In October 1977, Blair Schoen had just finished a stint as a Volunteers In Service To America (VISTA) worker doing community organizing in the East End. She had a toddler at home and wanted to work as an advocate for adolescents. She had lost her younger sister to a drug overdose and wanted to do what she could for other teenagers who were facing similar troubles. That November, she began working at Santa Maria Community Services in Lower Price Hill.
Beginning her career at Santa Maria as a youth worker, Blair had a caseload of about 30 young women. From there, she became a Youth Organizer and eventually the Center Director and Supervisor at the Lower Price Hill Family Center. Blair was inspired by helping teenagers realize their leadership potential. She was so proud when some of the teens she guided created “The Eighth and State Community Update,” a newsletter about the neighborhood. The newsletter featured “Reverend Fred Speaks Out” by Fred Hoeweler, Blair’s first supervisor at Santa Maria.
Blair’s current supervisor, H.A. Musser, Jr., President and CEO of Santa Maria said, “Blair Schoen has been my colleague and advisor for nearly 37 of her 43+ years at Santa Maria. We owe much of Santa Maria’s success in recent decades to the leadership and guidance she has given to all of our programs. Blair has demonstrated the heart and determination that has helped countless thousands of families both directly and indirectly. Blair’s work has strengthened Santa Maria Community Services and the Price Hill community.” Long-time board member, Maureen Maxfield agrees. She wrote to Blair, “You are the face of flexibility, of thinking what if. Always keeping the impact on those served foremost in everything. A staunch advocate for those who are economically underserved, a mentor and coach for so many who have learned and grown because of you. You faithfully witness to the founding mission and the current mission.”
Blair recalls one client, in particular, with whom she formed a bond early on. Blair first met Sheila when she picked her up from a runaway shelter. “It was the beginning of a very long relationship,” Blair said. Sheila was in an abusive relationship that would follow her for years. In the midst of the chaos created by that relationship, Sheila was still able to successfully raise three children. Sheila also helped her peers strengthen themselves in Santa Maria’s Teens Helping Teens Group. Sheila suffered humiliation and near death from her abuser, but was finally able to break free, get her General Educational Development (GED) certificate and later her associate’s degree. Sheila went on to be a valuable staff member at Santa Maria, making herself an advocate for Greater Price Hill families to attain their educational, financial, and health goals. During her time at Santa Maria, Sheila successfully graduated from a Community Health Worker certification training program and became a certified Community Health Worker. Now she devotes herself to caring for others. “I’m so proud of her,” Blair said.
In 1989, Blair became the Vice President and Associate Director of Santa Maria Community Services. Blair reflects on her career, “I’ve been allowed to serve people in the best way possible; to help make changes in the community and in our administration; to live out my values. I never thought I could make this work a mission, but there you go!” Some of her fondest memories of those days were welcoming mothers every Monday to the mother-toddlers group, setting up the Lower Price Hill Appalachian Mini-Festival in the St. Michael’s Bingo Hall with Youth Program Director, Jim Holmstrom, sitting around kitchen tables in the community and supporting youth in juvenile court. Blair also enjoyed the many Price Hill Women’s Health Fairs that were held over the years she was employed with Santa Maria.
Blair cites valuing community as one of Santa Maria’s greatest assets in carrying out the mission. “They encourage creativity,” she said, “valuing each staff member and each person and family we serve.” Blair’s time with Santa Maria has reinforced her belief that there is good in all people. She credited Santa Maria with giving her more confidence and better self-esteem.
“I cannot tell you enough how much the opportunity to work with Santa Maria has meant to me. Each year I am prouder of the mission and the work of Santa Maria. As a social worker, I believe that Santa Maria truly uplifts the community and the individuals and families that live there,” Blair said. She plans to continue to volunteer for Pro Seniors, Healthy Moms and Babes and Santa Maria. She also plans to do more gardening and spend time with family and friends in retirement. She adds that she will miss the clients and all of her coworkers. “I will deeply miss the relationships I have with everyone who has shared my commitment along the way.”