45 Stories of Peace Neighborhood Center
2016 marks the 45th Anniversary of the founding of Peace Neighborhood Center. In celebration of this milestone, we have put together 45 different stories about the history of the organization and the lives it has touched. Please read them all below!
As we wrap up this project with the 45th Story of Peace, we thought it would be a good idea to look ahead at the future of Peace Neighborhood Center after reflecting on our origins. At their heart, Peace programs are about transformation – the transformation of lives! Over the past 45 years, we have transformed as an organization to meet the needs of our community. These 45 stories have given a glimpse into the transformative role Peace has played in the lives of the thousands of people we have had the pleasure to get to know over the years.
The full story is rich and beyond measure. It has been supported by too many individuals, groups, families, businesses and congregations to name them all, but every one of them have been a part of an outstanding example of transformation and change. Peace came into existence from the commitment of neighbors to look to each other for understanding and not fear. We have grown to become a community center with programs and services that provide wraparound assistance to children and families with the end goal of changing lives for generations. We have been proactive in addressing emerging social and economic needs of the youth and families we are committed to serve. We developed job placement programs when auto plants shut down in the 70’s, Substance Abuse recovery programs and services during the crack cocaine epidemic in the 80’s, and breakfast programs in the 90’s when there was no school program. We added college prep and transitional housing programs to meet emerging needs in this millennium and we continue to be committed to change, growth, and transformation!
Our belief in the greatness of the people we have served and our community has not changed in these 45 years. The Peace Family will be here to address other emerging social and economic issues that our brothers and sisters will face and will be working diligently to bring about the day that we will no longer be needed.
Thanks for reading and for supporting Peace Neighborhood Center. We could not do it without you!
Current Peace Board Member Rhonda Walker has been involved with Peace all of her life. Beginning with her mother Mary and continuing with Rhonda’s children Bryce and Terra, Peace has been an important part of the lives of all the family members across several generations. Asked about Peace, Rhonda remarks, “Peace is a safe house. It is a place to go for a helping hand that has really changed my life for the better.”
Rhonda’s mother, Mary Young, grew up among the cotton fields of Tennessee before moving to Ann Arbor in the late 70s to pursue a better life for her and her children. Getting a job at the post office, Mary worked long hours to provide for her family. In the early 80s, she got to know Rose Martin and started to send her children to Peace Neighborhood Center. Rhonda remembers all of the fun trips and important academic help she received. She also remembers that Rose helped her out with one of her first jobs. “I couldn’t really type, but I told Rose I could. She had me type up letters for her. I couldn’t have been more than ten-years-old. I probably wasted more paper than we were able to use, but Rose kept using me and encouraging me to do better. She really made me feel that if she could do it, I could do it, and that has inspired me all of my life.”
As Rhonda became a woman with children of her own, she found herself in a difficult spot following a divorce. On her own with two kids, Rhonda became one of the first residents of the Peace House Transitional Living Center. “Peace House was terrific. It was a shelter, but it didn’t really feel like it, and it gave me the opportunity to get back on my feet after the divorce and keep my kids on the right track.”
Bryce, Rhonda’s oldest, is currently playing football for Grand Valley State University on a full ride football scholarship thanks to Kenya Jackson and the Peace College Prep program where he maintains a 3.4 GPA. “Paul Johnson mentored him throughout his childhood and Kenya helped him navigate everything involved with applying for college. Peace really is a big part of him becoming the successful young man he is today. “
Rhonda’s daughter Terra is entering ninth grade at Skyline High School this fall and is doing well in school. She spent her summer as a Counselor in Training at Peace’s Summer Day Camp. Rhonda’s mom, Mary is doing well, too. After raising her children, a few grandchildren and a successful retirement with over 30 years at USPS, she graduated with an Associate’s in applied science from Washtenaw Community College in 2015 at the age of 70. It is generational stories like this that make us proud to be a part of the legacy of Rose Martin and the many lives she touched.
Len and his family of five had fallen on hard times. His consultant business had dried up. The bills were piled high. The IRS demanded payment and soon the family home was gone. Proud and having been taught not to ask for help, Len pushed on and took his family through a difficult time sharing a small hotel room. Finally, with all other options seemingly exhausted, Len knew it was time to swallow his pride and seek assistance. His daughter kept telling him about Bonnie and Peace Neighborhood Center. Len finally made a call, and shortly thereafter, he and his family took their first steps toward a new beginning as residents of the Peace House Transitional Housing Center.
