As part of our ongoing series for our 125th birthday this year, Santa Maria has been sharing memories from program participants, volunteers, staff and board members. We conclude our series this month with reflections from Julieta Simms and Tony Simms-Howell, who have served a combined 18 consecutive years on Santa Maria’s Board of Directors. Tony served from 2003-2012, and Julieta retired from the Board of Directors last year after serving since 2013.
Julieta and Tony both grew up in the Republic of Panama. When the Panamanian government was overthrown in 1968, Julieta and Tony, who had just recently wed and were expecting their first child, emigrated to the United States by way of Brooklyn, New York. Tony was working as a Senior Systems Analyst and Julieta was working for Chiquita International, Inc. when Julieta’s employer requested that they relocate to Cincinnati, the home of Chiquita’s national headquarters at the time.
After arriving in Cincinnati, Tony received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Accounting from Union Institute and University, and later became the Commissioner for the Ohio Commission on Hispanic/Latino Affairs where he has served for over 25 years. Julieta has a bachelor’s degree in Labor Studies from SUNY Empire State College and later received her master’s degree in Education from Phoenix College. She has worked as an educator for Cincinnati Public Schools for over ten years.
One of the couple’s first stops in Cincinnati was at Christ Church Cathedral, where they became heavily involved with the parish. Tony first heard about Santa Maria when he began serving on the Ohio Commission on Hispanic/Latino Affairs. There had been instances of violence against Hispanic community members in Price Hill and he wanted to help. Both he and Julieta became involved in supporting the Agency.
Santa Maria’s work with Hispanic families in Price Hill is what initially drew the couple to support the Agency. In the early 2000s, Santa Maria began assisting the rapidly growing Hispanic/Latino community in Price Hill. Julieta and Tony were interested in supporting organizations that provide opportunities that improve quality of life for families and the Hispanic community. The couple quickly got to work attaining grants for Santa Maria through the Cincinnati Police Department and their parish, Christ Church Cathedral. Tony began volunteering for Meals on Wheels program, which called Santa Maria home for over 35 years.
Santa Maria’s Bienestar program, a Hispanic Health Access Initiative, was in its infancy when Tony joined the Board of Directors in 2003. He was proud to be among the board members who created the Bienestar Luncheon, which celebrated Hispanic advocacy and community empowerment. The Luncheon also included a Sister Margarita Brewer Hope Award, presented to exceptional individuals devoted to enhancing health and education options for the Hispanic/Latino population. Through her ministry with the Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati, Sr. Margarita worked to strengthen and empower Greater Cincinnati’s Latino community. Award winners included Rosa-Maria Moreno, Alfonso Cornejo, Marie Kobayashi, Dr. Thomas Holubeck, Mark Witte, Dr. Robert Kahn, Liliana Rojas Guyler, Leo Calderón and S. Patmarie Bernard, SC.
“At Santa Maria, you are dealing with people’s lives. That is what is important to me, that made a difference,” Julieta said. She enjoyed her time on the Board of Santa Maria and appreciated hearing success stories about Santa Maria’s program participants. “We were on the front lines, the battlefield, and knew what is being done for the people,” she said. Tony agreed, “Santa Maria over the years has shown magnificent outcomes for all of the people in need and is an example to other organizations,” he added.
Julieta and Tony have had amazing careers and continue to serve on various Boards and committees. Tony was a founding member of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce USA, African American Chamber of Commerce and the League of United Latin American Citizens. The pair have received numerous awards throughout the nation. In 2013, Bridges for a Just Community named Tony and Julieta Champions of Inclusion for their contributions to the improvement of human relations, inclusion and justice in the community. In addition, Tony was inducted into the Ohio Civil Rights Hall of Fame in 2011 and selected by the Cincinnati Bengals as the Cincinnati recipient of the NFL Hispanic Heritage Leadership Award in 2014.
Both Julieta and Tony have high hopes for the future of Santa Maria as it turns the corner in its 125th year of serving families in Cincinnati. Julieta’s greatest hope is for Santa Maria to one day bring all the programs under one roof in Price Hill. Tony hopes to see Santa Maria’s programs become even more inclusive. “Santa Maria’s legacy needs to be embedded for the future,” he said.
Santa Maria would like to thank Julieta and Tony for all they have done over the years to support the Agency. Their service on the Board of Directors has assisted Santa Maria in building strong families by helping them achieve their goals toward stabilization and self-sufficiency. We look forward to Julieta and Tony’s continued support and involvement with Santa Maria!