StandUp for Kids – San Diego
On October 23rd, 2002 my identical twin sister Catherine came to my house to pick up a large bag of clothing that she was going to be donating to a cause that had become very close to her heart, StandUp For KIds, an organization that assists homeless children across the United States.
There was something different about her that evening. She seemed peaceful and yet effervescent and ebuillant. We didn’t engage in our usual sister bickering. Our dog Ernie noticed something about her too and would not stop licking her. A few days later it became clear just what the change in her was about.
That night she was chattering away excitedly about a Halloween party that she was helping to coordinate for the kids at the homeless outreach center in downtown San Diego. She couldn’t wait to see the kids’ faces light up as they came in to discover the party being thrown for them.
She told me stories about Josh and Bubba, and others who she had become close to. She mentioned Lou, who she felt she had been able to reach and that she saw in him the strength and determination that would enable him to turn his life around. By his own admission, he had been on the edge of choosing a life of crime until Cathy helped him to see other possibilities.
I had never seen her so happy and certain about the direction her life was going. She told me how impressed she was with StandUp For Kids, which is run almost exclusively by volunteers. She raved about how the homeless teens were treated with such love, respect, and care. It was a rule of the organization to refrain from lecturing them, proselytizing to them, or making judgments about their situation. But only to be of service to them in whatever way they requested.
Cathy and other StandUp For Kids outreach counselors gathered clothing, toiletries, and food, and carried them in backpacks out on the streets of San Diego where they offered whatever relief they could to kids who were living under bridges, in ravines, or wherever they found shelter.
She also helped at the center where the young people came to rest, shower, use the internet, eat, socialize, and receive assistance in whatever form that was needed.
Cathy was excited about her decision to begin a masters degree program for youth counseling that was to begin Monday October 28, 2002. Her experience volunteering with StandUp For Kids led her to believe she had found her true calling.
But this was not to be. On the morning of October 25, 2002 I received the devastating news that at the age of 37, my identical twin sister, Catherine Mary Hill had been killed in an on-duty vehicle accident while working as a United States Border Patrol agent along the U.S. border with Mexico in San Diego.
As one might imagine, this was a trauma that turned my life upside down. She was so alive. So vibrant. How could she be dead? It was almost unthinkable. But somehow I knew that she was still with me and that there was much more to the story of Elizabeth Anne Hill and Catherine Mary Hill. I was proud of the way she had lived her life and knew that her legacy would serve to inspire and uplift others.
Homeless kids came out in force to my sister’s public funeral conducted in full military honor style at the Organ Pavilion at Balboa Park, a 1200 acre urban cultural park in the heart of San Diego.
“She made a special connection with Josh Doty,” the anchor recounted on the news that evening.
“I guess she was like my guardian angel incarnate,” Josh told a reporter. He said he felt is if she was right next to him at times. He said that he believed she was now his real guardian angel.
About a week after Cathy died, my husband, my father, and I made a visit to the StandUp For Kids center. As we walked in we saw teenagers sprawled about on worn but comfortable furniture, eating, chatting, or sitting at a row of computers.
One dark-haired young man was staring at me incredulously, as if he was seeing a ghost. In a sense he was. He did not know that Cathy had a twin sister! It was Lou. I walked with him outside and told him how she had spoken highly of him. He made me repeat several times exactly what she had said about him. You could see it touched him deeply that she had believed in him. I handed him a pin that she had worn on her uniform. He said it would be his most prized possession.
I decided to go through the training and become a StandUp for Kids volunteer counselor, and went on to establish the nonprofit “Catherine Hill Foundation,” to raise money for StandUp For kids.
It was a rather herculean effort, but with the help of many volunteers, I put on two major fundraising events that raised a total of $43,000 for the organization. One of the highlights that stands out to me now was a video that we put together that included Bubba, one of Cathy’s kids, talking about how at sixteen years old, while living on the streets, he had met a very special lady who had changed his life.
Volunteering at StandUp For kids and organizing the Catherine Hill Foundation’s two “Blue Angel Galas,” made my sister’s death more bearable and gave her life purpose and meaning.
I know that my sister would be (and is) thrilled to know that seventeen years later in 2019 StandUp For Kids is stronger than ever. The center in San Diego is open six nights per week and there are outreach teams on the streets four nights per week. The organization has also made inroads in many other countries bringing awareness to the issue of homeless youth.
I know that feisty Catherine Mary Hill is still watching over “her kids” as she called them, making sure that they stay on the straight and narrow, and is doing her best to light their way and guide their paths. I have zero doubt that she “earned her wings” and is indeed her kids’ real guardian angel.