Working with Bonnie weekly on their action plan and budget, Len’s family has enjoyed privacy and peace of mind for the first time in years. In addition to housing, Peace has helped them with gas for their vehicles, food for their table and put them in contact with the U of M Law School who helped to finally put to rest their IRS tax issues. Most importantly, the family has managed to stay together and form even stronger bonds despite their difficult circumstances. Len credits Peace with this. “I don’t know where we’d be without Peace,” he said. “Throughout, we were always alone. We aren’t alone here at Peace. It has really opened up a door to reflect and rebuild.”
The road to self-sufficiency has been a difficult one. With much of Len’s income going toward the IRS issue, the family began to depend very heavily on his oldest son. To his credit, this young man put his family first as he worked long hours to help get them back on their feet. He has been pre-approved for a mortgage and the family plans to move out of Peace House in the next few months thanks to his hard work. “It has been humbling,” Len says. “But working with Bonnie and doing weekly counseling, we really have become a closer, stronger family. There is a light at the end of the tunnel.”
Since it opened in 2009, this is just one example of what the Peace House has allowed Peace staff to do while working with families. Sometimes, circumstances arise that don’t offer much in the way of options in order to keep a family together and on the path to future success. Thankfully, Peace House gives us the flexibility to help families like Len’s the best way we know how. As they prepare for the next step of their journey, we are happy we could be here in their time of need.
In the late 1970s, Sue Muir started as the parish administrator for Bethlehem United Church of Christ. As a part of the outreach program at Bethlehem, she soon became involved with Rose Martin and Peace Neighborhood Center as she organized volunteer groups and helping out with special needs at the center. Meanwhile, Roy Muir became involved with Peace when his children started going to Haisley Elementary and he took notice of the support programs Peace was conducting for students at the school. It wasn’t long after he was introduced to Rose that Roy found himself engaged in conducting a feasibility study for the capital campaign to construct a new building to house Peace. It was determined that there was some work to do to get Peace ready for such a big step, and Roy became an integral part of the committee that made it all possible.
After Roy and Sue were married, their mutual love for Peace Neighborhood Center brought them to be involved in many different capacities. “One of the things I have the most fun doing is serving the meals in the after school program,” says Roy. “It is a delight to be around all of these smiling faces.”
“When I think of Peace, I think of all of the people in the community that are served,” remarks Sue. “Helping out with the Friday Food Distribution, it is wonderful to see all of the folks who are helped and to be a part of it,” she continues, referring to the free bread and produce Peace distributes to area families in partnership with Food Gatherers. “There is serious stuff that goes into it, but a lot of laughter, too. I never leave Peace without being uplifted.”
Roy is intimately familiar with the services Peace provides as it has helped his own children and grandchildren overcome some problems over the years. “Rose once sat with me and had one of the most substantive, powerful conversations I’ve ever had in my life with me about the situation,” he recalls. “She cleared my head and gave me a sense of direction. I’ve experienced Peace from just about every dimension, from the board and committees, to volunteering to receiving assistance – it is the single most important nonprofit to us.”
Sue agrees. “We’d like to see more people in the community get to know Peace,” she says. So would we, but we are so very grateful for supporters like Roy and Sue Muir who have kept Peace going for the past 45 years. Thank you!
“It’s where the rubber hits the road,” says Tim Damschroder when asked about Peace Neighborhood Center. “Peace is where people really get help, which makes it easy to support.” Introduced to Peace through his involvement at Zion Lutheran Church back in the late 90s, Tim quickly joined the board of directors during one of the organization’s most transformative periods. During his two terms on the board from 2000 through 2006, Tim helped guide Peace toward its current era, serving as Board President for the last three years of his tenure. Over the course of that period, Tim oversaw the retirement of Rose Martin, the introduction of Bonnie Billups Jr. as Executive Director and the renovation and construction of Peace’s current facility. Tim was also instrumental in securing the funding necessary to renovate Peace’s old building into the Peace House Transitional Housing Center which opened in 2009.
