Santa Maria and Price Hill Will work together to serve the community

Santa Maria and Price Hill Will are equal partners in building strong families, supporting residents’ health, and encouraging investment and redevelopment in the neighborhood.

The way Price Hill residents talk about community-building programs in their neighborhood, skipping seamlessly between events and programs offered by Santa Maria Community Services and those organized by Price Hill Will, illustrates how the two organizations work together to meet the neighborhood’s needs.

Take Mayra Velazquez.

Santa Maria came into her life seven years ago, along with her firstborn. As part of the Every Child Succeeds program, a Santa Maria staff member came knocking on her door every week to check on her and the baby.

"They helped me find ways to get things for the baby — diapers, a high chair, just everything the baby needed," Velazquez said.

A wellness program at Santa Maria led to Price Hill Will’s community garden. Financial coaching from Santa Maria prepared Velazquez for Price Hill Will’s homesteading program, which allowed her to buy a home. Her children have participated in Price Hill Will’s MYCincinnati youth orchestra, and Velazquez is part of community building programs at Santa Maria, including the International Welcome Center.

"They are my friends,” Velazquez said. “I know everyone .... They know me."

H.A. Musser, Santa Maria Community Services President, at the Price Hill Pacer.Price Hill is unique among Cincinnati neighborhoods with two organizations working so closely together as a community development agency. Local development experts say the relationship between Price Hill Will and Santa Maria is a model for leveraging community partnerships to meet residents’ needs.

“There really is no overlap,” said Laura Jekel, who handles creative placemaking programs for Price Hill Will. “We really offer very different things.”

“We complement each other,” added Santa Maria President H.A. Musser Jr.

Santa Maria Community Services in Price HillSanta Maria has served and advocated for Price Hill families like Velazquez’s for more than 50 years. About 4,000 people receive services annually from Santa Maria’s wide array of programs, which support families with everything from caring for their infants to getting their finances in order. It organizes health fairs and offers emergency prescription assistance, free mental health counseling and other health services, as well as assistance securing Medicaid or other benefits.

“We do everything,” President H.A. Musser Jr. said. “We provide services that wrap around the whole family.”

Santa Maria began in 1897 as a settlement house helping Cincinnati’s Italian immigrants, but shifted focus to the Appalachian community after its relocation to Lower Price Hill in 1966. As Price Hill attracted a growing population of Spanish-speaking immigrants like Velazquez, who is from Mexico, Santa Maria adapted, too.

About two-thirds of the people who use Santa Maria’s services are Latino. Through its International Welcome Center, (which launched with funding support from LISC) Santa Maria provides English and Spanish language classes and coffee hours that connect immigrants to each other as well as community resources.

“We work with people at all levels of need,” said Luz Elena Schemmel, immigrant services and wellness program director. “We work with other agencies. We’re able to help people navigate (them). We’re grassroots. We all work together.”

In 2004, building on that tradition of partnerships, Santa Maria helped to found Price Hill Will, a nonprofit community development corporation working to spark physical, economic and social impact in the neighborhood. Price Hill Will has focused on bricks-and-mortar development, including home ownership incentives, and community programming, including MYCincinnati.

Price Hill PacerFor 13 years, the two have had a joint fundraising event, the Price Hill Pacer, a 5K/10K run/walk that happens again June 2.

Each organization often refers residents back to the programs and services of the other, and the staff members of Price Hill Will and Santa Maria meet and communicate regularly to make sure all neighborhood needs are met efficiently.

By sharing resources and contacts, Price Hill Will and Santa Maria are able to reach and serve more people in the community — people like 18-year-old Kalla Ervin.

Ervin was one of the first students to join and graduate from MYCincinnati. She became a violinist and now is an artist-in-residence with the youth orchestra. During her fellowship, Ervin was trying to determine where she would go to college and for what. Price Hill Will directed Ervin to Santa Maria, which helped her sign up and prepare for the ACT.

She has been accepted into University of Cincinnati-Blue Ash and intends to study business management. She wants to help people of color and immigrants learn to manage their money.

“I should be starting that in the fall,” Ervin said, “which is awesome.”

The series, Community Stories, is supported by LISC Greater Cincinnati. Learn more at
LISC supports contributing journalist, Hillary Copsey. Read more stories about community development from Hillary here.


Enjoy this story? Sign up for free solutions-based reporting in your inbox each week.

Read more articles by Hillary Copsey.