Isabella, 16, was born and raised on the West Side of Cincinnati in Lower Price Hill – a neighborhood often recognized as unsafe. “Growing up in Lower Price Hill, there’s a lot of gun violence and drug activity around here,” says Isabella. Lower Price Hill also houses Santa Maria Community Services’ Joe Williams Family Center where Santa Maria’s Youth
Development Program takes place. “Coming up to the Center has really helped because you get away from all that,” she adds.
In addition to environmental challenges, Isabella and her family have faced many personal struggles as well. At just eight years old, Isabella’s father passed away. “Growing up fatherless was a challenge,” she says. “It was, financially, a struggle.” The Joe Williams Family Center was a welcoming place for Isabella and children in the area, and still continues to be.
As a child, Isabella was first connected to the Family Center through Youth Development Program Director, Jim Holmstrom. “My dad was in Jim’s youth program group. When I started growing up, I started getting involved with that,” says Isabella. The Family Center offers youth of all ages the opportunity to develop life skills, build character, and participate in healthy recreational activities. “Santa Maria’s been there to help me because they’re understanding,” she explains. “They’re also there to help with homework, school, or if you haven’t eaten that day.”
Isabella says that while all the staff members at the Center have had a positive influence on her, Youth Development Program Coordinator Jessica Polzin has been the most impactful. Isabella has known Jessica for nine years. “Jessica has been there, she drives me home, she talks to me, she takes me places if I need it,” says Isabella. “Love” and “affection” were words she used to describe Jessica and the staff at Santa Maria. She mentions Santa Maria is “affecting my life big time right now cause they’re loving on me and I feel accepted.” Isabella credits Santa Maria and the Joe Williams Family Center with keeping her out of trouble. “If Santa Maria was not in my life I would be on the streets, getting in trouble, or not going to school every day,” she says. “They are like a second family to
In addition to Santa Maria, Isabella’s aunt and step-father have also provided much support in her life. As an adult, Isabella plans to return to Santa Maria as a volunteer. “I want to give kids who are growing up, who are younger than me, the same opportunities I had,” she says. Isabella plans to go to college and study to be a physical therapist and hopes to one day start a family of her own.