“This place is amazing,” Tim continues. “I remember coming to Awards Night and Rose would be banging on chairs and screaming for all of us to get loud. We were never enthusiastic enough for Rose’s taste, and the more I got to know the organization, the more stories I heard, the more I think she was right.” Since its beginning, Peace has helped over 16,000 individuals. On average, Peace provides services to 300 children with over 6,500 hours of tutoring and 14,000 meals while assisting 400 households to maintain housing every year. “I am proud to have served as a part of that legacy, and that my sons have volunteered and been a part of it, as well.”
“When we were trying to raise funds for the capital campaign to complete the building,” recalls Tim, “I remember I met with a donor at the center. It just so happened that we had a huge rainstorm the night before and we had to throw a big blue tarp over the old roof where it was leaking. There was water dripping through – it was just a mess. She turned to me and said that we must have set it up to look like that, but if we hadn’t then no organization could need the money more than us. Bless her, she did contribute and we did get the building finished.”
That’s just one of the stories Tim can tell about that very important time in Peace’s history, and we are grateful for all of the wonderful supporters who made it possible. We are especially grateful for the role Tim Damschroder played. Thank you, Tim!
Since 1932, the Ann Arbor Thrift Shop has been a vital part of the community providing emergency assistance to individuals in need. In the late 1970s, members of the social service committee at the Thrift Shop started hearing about the work that Rose Martin was doing in the community at Peace Neighborhood Center. They invited Rose to come to committee meeting to find out more. “That was the beginning of a great relationship over the years,” says current Thrift Shop volunteer Kit Steinaway. “From that point on, the Thrift Shop knew that if Peace called for help for a client, we should help them because that client was really getting long-term help.”
The relationship with Rose grew, and she regularly would have Thrift Shop members over to Peace for lunch as she served jambalaya and her famous sweet potato pies. “One time,” recalls Kit, “Rose brought a bunch of those pies over to the Thrift Shop as a thank you for all our help. We turned around and sold them and gave her the money to help a client. She acted mad, but we knew she wasn’t. That was just how the relationship was.”
Over the years, Peace and the Thrift Shop have partnered to assist hundreds of individuals and families facing the possibility of homelessness. Thanks to funds from the Thrift Shop and their willingness to help Peace clients, time and again we have been able to help households avoid eviction and utility shut-offs and weather storms on their way to stable housing. We are proud to serve alongside the Ann Arbor Thrift Shop as a part of Washtenaw County’s social safety net.
Thank you to our friends and partners at Ann Arbor Thrift Shop!
A few days before Thanksgiving in 1988, volunteers based at Zingerman’s Deli borrowed a van and collected 50 pounds of vegetables, bread, milk and eggs from half a dozen grocery stores and restaurants. The food was quickly re-distributed to hot meal programs in Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti and Food Gatherers was born. Nearly three decades later, Food Gatherers exists as Washtenaw County’s primary food bank and an integral part of the network of programs and services that fight the problem of hunger in our community.
Peace Neighborhood Center has been fortunate to partner with Food Gatherers on many projects over the years. As a part of their Carrot Credit program, Peace receives many fresh fruits, vegetables and other goods to supplement our needs for meals in our after school and summer day camp programs. All told, Peace Neighborhood Center serves 14,000 meals each year, and the cost of providing healthy, nutritious meals to all of the young people who depend on it is a significant portion of our overall budget. Thankfully, with Food Gatherers as a partner, this cost is greatly reduced.
In addition to the Carrot Credit program, Peace partners with Food Gatherers as a distribution center for fresh produce, bread and other items every Friday morning during the school year. Over 50 area families each week line up at Peace to fill out their pantries with available food provided by Food Gatherers. “This program helps me supplement what food stamps can’t cover,” said Alice, one of many area residents who have benefitted from the program over the years. “The program has helped a lot,” added Katina, another beneficiary. “My family has access to more nutritional food.”
That is true not just for the hundreds of children and families that Peace Neighborhood Center serves in partnership with Food Gatherers, but of all the countless thousands throughout Washtenaw County that have been served because of Food Gatherers’ many programs and services. Through all of these various programs, Food Gatherers helps to support Peace with over 7,500 pounds of food each year! Thank you, Food Gatherers!
