News: Price Hill's Old Friend

Santa Maria continues to develop new services

Scott Beseler

A Taekwondo class for kids is one of many programs offered by Santa Maria Community Services, which has been active in Price Hill for more than a century.

People outside Price Hill might not be familiar with Santa Maria Community Services, but after 110 years it's one of the oldest residents of the neighborhood.

The non-profit organization offers an array of programs designed to strengthen families, assist with challenges and empower them in their own community. Two of Santa Maria's newest programs focus on early childhood development.

Blair Schoen, vice president of the agency, says one big push is a program aimed at readying children for kindergarten by providing access to pre-schools and resources for parents. The other is Adults and Children Together Against Violence, a program at two local elementary schools. Parents, teachers and older siblings all learn to become positive role models during the first phase, then go on to implement a plan in their own neighborhoods during the second phase.

After frequent requests from parents to stop violence on playgrounds and in the schools, Schoen says she saw the program as a symbiotic solution for all involved.

"These parents who participated in the first six weeks say, 'You have no idea how many changes we have made already in our own family because of this,' " she says. "These are people who are well into their own culture, into their own neighborhood and it might have been something they wanted to change but may not have been able to for some reason, so this is a powerful experience."

Jim Holmstrom, development program coordinator for Santa Maria, says he didn't expect such a strong turnout, with an average of eight participants at Carson Elementary and more than 30 at Oiler Elementary.

He hopes the enthusiasm for the program will help lead to its success.

"My impression is that you need the change to come from a community organization framework," Holmstrom says. "You have residents that are pulling people in through the process, going out and recruiting people. The residents themselves have the enthusiasm and the passion and, sharing the framework, bring their neighbors in. It's very word of mouth."

Thereesa Devine says she wanted to help create a safer environment, especially for children in the area. After completing the first six-week section of Adults and Children Together Against Violence, she says she's already made modifications to her lifestyle by eliminating violent movies and television shows, as she wouldn't want to see it in real life. She also carefully monitors her young grandchildren's behavior, making sure they don't hit and, if they do, they know it's unacceptable behavior.

Devine says she can't wait to begin the second phase, in which the team brainstorms and then puts a plan into place. She hopes the program can find its way to other communities.

"Betcha it will be good for other communities, too," she says. "I was sharing some of my information with one of my friends who lives in Westwood, and she was like, 'Wish we had something like that in our area.' "

Santa Maria' programs include Every Child Succeed, offering parent support, child development and child safety; Youth Leadership, with extensive programming; Jordan Health Program, helping underinsured or uninsured individuals gain access to health care; the Medshare Prescription Program, making prescriptions available to people who can't afford them; Bienestar, improving accessibility of health care for Latino immigrants; Meals on Wheels Meals, delivering food to those restricted to their homes; and Community Development, focusing on efforts to empower community members to change the conditions that affect their neighborhoods.

"Some people would say that it's a disadvantage that we're so diverse, but Santa Maria has a unique relationship with the community, long standing and supportive," says Gladys Cell, Bienestar program manager.

While communities in other parts of the country might be protesting healthcare and services for immigrants, Cell says people and organizations are extremely supportive in Price Hill. She says one reason might be Santa Maria's rich history of facilitating the integration of immigrants into the community, starting with Italian and Appalachian residents during the 1940s and '50s. The organization doesn't simply provide free services but also advocates and helps individuals navigate the system to help themselves and others. For example, Cell says the Promotoras program is currently offering a free three-day course on diabetes screening.

"We're looking for people to take that class, and in the end they'll get a really nice canvas bag of supplies including a blood pressure cuff and glucose meters and very intensive training about diabetes," she says. "The expectation is that they will screen and help people in the community."

Cell says Bienestar primarily focuses on providing culturally competent health care for the Latino community, but its work translates into the bigger picture of just helping families in need. She says everyone deserves health care and affordable housing. Cell hopes those in need will feel free to stop by one of their four centers located in Price Hill.

"One of the hallmarks of Santa Maria is the buildings are approachable," she says. "We are very professional, but the environment is very casual. Any of our buildings that you walk into, there is always a coffee pot on and there's a phone available and there's always someone there that will talk with you."

For more information about Santa Maria Community Services, call 513-557-2730 or visit