Last summer, Charles Weld received a donation for Hillside Children's Center.
As the director of residential services at Hillside's Finger Lakes Campus in Auburn, Weld had collected several donations over the years. But this one, he said, was special.
A young nurse had reached out to Weld in June to say she was getting married and, in lieu of wedding favors, she and her fiancé decided to make a donation to the Auburn campus.
It had been nearly 10 years since she had been a resident at Hillside's intensive treatment unit, and she said it was time to pay it forward.
"It was wonderful for her to come back and see people that were still there that she remembered and for her to tell her story to kids that were engaged in the same struggles that she was at one time," Weld said. "It's a great memory for me."
That is just one of the special memories Weld has made at Hillside. The 65-year-old started at the center's Finger Lakes Campus in 1994, just one year after it opened on County House Road in Auburn. And that's where he stayed, working as a licensed mental health counselor until last week.
On Friday, April 14, Weld retired after a 20-plus-year career at Hillside and nearly 40 years in counseling.
But he wasn't always interested in mental health, he said.
Born and raised in Rochester, Weld initially went to school for English, getting his undergraduate degree at Cornell University. It wasn't until his third year of college, while living in a house on State Street in Ithaca, that he began to consider a career in counseling.
"Half of the people that lived in this house ... were college students and the other half were recently released young adults from (Willard Asylum for the Chronic Insane)," Weld said. "It was the early '70s and it was the beginning of de-institutionalization, trying to figure out how to provide treatment for people with serious mental health issues outside of a big state institution. So that was very compelling."
From there, Weld went to Maine where he ended up working in community development at a local university. That further inspired him to get his Master's degree in counseling, he said, and he began working with adults at a hospital in Bangor before running a community-based halfway house for substance abusers.
Then, years later, Weld moved back to central New York and landed a job in residential childcare near Binghamton.
"That's when I found that (youth counseling) was a very good fit for me because it's very active," he said. "From the outside, it might seem kind of chaotic, but that's kind of what my family life has always been. I'm one of six siblings ... so that aspect of residential life didn't put me off at all. I actually felt quite at home."
After his work in the Binghamton area, Weld circled back to Ithaca and worked at the William George Agency for Children's Services for nearly a decade. But in the 1990s, he heard about Hillside, which was expanding its services throughout the state.
He was hired there in the spring of '94 as the coordinator of the intensive treatment unit. And three years later, he was promoted to director of residential services.
"It was still getting its legs underneath it when I started there," Weld said. "And it's gone through many, many changes over the years."
The Auburn residential campus currently has 58 beds; 42 of those are dedicated to long-term psychiatric care while the remaining 16 are part of a specialty program for adolescent girls.
As director, Weld said he primarily worked with a team of department heads in Auburn, keeping in close contact with the principal of the school, the director of nursing and the clinical manager. However, due to the smaller size of the campus — which consists of three buildings on 26 acres of land — he said he felt fortunate to still interact with the youth and staff.
"Compared to a lot of residential campuses, it's really compact ... and my office was on the main corridor," Weld said. "My office doors were usually open so I had a lot of contact with the kids."
And that's what many residents and staff remembered most.
Now 26 years old, the young nurse — who wished to remain anonymous — said she resided at Hillside's Auburn campus for nearly two years in high school, and she recalled Weld's open door policy as something special.
"Charlie always had his door open," the former resident said. "I would walk the halls for exercise and he would have his door open even though he was doing work, and you could say hi to him. ... It felt like he really genuinely cared about the kids."
"Charlie had a huge commitment to the families and staff that he worked with," said Jean Galle, who recently took over Weld's position as director of residential services. "It was not uncommon to see Charlie on campus riding bikes with the kids or playing games. ... He just had a way of making everybody feel welcome and special.
"The kids and families came first."
And according to Weld, they still do.
Although newly retired, Weld said his work as a counselor isn't finished yet, as he hopes to return to Hillside on a part-time basis after a short break backpacking in the Adirondacks.
"I still feel like I have a lot of energy," he said, smiling. "I think I'm going to take a few months off and then I'll probably get back into something with Hillside. ... I could see myself doing something a little less demanding and a little more discreet. But I'm not done yet."