Sometime in the late 1980s, Mary Pryor came to a luncheon at Peace Neighborhood Center and met Rose Martin for the first time. Impressed with the stories Rose told of the services that Peace had been providing to the community, Mary went home and told her husband Millard all about it. Millard, being the businessman that he was, decided to drop by Peace and ask to see its audit. Rose gave him the most recent audit performed by Deloitte. Millard liked what he saw and marveled at how Peace was able to do so much on such a modest budget. While sampling some of Rose’s famous pie, Millard pledge a commitment of annual support from the Pryor Foundation.
That commitment made in the late 1980s continues to this very day. After Mary and Millard, Sr. both passed, the stewardship of the foundation passed to their son Millard, Jr. Even though he lived in Connecticut, Millard, Jr. came to visit Peace Neighborhood Center because he knew it had a special place in his parents’ heart. While the Pryor Foundation mostly supported the arts in Connecticut where the family hailed, Millard, Jr. made sure to follow through on his parents’ wishes and continued to support Peace annually.
After Millard, Jr. passed away, the oversight of the Pryor Foundation fell to the very capable hands of Esther Pryor. In 2012, Esther came out from Connecticut to visit Peace and attend the twelfth annual Thanks for Giving Benefit Dinner as Peace honored the Pryor Foundation with its annual Tribute Award. Along with Pryor Foundation board members Loyal and Judy Bemiller, Esther reaffirmed the longtime commitment of support from the Pryors for years to come.
Rose Martin passed away just a few short months later. However, the work Peace Neighborhood Center is doing in the community continues today, in no small part because of the dedicated support of the Pryor Foundation. Thank you, loyal friends!
Peace Neighborhood Center is blessed in so many ways to be a part of the community of nonprofits and governmental agencies in Washtenaw County who are on the front line of the fight against poverty and other social issues in our area. A sizable amount of the funding not only for Peace Neighborhood Center, but for a large number of organizations across a wide spectrum of social services throughout Washtenaw County comes from a strategic partnership known as the Coordinated Funders of Washtenaw County.
Formed in 2011, the Coordinated Funders is made up of a group of some of the county’s most prominent funding sources including the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation (AAACF), the Office of Community and Economic Development (OCED), the United Way of Washtenaw County (UWWC), the RNR Foundation and Saint Joseph Mercy Ann Arbor. Together, these organizations have committed over 5 million dollars annually to benefit over 50 local nonprofits address the needs of everyone in our community. Targeting specific priority areas such as Aging, Housing & Homelessness, Health & Nutrition, Early Childhood and School-Aged Youth, the Coordinated Funders are providing the much needed fuel for the engines of social change in Washtenaw County.
Since receiving a grant through the initial offering in 2011, Peace Neighborhood Center’s Alternatives for Youth After School Program for middle-school students has benefitted greatly every year from this unique and powerful partnership. Thanks to the Coordinated Funders, Peace has been able to serve more children in this program and to provide better quality service to all those enrolled. Peace does not do what it does in a vacuum, and we want all of our friends and partners at these area organizations to know just how thankful we are for their support – and the support of their donors.
Thank you, Coordinated Funders of Washtenaw County!
Back in the mid-1970s, Barb Meadows worked as the school social worker for Lawton Elementary, Dicken Elementary and Slauson Middle School. As she met with the many families in need at these schools, Barb began to take notice of the role Peace Neighborhood Center was playing in so many lives in the community. “The need was great,” she says. “Many of the children who would come into my office were hungry. The drug problem back then was very bad and it affected a lot of families who just weren’t able to support these children. I would stock my office with peanut butter and crackers and would take parents out to the grocery store on occasion, but there was only so much I could do. I kept hearing stories about Peace Neighborhood Center and what they were doing to help.”
Barb soon met Rose Martin and was impressed with how involved she was in making sure that these families were supported. “Rose would make these big meals and hand out awards to people who were bettering themselves,” Barb recalls. “She called it Awards Night and so many people were inspired to improve themselves, to try to be honored at Awards Night. Rose really understood that people can change with the right support – if you aren’t always tearing them down.”
