“The Many Faces of Hilltop” Showcased at Open House

Hilltop Neighborhood House invited the public to an open house on the evening of August 6th to let the community see what it’s calling "The Many Faces of Hilltop." The Hilltop Neighborhood House gave tours of the Hilltop facility, provided refreshments, and invited its staff to tell stories about the benefits that Hilltop brings to the children it teaches and to the community.

“We’re really excited to tell the community about the great things that we’re doing for the kids in our community,” said Stacey Schmidt, Hilltop Board Member. “We really look at the child as the whole child. It’s a safe place they can go after school. Our purpose tonight is to share with the community all the great things we’re doing for the kids and for the families in Valparaiso.”

As Schmidt points out, Hilltop works to nourish the mind through its educational techniques, the spirit through its developmental practices, and the body through the food it provides through the food pantry. The facility operates with the help of a number of staff members and volunteers, some of whom reach the facility in one area and begin looking into it through another.

Dr. Amy Cramer, for instance, teaches graduate level school psychology at Valparaiso University while also being in charge of interns and practicum students. She originally came to Hilltop through sending her children there and by volunteering at the food pantry to see what it would be like for her own students, but eventually wound up staying and helping the organization.

“I went there and enjoyed the experience so much,” said Cramer. “I was helping the community and seeing people’s faces light up when they saw food that they don’t normally have, so I never left. I almost feel guilty because it’s immediate gratification, helping other people. These people need help and they’re getting it.”

The children’s programs work to not only educate the students on educational concepts like mathematics and history, but they also work on developing socioemotional skills. These techniques and educational platforms are key for making sure that children develop well before they enter Kindergarten.

“We wanted to invite the community here to let them see, because a lot of them have a little bit of an idea but not a full idea of what we’re like,” said Sandra Cruz, Director of Hilltop House and teacher of the final Kindergarten Readiness stage. “We start with infants, and go all the way up to age five. We have our kindergarten readiness graduates, and we have eighteen who graduated this year. One-hundred percent of them scored ninety-five and above on their tests, so we know they’re ready.”

Letting the community know more about what Hilltop offers is a challenge at times. As Board Member Robert Ordway put it, Hilltop’s brand and public awareness is a tricky message to spread among the other non-profit organizations that operate for people later in life.

“One of Hilltop’s biggest challenges is that its brand awareness is really low,” said Ordway. “Historically when you look in the community at things like the Boys & Girls Club, Opportunity Enterprises, Housing Opportunities and a lot of the other brands are a lot larger, more national brands. Hilltop serves just the greater Valparaiso community. It’s hidden away here. It’s one of the best kept secrets of nonprofit.”

This challenge is being tackled in a new way lately. Board members, staff, and volunteers like Dr. Cramer are working to help promote the concept of Hilltop to the community.

“People who do know Hilltop lightly think that it’s just a daycare facility, but it’s more than that,” says Ordway. “It’s about mentoring, education, tutoring, personal development, and ultimately leadership for when kids turn five and graduate out of this program and move on to things like the Boys & Girls Club and evening programs after school and stuff.”

“Hilltop Neighborhood House is doing a lot of wonderful things,” said Dr. Cramer.