How Hillsides helped transform a girl’s life
Asia Johnson, 16, walks down the stairs of the apartment she shares with her adoptive father, holding a small wooden chest. The chest is overflowing with notebook pages and journals, the lid unable to close against the riot of paper.
“This is everything I wrote while at Hillsides,” she smiled.
Before entering Hillsides’ residential program in 2016, Asia didn’t care about writing. In fact, after experiencing nine different placements within three years, she didn’t care about much.
Placed in foster care at age 12, Asia had picked up behaviors such as lying and stealing as survival mechanisms. However, at Hillsides, she changed. “The staff helped me find myself,” she said. “They saw the good in me, gave me hope, and helped me get rid of my bad habits.”
They also guided her toward what would become her true passion: writing. “I started out keeping a journal,” she said. “It helped me capture how I was feeling and to understand myself more.” The staff encouraged her to keep expressing herself, and soon Asia was churning out poetry, songs, and short stories.
At Hillsides, Asia learned that a family friend who had helped raise her, Adrian Rodriguez, wanted to adopt her. In December 2017, Adrian became Asia’s legal guardian and Asia’s dream of becoming part of a family came true. “Now I don’t have to worry so much about myself because I have a father to worry about me,” she said.
Soon afterwards, Hillsides contacted Asia to tell her about a writing contest sponsored by Arts Matter, an arts education nonprofit. Asia submitted a poem, “Hello, Me,” and was honored as a finalist at a celebration at the Getty Center in Los Angeles.
Asia next plans on writing her life story, so it looks like the chest acquired at Hillsides is about to get even fuller.