our residents are some of the most vulnerable, and often forgotten, members of our community. They’re eager to engage with people and the broader community, whenever possible.”

Recently, the van and Hillside’s work with the City of Santa Barbara’s Access Advisory Committee enabled several residents to attend both the Solstice and Fiesta parades. It’s not just the residents who reap the benefits of community engagement – increased access and inclusion strengthen the community as a whole. 

“Creating a more receptive, a more equitable, and a more integrated community, makes us all stronger,” Rassler says. 



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President & CEO: Michael S. Rassler


Our mission is to provide a home that supports our residents’ efforts to maximize their physical, cognitive, social, and emotional abilities so that they can attain their highest level of independence in an environment where people are treated with dignity and respect.

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Caring for our son JP was extremely hard on our whole family. My marriage was suffering, and I didn’t really have a relationship with our daughter. It was all so overwhelming and difficult. JP’s needs were too much for us to handle. Hillside has enabled us to be a family again. JP is happy, all his needs are being taken care of, and he is learning so much. I have a healthy marriage now, and a great relationship with our daughter. We are so grateful for the wonderful care and love Hillside provides our son.
Lisa Wilcox, Mother of JP (Hillside Resident) and Hillside Board Member

Equity and Inclusion for Hillside Residents

Hillside residents live far below the poverty level. Government reimbursements cover the bare minimum: room, board, and essential medical care. In order to help residents reach their goals, Hillside must raise in excess of $800,000 a year to fund a variety of critically important services, programs, and activities including:

• One-on-One Aides – most residents require individual care for walking or wheelchair use, dressing, eating, bathing, and toiletry;

• Speech Therapy – crucial to help residents express themselves so they can let their wants and needs be known;

• Physical Education – adaptive sports and movement increase mobility and bring residents a sense of accomplishment;

• Behavioral Therapy – decreases maladaptive behavior and teaches residents techniques to help cope with their challenges; 

• Physical Therapy – maximizes residents range of motion, reduces pain, and prevents locking of joints;

• Aquatic Therapy – helps residents gain more muscle control, increase their self-confidence, and improve physical function;

• Skills Development – to achieve greater independence such as cooking, money recognition, and using assistive technologies.

Key Supporters

Ann Jackson Family Foundation
Assistance League of Santa Barbara
Henry W. Bull Foundation
Chumash Foundation
City of SB Human Services
Demboski & Chapman Financial
Brad and Cynthia Frohling
Norris and Barry Goss
Hutton Parker Foundation
IOA Insurance Services, Inc.
Jim and Chana Jackson
Latkin Charitable Foundation
Donald Logan
June G. Outhwaite Foundation
Joan Redmond & Susan Crossley
Robert Ross
Santa Barbara Foundation
Gary Simpson/SB Home
St. Francis Foundation
Thomson Charitable Foundation
Towbes Foundation
Peter and Gina Troesch
Alice Tweed Tuohy Foundation
Williams-Corbett Foundation
Women’s Fund of Santa Barbara