By Naimah shaw
With Dedication, a fierce and loyal determination to help the under served and a tenacity unlike any other, Dan Hillman is the local voice of children suffering from abuse, neglect and abandonment. Hillman’s qualities are masked by a seemingly tough exterior but he is definitely a man on a mission helping abused and neglected children regain traction of their lives. Hillman is an inspirational figure, loyal child advocate, embodiment and representation of a man who oversees activities at the local organization, Child Enrichment Inc. Hillman and his dedicated staff has helped over 21,000 local children from the Judicial Circuit consisting of neighboring Burke, Columbia and Richmond counties.
One wonders about the kind of circumstances that persuades someone to pursue a life of giving back, a career dedicated to a national humanitarian crisis that affects us on some many levels. Situations of child abuse and neglect manifest themselves so deeply that we are unable to forget, as the saying goes, “once you see it, you can not unsee it.” During a recent interview, the heaviness of the subject was evident through misty eyes as Hillman relayed that his position is so near and dear to his heart that when he talks about different scenarios, they instantly replay in his head and he envisions it all over again. I asked him how he separates the emotional toll of a job like his and his personal life and he candidly said, “I don’t do a very good job with that.” Hillman further explained that his wife, a social worker herself has emotionally taxing stories and as a result, they give themselves 30 minutes when they get home from work to vent about their day. Hillman quickly followed up that statement by saying, “sometimes it’s more than the 30 minutes.” Hillman chuckles as he shares that his wife often has to plead with him not to talk about work when they attend social events and gatherings. Hillman shared that they use humor and smiles to take the rigidity and harsh tangent off of the work day.
Raised in Lockport, NY, Hillman attended the State University of New York at Geneseo and graduated with a BS in Sociology with minors in Psychology and English. Hillman went on to work with emotionally disturbed children whose issues stemmed from physical and sexual abuse. Hillman stayed there for two years and conscientiously worked 14 hour days out of a desire to help children recover and as he puts it, he was, “hungry for knowledge about child abuse.” In no uncertain terms, Hillman became passionate about the concept while still in its infancy. Hillman recalls the book, The Battered Child Syndrome as being one of the few pieces of literature available on the subject. However, Hillman over exhausted himself and became burned out. As a result, Hillman sought jobs in construction and went to work in Tucson, AZ and San Diego, CA before returning to pursue graduate studies. In a twist of fate, while looking through the college brochure racks for information on Syracuse University, Hillman stumbled upon information about the USC in Columbia. Hillman applied and his background proved to be such an asset to their program that they promised in state tuition if he chose to attend, which he did. As another twist of fate, Hillman met the woman who would later become his wife on his first day of class. After graduating, Hillman went on the work with the University Hospital in the NICU for four years before moving to the ER where he specialized in child abuse cases. After witnessing childhood mortality as a result of abuse and working on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week, Hillman worked hard to change abuse policies and lobbied the District Attorney on matters that were in the best interest of the children. Hillman noted that one year the policy was changed 18 times until they felt the child’s safety and wellbeing was being prioritized. Hillman then left to go to the Hitchcock Rehab Center in Aiken before joining Child Enrichment Inc. in 2002.
When I asked Hillman what led him to his career, he reflected on a story that is now permanently ingrained in his mind. It was Hillman’s senior year of his undergraduate education in 74 and he was interning in a youth recreation program when a six year old boy came to the gym and needed help. Hillman explained that the child didn’t need the kind of help a typical six year old needs like shoelaces tied or a water break but rather the child had been beaten so severely by his father that he suffered internal injuries. The child spent 37 days in the hospital and was the first reported case of suspected child abuse that Hillman ever made. Hillman states that being able to tell children they will not be hurt again because the perpetrator is in jail is one of the best safety nets and reassurance he provides to children. Hillman works hard to ensure that the perpetrators of abuse are put behind bars and punished by law for their actions.
Activism in the community:
Make no mistake that this extremely inspirational figure doesn’t allude all of the success cases to himself but rather refers to the other employees and volunteers as the heroes. When asked to describe himself in a few words, Hillman instantly retorts by saying, “I’m just the problem solver. We come in the office, grab a box of Kleenex and problem solve but the real experts and heroes are the compassionate employees and volunteers who work on the ground with the children, advocating every day for their safety and staying with them until their case is resolved.”
Hillman says the idea of helping to save a child’s life and the idea of preventing the abuse of other children is his life’s passion. More than 40 years later, those initial simple goals continue to be the most important that Hillman has. While Hillman notes he has had to sadly but realistically give up the hope of ending child abuse, he is proud to have replaced it by building the foundation for children and provides therapy, support by reiterating three core concepts: It wasn’t their fault, Helping them understand what happened, Paint picture of a bright and happy future. Hillman is also proud to have a system that takes care of its personnel and employees and he takes special preventatives to help them from reaching the burn out phase too quickly.
Like all non profits, much of the finances needed to operate Child Enrichment Inc. is gained through fund raising. An upcoming event is the Annual Cooking for Kids event on March 10-11. Last year’s event raised close to $45,000.
This article appears in the March 2017 issue of Augusta Family Magazine.
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