Alison Bell

Stacey Roth is a self-described nurturer. The role comes easily at home, where the 42-year-old executive and her husband are raising 3-year-old twins and a 5-year-old son. 

But it also extends to her job at Hillsides, a Pasadena, Calif.-based nonprofit organization where Roth was recently promoted to chief program officer. In the newly created position, Roth will be in charge of all programs and treatment services at the 101-year-old organization that serves 7,500 children and families each year. 

As she prepared to leave her post as director of Hillsides’ Family Resource Centers, where she managed 120 employees and supervised the agency’s community-based outpatient and outreach programs and services, Roth hunkered down and spent eight hours writing thank-you notes to her entire staff. She also whipped up homemade brownies to accompany the notes.

Not many managers would have time for such thoughtfulness, but for Roth, it was business as usual.

“I have a philosophy that I am never too busy for things that are important to me, and I want my staff to know that they are important to me,” she says.

 

Taking advantage of opportunity 

In her new position, Roth, a licensed clinical social worker, will have triple the amount of employees to spoil. She will oversee 350 of the organization’s 450 employees while continuing to manage the Family Resource Centers.

In addition, she will oversee the agency’s three other core programs: a residential treatment program for children, an education center for children with learning and behavioral challenges, and a program for youth transitioning from foster care to adulthood.

Supervising a staff whose client base is so diverse is a challenge, but Joseph M. Costa, the CEO at Hillsides, says no one is better suited to the task than Roth.

Ironically, managing people was the furthest thing from Roth’s mind when she started at Hillsides in 1996. She was working as a therapist in one of the residential cottages for children and loved every minute of it.

“I figured I would be a clinician my entire life,” she says.

That changed seven years later when she was asked to coordinate Hillsides’ school-based mental health program at San Rafael Elementary school in Pasadena. Suddenly Roth was thrust into a role where she supervised therapists, and she found the new duties exhilarating.   

“It was so much fun to have people listen to my ideas, use them and then say they worked,” she says. “If I mentor 10 people, and they are each seeing 10 clients, I’ve extended my reach.”

She also found great joy having a part in helping other staffers learn and grow.  

“It’s wonderful watching nervous young therapists new to the field blossom into self-assured ones,” she says. “It is so satisfying.”

From this school coordinator position, Roth was promoted to clinical director at Hillsides and then less than a year later, to the director of the Family Resource Centers.

It was a job Roth held for eight years, and it grew to include three clinics and 15 school-based programs throughout Los Angeles County.

She made it a point to learn the names of all the employees underneath her and to know something personal about each one so when she talked to them, she could ask meaningful questions, showing she cared. She also gives cookies and brownies as presents to reward productivity and they are never store bought. 

“This way, I am putting a little bit of myself into acknowledging them,” she says. “I will rely on my good memory to continue to know as many employees as possible by name.” 

 

Part of the team

As warm as Roth’s personality can be, she is also a straight shooter who isn’t afraid to let staff know exactly what she thinks of their performance, positive or negative. She believes that employees do better with this transparent approach because “there is not that discomfort that occurs when people are trying to read between the lines.”   

She also makes it a point to never ask staff to do something she wouldn’t do herself. All clinicians in the Family Resource Centers are required to be on call for one 24-hour period each month in case a client has an emergency, and Roth always puts herself on the schedule.  

One of her top priorities in this new role will include ushering in a new type of care to Hillsides called Trauma Informed Care. This is an innovative approach that screens and treats individuals according to how much trauma they have experienced in their lives, an approach Roth feels is essential for Hillsides to adopt.

“Fifty-nine percent of the general population has experienced at least one adverse childhood experience and 70 percent of youth in residential placement have had some type of traumatic experience,” she says. “It’s clear our clients can benefit from this personalized focus.”

Under Roth’s leadership, Hillsides has formed a Trauma Informed Care committee. Her goal is to train all Hillsides employees in this new practice and to change the organization’s policies and procedures to make sure that trauma-informed care is at the heart of Hillsides’ approach.

“Clients will have an increased sense of emotional and physical safety and have quicker, more successful outcomes,” says Roth.

Trauma Informed Care will also strengthen staff, says Roth. 

One of its key components is self-care, a concept that comes naturally to her.

“I am always telling my staff, take care of yourself,” she says. “No client is as important as your own physical or mental health.” 

When Roth gets home at night, she follows her own words by declaring 5:30 to 9 p.m. a work-free time (unless she is on call). She focuses on her children, makes dinner, does homework with her oldest, reads and puts them to bed with the help of her husband.

After the kids go to sleep, she’s back at work, answering emails and phone messages for up to two hours.

Roth admits she’s blessed with more energy than most people as well as a never-ending passion for helping children and families in crisis, which makes every hour she devotes to Hillsides a labor of love.

“I believe and always have believed that we are the best when it comes to care for our clients,” she says. Roth is especially proud that “we don’t turn anyone away, even our most challenging client. We figure out how to make things work.”

Just the other day, she got a call from the director of Hillsides Education Center informing her that a family with a child in the school was in crisis, living in a motel with no money to pay for another night and nothing to eat. 

Was it possible, he asked, to give the family some emergency funds so they could have a place to sleep for another week and money for food while the father looked for a job? 

“And what did we do?” asks Roth. “We did it. We figured out a way to get them those funds. There is never a ‘no’ here. And how lucky am I that now I am the person who gets to say ‘yes!’”

How to reach: Hillsides, (323) 254-2274 or www.hillsides.org