Barb became a board member at Peace in the early 80s and helped steer the organization to reach more and more families. In 1994, Barb retired from the Ann Arbor Public Schools. Throughout her dedicated career, she continued to reach out to children and families in need, both in partnership with Peace Neighborhood Center and on her own. “I learned early on that a little respect goes a long way,” she says. “I would always address my students as ‘Mister’. For some of them, that might have been the most respect they ever received. One day a few years ago, I had a young man approach me and tell me ‘thank you’ for saving his life. He didn’t elaborate and walked away before I could ask him who he was, but he could have been one of many children over the years and that makes me feel good.”
It makes us feel good, too. Thank you, Barb, for your many years of service to the community!
Marcia Alter was fresh out of grad school in 1978 when Rose Martin hired her as half-time Youth Program Manager. Marcia confesses, “I was so inexperienced. But Rose’s management style, to inform, inspire and instill confidence was a great role model for me.” In a short time, after seeing people transform their lives, Marcia knew Peace was a special place. “I got lucky,” Marcia says. “Like everyone at Peace, I thrived. Once you walk through those doors, you are a part of the Peace family, you are safe, respected and loved.”
Together, Rose, Betsy Barlow and Marcia wrote the grant that funded the first 3 years of the Alternatives for Youth program. That program is still going strong 35 years later! In 1983, Marcia left Peace to venture out on her own. Then, in 1992, Peace had challenges threatening it’s very existence. By this time, Marcia had gained teaching, sales and administrative experience. She returned as a determined volunteer becoming Peace’s first Director of Development. “The public needed to know the valuable contributions Peace made to our community.” Roy Muir and a host of other committed professionals including, Leroy Cappaert, mentored Marcia. After several years of intensely hard work, she, Rose, Bonnie Billups Jr., the Board, Advisory Council and staff positioned Peace to launch a capital campaign. “That’s just when I jumped ship and moved to California. Roddy Wares was the perfect successor. Everyone, especially our committed donors, made it all happen!”
“I’ve lived in California for 18 years now and Peace remains the highest quality, most effective social service agency I’ve ever known. Peace’s “wrap-around” services, addressing the whole family, are unique. Peace remains true in its commitment to understanding how to help people help themselves to become productive and self supporting.” Ever the fundraiser, Marcia intends to support Peace in perpetuity and has willed a portion of her estate to the Peace Endowment fund. She hopes you will do the same!
All five siblings of the Stephens family have been attending Peace Neighborhood Center’s summer programs for most of their lives. This year, elementary-aged brothers James and Darnell attend Summer Day Camp while middle-school sisters Breyana and Calah attend Leadership Development Camp and ninth grader Cianna attends the Ninth Grade Academy. Gathering all five together to talk about their experiences, they could all agree on one thing: Peace is a family. “Everyone here comes together and creates a bond,” says Calah. “We’re one happy family that has a lot of fun.”
Living in Ypsilanti, the five do not attend Peace programs during the school year, but look forward to their time at the various camps every summer. “The first time I ever went to a lake was here at Peace,” says Breyana. “Now that I’m in Leadership Development Camp, now I am going on college tours and still seeing things for the first time.” Her sister Calah agrees, though she does note the difference between the elementary and middle school programs. “Summer Day Camp was so loose,” she says. “LDC is a lot more work and a lot more about going to college. It’s fun, too, though. I really liked building stuff at the architecture school.”
Ninth grader Cianna is also enjoying her time in the Ninth Grade Academy. “There is a lot more responsibility as a ninth grader,” she says. “I’m learning a lot about how to help kids younger than me and to get ready for bigger things in life.” We sure are glad to hear that, because in the end, that is the goal!
Former board member Larry O’Connell has been a part of the Peace Family since his kids were in elementary school years ago. “I constantly saw the Peace van at Haisley. As my kids were growing up, I saw what good Peace did in the community,” Larry recalls. After learning a little more, he told Rose Martin he would like to volunteer at Peace and he very soon found himself installed on the board of directors.
