Heritage, Hillside care workers see boost in pay but understaffing still an issue

Local nonprofit organizations are addressing the need for direct care employees by raising wages for what they call a vital but often undervalued profession.

In September, Heritage Christian Services said it would increase minimum wage for full-time direct support positions in its residential program to $17.25 an hour and will provide a 5.4 percent cost of living adjustment for most of the staff.

The pay bumps mean some 2,180 staff members benefit from the cost-of-living adjustment, and roughly 1,740 frontline workers will see an additional boost to their hourly wage.


Marisa Geitner, the organization’s president and CEO, said raising wages for direct support professionals recognizes the essential services they provide.

“There is an elevated need to recognize care professionals in a manner that is commensurate with the jobs they are doing,” she said, adding that direct support workers are essential to the organization. “We have to staff our front-line positions, or we don’t have a business.”

Heritage leaders said the wage increases were possible through state funding, including a cost-of-living adjustment from the New York State Office for People with Developmental Disabilities, as well as the agency’s emphasis on financial stewardship to support its strategic priorities.

Heritage Christian also boosted wages for care professionals in May of 2021, to $15.75 from $13.25. Certain shifts provided an opportunity to earn up to $19 an hour.

Geitner noted that the number of workers entering the field has flatlined as the need for the services Heritage provides continues to increase.

If she could, Geitner would add 100 workers to provide staffing relief for the organization, particularly when it comes to staffing its residential homes that operate around the clock, as well as its day habilitation centers.

She would then add 100 additional positions to help keep up with demand in the community.

Geitner added that the wage increase extends beyond a budgetary issue; it’s also a social justice issue.

Employees and care professionals at human services agencies across the country continue to confront gender- and race-related wage disparities, she added, noting some 80 percent of professionals in the workforce at Heritage identify as women, with 34 percent women of color.

The most recent pay increase for its frontline staff reflects the organization’s ongoing commitment to supporting and furthering diversity, equity and inclusion, she noted.

Heritage is also providing educational opportunities for employees so they can grow their skills in the field.

“As a society, we know we value the work direct care workers do, now we have to show we value the people who do the work,” Geitner said.

She added that Heritage also feels a sense of responsibility as one of the area’s largest nonprofits to take the lead on the issue.

“As a larger organization, we have more flexibility,” she said. “When we can go first, we will go first.”

Hillside – another of the region’s largest nonprofits – also enacted wage increases, setting the agency’s new minimum wage of $17 an hour for all positions there in early October.

The amount is up from the $15 minimum wage the agency set in May of 2021.

Maria Cristalli, Hillside’s president and CEO, noted the change will also positively impact many staff whose salaries are already above this new minimum.


“This is an important step in raising compensation for the many critical roles that our employees play in the lives of children and families,” she said.

Hillside employs nearly 1,800 people in a range of service areas including direct care, clinical and education. The organization is looking to fill a number of positions.

Its residential treatment and community-based programs support the needs of nearly 10,000 children, adults and families every year.

Cristalli noted that many direct care workers across New York – many who have young children – qualify for public assistance, so increased pay is critical.

“Our message in taking these actions is to show our government and state leaders that we want to support these workers who have given so much,” she said, adding “without workers, we can’t do the work.”

The nonprofit sector is not the only one making wage adjustments. Industries across the board are taking similar steps as employees’ views about work, as well as their opportunities for jobs through remote work, have increased.

The Rochester region has worked collectively to address the workforce challenges locally and at state and national levels, Geitner and Cristalli said.

They cited the Rochester-Monroe Anti-Poverty Initiative’s Level Up Champions initiative as an example of such a local collaboration.

Since RMAPI introduced the initiative in September 2021, more than 100 organizations that collectively employ more than 100,000 people have made a commitment to wage enhancement, including Heritage and Hillside.

A total of 48 organizations have moved to $15 an hour for the first time since RMAPI’s wage enhancement challenge to the community in 2021, and more than 12,000 jobs have moved to $15 an hour or above.

Geitner said the collaborations help Rochester address the challenges better than other regions across the country.

“We’ve got a long way to go, but I’m proud of the progress we’ve made,” she said.

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Hillside to raise minimum wage

One of the largest child-and-family-services organizations in the eastern U.S. has raised its minimum wage to $15 per hour for all positions in the organization, joining a number of other agencies who this year have raised their wages.

Hillside President and CEO Maria Cristalli announced the change to staffers on Friday. The increase, which has been in development for several months, will take effect on June 5.

Maria Cristalli
Maria Cristalli

“I am delighted to announce this permanent shift in Hillside’s compensation structure,” Cristalli said, adding that the change will also positively impact those making above this new minimum in the future. “This is an important step in raising compensation for the many critical roles that our staff play in the lives of children and families.”

Hillside employs nearly 2,000 individuals in a range of service areas including direct care, clinical and education. The agency’s residential treatment and community-based programs support the needs of more than 10,000 children, adults and families annually.

“Hillside’s staff has done extraordinary work during the pandemic. We continue to advocate for increased investment in human services workers with our government partners. We believe our essential workers deserve the security of a $15-per-hour minimum wage today,” Cristalli said.

Founded in 1837, Hillside is one of the country’s oldest family and youth nonprofit human services organizations, and the largest of its type in New York state. The agency supports vulnerable children, adults and families through services delivered on residential campuses, in group homes and in a wide range of school- and community-based settings.

[email protected] / 585-653-4021
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Hillside Family of Agencies names new leader

A 27-year veteran of Hillside Family of Agencies has been tapped to lead the nonprofit agency.

Maria Cristalli
Maria Cristalli

Maria Cristalli, who served as chief operating officer of the human services organization from January 2017 until July of this year, stepped into the interim CEO role following the June retirement of Dennis Richardson.

“Hillside is in a unique position to partner with communities to impact the lives of youth and families in this era of epochal change in human services,” Cristalli said in a statement. “I am highly energized by our dedicated and capable staff, who build lasting relationships with the people we serve every day.”

A graduate of the University of Rochester with a master’s degree in public health, Cristalli joined Hillside in 1991 and has taken on increasingly more responsible roles during her tenure. As chief strategy and quality officer, she provided vision, leadership and direction for Hillside’s strategic planning, quality improvement, business intelligence and healthcare functions throughout the agency, officials said.

“Maria Cristalli is second to none in her service to Hillside; her commitment to our youth, families and communities; and her deep understanding of this agency’s vital role in the ever-changing human-services landscape,” Hillside Chairman Ed White said. “She has earned the respect of the Hillside community, as well as our strategic partners and funders, many times over. With Maria at the helm, Hillside’s future is bright indeed.”

Founded in 1837, Hillside is one of the oldest family and youth nonprofit human services organizations nationwide. The organization offers an array of services for children and families ranging from primary preventive to residential treatment services.

Hillside served more than 14,000 children and families in 2018 through Hillside Children’s Center, Stillwater Children’s Center, Snell Farm Children’s Center, Hillside Work-Scholarship Connection and Hillside Children’s Foundation.

[email protected] / 585-653-4021
Follow Velvet Spicer on Twitter: @Velvet_Spicer