Minnamurra's Bill Campbell remembers one girl who came into his foundation's care - a 'lass' with long hair, who used it to shield her face.
"She'd stand in front of you with her head down, she could hardly speak and she made sure her hair fell over her face - like a veil," the founder of the William Campbell Foundation told the Mercury this week.
"I remember when she left, when she turned 18, she had her hair pulled back, her head held high. To see the growth of that girl and see her change and her real personality and character come out was very special."
It's memories like these that make the 82-year-old proud of what he's created. Not just because his not-for-profit foundation has changed the lives of hundreds of children and young people in need - but because it's part of his story too.
"Children come to us traumatised, from broken homes - homes where they've been neglected or abused due to a parent or carer's alcohol, drug or gambling addiction," Mr Campbell said.
"These children have suffered a range of abuses - psychological, emotional, physical and sexual. I suffered all of these in my childhood so that was a driver to create a system to support children in need - and importantly help siblings to stay together."
For while the young William Campbell accepted that his parents were unable to care for him - leaving him to grow up in a series of boys' homes - it broke his heart to be separated from his older twin sisters, Joan and June.
"I was born in 1937, and when my father enlisted in WWII in 1939, my mother - who suffered manic depression - couldn't cope with the three of us," he recalled.
"So when I was not even three, and my sisters 18 months older, we were placed in what they called 'homes for destitute children' and separated from each other - that was the hardest part."
When their father returned home after the war, the family was reunited - but only for a short time. With his parents' marriage crumbling, his mother suffering from mental illness and his father tackling his own alcohol and gambling addictions "everything blew up again".
It was straight to Bexley Boys' Home for Mr Campbell, and Arncliffe Girls' Home for the twins.
"It was very regimented at the home. You were known by your last name or your locker number - I was number 114," he said.
"You were woken at 6am by a whistle and you weren't allowed to talk for the first couple of hours until you started your chores.
"I had a bad habit of talking and would often get the cane - you got off well if you only received four strikes."
The worst part though, said Mr Campbell, was the sense of loneliness even when surrounded by hundreds of other boys. And the lack of love.
"We never got a hug, even from the female staff," he said. "And I missed my sisters immensely."
It was very regimented at the home. You were known by your last name or your locker number - I was number 114.William 'Bill' Campbell
It wasn't until some 50 years later that Mr Campbell could even speak about his childhood. This week, he feels a further sense of closure with the release of his autobiography Rejected no more - which he'll launch in Wollongong on Thursday.
The book details his life in institutions - and the difficulties he faced when, at age 14, he was able to "escape". Sleeping on the streets of Kings Cross, he remembers the kindness of prostitutes who would give him food and protect him from the predators who preyed on young boys.
At 23 he almost lost his life through alcohol addiction and 10 years later suffered a complete mental and physical breakdown.
Two things saved him - his family, wife Dawn and daughter Donna, and becoming a Christian.
He moved to Berkeley in 1967, and got into the motor trade - for many years running successful dealerships. Yet a desire to do more - to help children like himself and his sisters - would not be ignored.
"I'd think about how our childhood had been marred by sibling separation and I thought 'there's got to be a service model that would keep siblings together'," he said.
"I spoke to government and other agencies. But then the Reverend Bob Hillman told me: 'If you've got a vision you can't impose it on other people - you either own it or you walk away from it'.
"We were getting to retirement age, so Dawn and I jointly made the commitment to start the foundation."
The William Campbell Foundation was established in 1998, an out-of-home-care agency with a focus on keeping siblings together.
Twenty-one years on, it provides a range of programs and services across the Illawarra and Shoalhaven including foster care, family support and disability services.
Mr Campbell welcomes the recent significant changes to the sector. "These will enable more children to return to their families, which is great if that's achievable," he said.
"There's also a push for long-term foster care, guardianship or adoption for those children unable to return home.
"It's a wonderful way the system is changing - trying to find loving, permanent homes for these children rather than keeping them in the system until they're 18."