Gathered under the shade of oak trees on the beautiful grounds of Montecito’s El Mirador estate, attendees admired an array of vibrant spring flowers immersed in lush vegetation at this eagerly anticipated fundraiser for the nonprofit home and learning center for people with developmental disabilities.
A series of inspiring speakers included outgoing Hillside House executive director Pam Flynt Tambo; Jessika Cardinahl, speaking out for families; and author and nationally recognized advocate for the disabled, Rachel Simon, who shared an inspiring tale about life lessons, the spirit of perseverance and the joys of living.
Simon drew inspiration from her developmentally disabled sister, Beth, which led her to write Riding the Bus With My Sister (Houghton Mifflin, 2002) and her latest New York Times best-selling novel, The Story of Beautiful Girl (Grand Central Publishing, 2011).
Later, there were warm, welcoming remarks and introductions from board president Jim Wolfe and an invocation from Kim Collins, followed by Tambo, who addressed past innovations and the future prospects of Hillside House. Tambo served as executive director for more than 11 years and plans to relinquish her post to incoming executive director Craig Olson.
Established on Veronica Springs Road in 1939 by movie producer George Cukor, Hillside House emerged as a small residential-care facility that housed 10 to 12 people with developmental disabilities, including intellectual disabilities, cerebral palsy, autism and epilepsy.
Incorporated in 1945 as a California nonprofit corporation, the board of directors made plans to erect a lager facility and embarked on a successful community-based fundraising campaign to purchase more than 30 acres of land known as “Pine Grove Farm.”
“In 1951, the Santa Barbara community truly came forward to recognize the need for a caring home and therapeutic learning community for our developmentally disabled citizens,” said Tambo. “We have existed because of that support ever since and have been able to help hundreds of people reach for their dreams, develop their abilities and live rewarding lives.”
To date, Hillside House has evolved into a fully functional therapeutic learning community, caring for 59 people with moderate to severe developmental disabilities and employing a staff of 85 to become the largest provider of these residential services within Santa Barbara.
The facility offers residents around-the-clock nursing care, a wide range of therapy, independent living skills training, and a wealth of recreational and learning opportunities.
Tambo went on to say that state mandates have determined that people living with developmental disabilities are best served when they are integrated more fully into communities and also benefit from more interaction. So, the state is encouraging Hillside House to create smaller homes for residents that are integrated with homes for nondisabled people for a thriving neighborhood.
“Because of the level of disability of our residents, we still need to provide them immediate access to nursing and therapeutic care, and the kinds of group activities that help them live good lives,” she said. “So we’ve been hard at work on a plan to provide for all of these complex needs in an affordable way with a single solution. That solution is our Community Plan.”
According to the plan’s mission statement, the proposed project consists of annexing an approximate 23-acre campus site to the City of Santa Barbara with the removal of all existing structures on the site except the structure known as Harmony House and the phased development of 120 residential units in 33 buildings.
With the conversion of Harmony House to a triplex, there would be a total of 121 residential units. The buildings would include single- and two-car garages and two nonresidential buildings would also include a 6,700-square-foot administration and services building for Hillside House clients.
The proposed residential units include 70 market-rate condominiums, 12 very low-income Hillside House rental units, and 11 inclusionary ownership units with 28 low-income rental units.
Accordingly, Hillside House would continue to provide intermediate care at 12 assisted-living units. The project also includes restoration for a portion of Arroyo Burro Creek within the boundaries of the project site, and a total of 222 covered and uncovered parking spaces.
At the Sunset Soirée, Cardinahl spoke on behalf of her oldest daughter, Sophie, 26, a 10-year resident at Hillside House who has Wolf-Hirschhorn syndrome, which causes severe mental and physical handicaps. Cardinahl and her husband, actor, singer and producer Al Corley, are active in organizing fundraisers to improve the quality of life for their daughter and others with disabilities.
During her talk, Cardinahl acknowledged that the professional care and continual attention from Hillside House staff has allowed Sophie to outlive her life expectancy by leaps and bounds.
“She is blossoming in the prime of her life and my deepest gratitude goes out to all of you,” Cardinahl said. “Tonight we celebrate what has been accomplished so far and we celebrate the generosity and commitment of care provided by all of you.”
And there was a feeling of goodwill within the crowd as Simon shared with the audience her portrayals about the unique challenges and remarkable gifts of people with disabilities detailed in her best-selling novels.
“My latest novel, The Story of a Beautiful Girl, is an interracial love story about two characters with disabilities and a missing baby and their struggle of over 40 years to be together as a family,” said Simon. “It involves our history of how we’ve treated people with disabilities in America, including large state-run institutions and the shift from them into wonderful places like Hillside House and community living. It’s an epic love story that also covers the sweep of disability history.”
Simon’s inspiring and best-selling memoir, Riding the Bus With My Sister: A True Life Journey, was based on her sister, Beth, who has an intellectual disability and loves to ride the city buses. Simon said that she started riding the bus in Pennsylvania with her sister for a whole year as a way to enrich and strengthen their relationship.
“When I rode the buses with her I discovered not only my sister again but I discovered that a major civil rights development had happened over the course of the last 40 years, which is part of what The Beautiful Girl is about,” she explained. “It says that people with disabilities have a right to make their own choices about their own lives, and if my sister wants to ride buses all the time then she has a right to do that. Learning that this is a right made me see things differently.”
The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) is a federal civil rights law for people with disabilities, comparable to civil rights law passed in the 1960s for other minorities. It covers employment, state and local government services, public accommodations, and telecommunications for the deaf.
Later, Nancy Read presented Lolita “Tita” Lanning, an avid supporter of Hillside House, with the 2012 Person of Purpose Award for her generosity and dedication to help people with disabilities live prosperous lives and fulfill their dreams.
Lanning, who has generously provided the gardens of El Mirador Estate for the Hillside House fundraisers for seven years, was raised in Chicago and is the granddaughter of Lolita and Jonathan Ogden Armour who was head of Armour and Co. Meat Packing. The Armour’s gifted the wondrous gardens to their daughter, Lolita Armour Mitchell, on her 21st birthday, who passed away in 1976. Lanning, Mitchell’s daughter, now owns and cares for 25.5 acres of the estate that have been in her family since 1914.
Hillside House would like to thank the various sponsors for their generosity that helped to raise more than $100,000 at this year’s Sunset Soirée, including:
» Silver sponsors: Silvio Di Loreto, Norris and Barry Goss, Laurie and John Tilson, Ray Hunter and Young America’s Foundation
» Connect with Hillside House on Facebook.
» Follow Hillside House on Twitter: @HillsideHouse.