“My first exposure was when we were in the little Peace House. Every board meeting was exciting with Rose around. Shortly after I joined, we made the decision to build the new building. I joined the capital campaign committee and we were so busy; it was a very active committee.” Thanks to volunteer community leaders and donors like Larry, Peace now enjoys a fantastic facility for all of its programs. Now, Larry appreciates watching the growth and development of a community center that has been near and dear to him for almost twenty years. “Over the years, Peace has remained the same in a lot of ways, but also bigger, better and more professional. Peace has never lost that personal touch. Each person is important. The goal still is to work with individual people and see if we can get them all the way through.”
Larry remains an integral part of the Peace family as a consistent donor. He says, “If you have attended a Thanks for Giving dinner, you see the Peace families who’ve gone to college and gotten jobs and the generations who have benefited. It’s a very powerful thing to see firsthand. You see tutoring help and how Bonnie interacts with the kids. You see it in individuals. Some organizations focus on big things like diseases or building hospitals, but with Peace, it’s all about individual people and how to impact very specific individuals – and the impact they have is huge. Peace is a big part of everything in our family. I see the work Peace does in the community, and nobody does work like that – nobody does anything close. It is a very unique place – and I want to be a part of it.”
Sisters DaShayla and Diamond started coming to Peace Neighborhood Center’s Youth Services over a decade ago. Starting from the time DaShayla was seven and Diamond was 8, the girls have been involved in every aspect of Peace’s comprehensive youth programs. As elementary students living in the Pine Lake public housing site, they rode on the Peace bus after school to the REACH program and back home again at night. As they grew up and moved to Woodchase, they stayed involved in the Alternatives for Youth after school program for middle schoolers. When they got to high school, they became a part of the College & Career Prep Club as they explored their options for what to do after graduation. All along, the girls came to Peace’s summer programs every year, starting in Summer Day Camp for elementary before moving on to the Leadership Development Camp for middle schoolers. For the past few summers, both girls have been a part of the Peace summer staff as camp counselors.
This year, DaShayla is heading into her senior year of high school and Diamond has just graduated. Both girls praise Peace for its help in their education. “It really has helped me improve my grades,” said DaShayla. “Both my reading and math skills are better because of Peace.”
“Peace helped me to take school seriously,” said Diamond. “I would skip my homework and just not care about classes. The Peace staff and my tutors helped me change that to do better in school and graduate.”
Reflecting on their time as camp counselors in Summer Day Camp, DaShayla said, “This experience has taught me to have more patience with the younger kids and has made me want to help them more.” Diamond gave Peace credit for something else, too. “It has helped me to smile more,” she said.
That might be the most important thing Peace can do!
Ella Olive came to Peace to fill the Office Manager role in 1998. With a background spanning time at a local credit union, U of M Hospital and the library, Ella brought with her the know-how to keep things functioning smoothly on a day-to-day basis for Peace’s employees. Unlike those previous workplaces, though, Ella soon found herself much more involved in the services Peace provides than her initial job description would suggest. “Rose was always helping somebody,” Ella recalls. “When you have all of these people calling in, pretty soon I was doing more and more.”
Very early on, in addition to her duties handling payroll, accounts receivable and all the other tasks involved in running the office, Ella took over handling many of the intake phone calls for individuals seeking emergency assistance to prevent eviction or utility shut-offs. As those clients would call back to check on their cases, Ella would form relationships with them. Soon, she began to act as a case manager for many of them. She would discuss their case with Rose and Bonnie and then advocate on the client’s behalf with other agencies in town. “Peace really is a close-knit family,” she says. “The longer you’re here and the more you get to know people, the more you look out for one another.”
Over the years, Ella has become Peace’s primary liaison with many of these organizations, including the Ann Arbor Thrift Shop, Friends in Deed and Kiwanis. She has served on the board of Girls Group and currently sits on the board of Washtenaw Camp Placement. All of these organizations have helped many Peace clients over the years and Ella has been involved in some way with most of them. Ella is proud to have served in this capacity. “Peace is a big part of growing up for people in this community,” she says. “This is where kids – and their families – learn a lot of their skills for life. I hope Peace is still doing what it does for even more people in the next 45 years.”
Thank you, Ella, for your help in making Peace what it is today!
