By Tina Harper, Administrative Assistant, Pittsburgh Mercy & McAuley Ministries
McAuley Ministries, Pittsburgh Mercy’s grant-making foundation, presented the 2021 Sister Susan Welsh Good Neighbor Award to Ann Adams Simms of the Hill District during an outdoor ceremony on Monday, July 19. Ms. Simms’ family joined her for the presentation and celebration held on Carlow University’s campus in West Oakland, where McAuley Ministries’ office is located.
The Good Neighbor Award was created to honor the legacy of Sister Susan Welsh, RSM, retired president and CEO of Pittsburgh Mercy, and founding and current board member of the McAuley Ministries Foundation. Sister Susan has been a compassionate, friendly, helpful, and willing volunteer, beyond the scope of her leadership responsibilities.
In honor of Sister Susan’s service to Pittsburgh Mercy and her continued works of mercy, the Sister Susan Welsh Good Neighbor Award was created. The award recognizes a resident of the Hill District, Uptown, or West Oakland, the three neighborhoods served by McAuley Ministries, who exemplifies the ideals of a “good neighbor”: willing to devote time, talents, and resources to make their neighborhood a better place to live. The award celebrates an individual resident who is working at the grassroots level to make a positive difference for his or her neighbors and community, beyond their day-to-day work responsibilities.
Ms. Simms was nominated by Emma Lucas-Darby, chairperson of the McAuley Ministries Board of Directors and a long-time resident of the Hill District, and the Rev. Victor J. Grigsby, senior pastor of Central Baptist Church in the Hill District.
“Ms. Simms is approachable, willingly gives her time to community activities, shares her legal knowledge with local residents, and is committed to freeing the Middle Hill community of a rampant drug problem,” said Ms. Lucas-Darby, explaining how Ms. Simms exemplifies the characteristics of a concerned and caring neighbor.
Rev. Grigsby echoed Ms. Lucas-Darby’s characterization of Ms. Simms. “Ms. Simms’ activities have focused on neighborhood improvement from representation of Hill District residents and employment opportunities during construction of the [PPG Paints Arena] arena to her current efforts addressing the tragedies of drug addiction that plague our neighborhood.”
Ms. Simms has been active in the Hill District community, especially addressing issues of public safety. Ms. Simms has witnessed the devastating impact of the drug sales, overdoses, injections of overdose reversal medication, and deaths on the street. And, in response, she has been consistent in her efforts to address drug problems, and to clean up the drug-infested areas around Wylie and Webster avenues and Perry and Elmore streets.
Ms. Simms organized multiple community meetings with residents and elected officials trying to gather support in the fight against the drug activity in her neighborhood. Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, the activity worsened as a party atmosphere was created with food trucks, street parties, and vendors. The mornings following the parties, the streets were covered in litter, food remains, clothing, beer cans and bottles, and other lost items. Things escalated to a point of someone being killed one weekend and shots fired the following weekend.
In July 2020, a community meeting was organized that included elected officials, representatives from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the magistrate, the Station #2 commander, and several concerned residents. Ms. Simms was very vocal about community members and elected officials being more proactive to change these situations. Her efforts resulted in “walk the blocks,” an organized community group interested in taking back their streets.
Ms. Simms is a criminal defense attorney in private practice and a member of the Allegheny County Bar Association for over 35 years.
Rev. Grigsby shares how Ms. Simms applies her professional experience to help those who are vulnerable.
“Attorney Simms has stated often that while the addicts must take responsibility for their actions, they are also victims of the system that has not fully addressed the underground drug industry,” he said. “She has provided legal representation to some of the people who are addicted to drugs and given food to several of them who are extremely frail from the years of drug abuse. This shows her concern for human life.”
Ms. Simms views providing legal representation and assistance to persons who struggle with addiction and substance abuse as another effort for them to address their legal situation and hopefully recover from their addiction.
In addition to her law practice, Ms. Simms volunteers with the NAACP and the Hill District Branch of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh.
During the award presentation, Ms. Simms paraphrased Elie Wiesel, Holocaust survivor and Nobel Peace Prize winner: “Indifference is worse than hate.” Ms. Simms uses that quote as her mission to eradicate the drug activity in her neighborhood.
Marisol Valentin, executive director of McAuley Ministries, shared, “I grew up in a community where neighbors were really the fabric that knit the community together. It has been an honor to meet Ms. Simms and learn of her work, love, and dedication for her community, which has helped to knit and shape Wylie and Webster avenues and Perry and Elmore streets. As best said by Henri J. Nouwen, the discipline of community makes us persons: that is, people who are sounding through to each other. We should through to each other a truth, a beauty, and a love that is greater, fuller, and richer than we ourselves can grasp.”