Austin Sarns is noted as a leader among the after school tutors at Peace Neighborhood Center. That is excellent praise for anyone, particularly someone just getting ready to start high school. Austin has spent one afternoon a week during his 7th and 8th grade years tutoring first and second graders after school at Peace. He says, “It is nice to help kids with their homework. It is good to see them succeed in the classroom and hear how they did when I see them the next the week. I always try to find time to come here and help.”
When he comes to tutor, the Center is bustling with activity. He comments, “I make sure they stay focused. Most of time they already are focused because they want to learn and get better at their school work. I help with daily homework if they have questions, then we read for 15 minutes or so and I help with words.”
Starting high school in the fall, Austin plans to continue tutoring at Peace. An avid soccer player and sports fan, Austin has bigger ideas for Peace as well: he is interested in running a soccer program for kids at Peace to introduce them to the sport and help teach teamwork.
Tutors at Peace Neighborhood Center are a critical component of the volunteer team that provides services to elementary and middle school youth during the school year. Students like Austin are vital to the academic success of Peace kids and make a real difference in their lives. It makes a difference in Austin’s life as well: “This is a fun place to come. I’m honored to come here and help kids who need it. It is something I like to do to give back. When you volunteer, you see the progress your student makes and how helpful you can be to them. You also serve as a role model, and because of that I try to help as much as I can.”
“It’s a community; it’s a family. That’s what it feels like when we have the dinner together.” Roddy Wares speaks of the annual Thanks for Giving dinner held to celebrate contributors to Peace Neighborhood Center. That Peace family is one Roddy has been a part of for decades, since she was recruited to help out with fundraising at the then fledgling Peace Neighborhood.
“I think Peace should be the model for neighborhoods that struggle economically. Peace is a community center that is multigenerational – grandparents, parents, and kids all can be involved. What gives stability to families is that Peace is a safety net. If a grandmother sees one of her grandkids getting into trouble, she can go to Peace. Peace knows the family, knows the dynamics. When something good happens, that goodness is reverberated through the whole community and the whole family. Peace is small enough and flexible enough to focus on the immediate needs and growth of individuals.”
When Roddy officially left Peace, she laughs when she says, “I felt guilty so my husband joined the board and was there six years and served as board president.” Indeed, Roddy and her husband Al have continued to be vibrant volunteers and activists for Peace in many aspects of their lives.
Over the years, Roddy has seen Peace significantly expand the number of kids they can serve and the direct impact Peace has. She recalls of Rose, “I just saw her save lives. She was there for you 150%.” And that has had a profound effect on her. She shares, “I met a young man through Alpha House who was really struggling. He got involved at Peace and I saw this kid blossom, take on responsibility, and find himself. I saw this over and over. I don’t know how many kids Peace saved. They get support and responsibility, knowing someone is there for them and that they have someone to go to. I see this and feel the need to give to people who have need, it bubbles up for me.”
A grandmother to five, Roddy focuses on kids in her own family these days, in addition to volunteer work at Alpha House, which she helped found. She also finds time to teach a yoga class. Still, she remembers her years working at Peace very fondly: “I was so blessed to work there. I’m a fairly spiritual person, but to be around the spirit there and understand the depth of their spirit and how I see that in action has been amazing. Once I asked Bonnie how he can watch kids struggle to overcome their obstacles and he told me ‘We water the seeds. We can’t determine how they grow.’ It is amazing what they do.”
Nine-year-old Abrar and her 8-year-old brother Ahmed have been coming to Peace’s Youth Services since she was in first grade and he was in kindergarten. Heading into fourth and third grade respectively this fall, the siblings are currently enjoying their time in Summer Day Camp this summer. “I really like the different activities, like the Explorers and Cooking clubs” said Abrar. As a part of those groups, Abrar is visiting many different locations all around Ann Arbor with the Explorers and trying her hand at creating some yummy dishes from scratch under the supervision of our Cooking Club volunteers.
When asked what he likes about Summer Day Camp, Ahmed was not quite as forthcoming as his sister. “Nothing!” he replied in typical boy-like fashion. After getting him to think a little longer, he did finally confide that he liked to play games. “Oh, and going swimming,” he added with a smile.
Both kids are involved not only in Summer Day Camp, but also in the school-year REACH After School Program for Elementary School Youth. As a part of that program, both have seen great improvement in their math grades while working with volunteer tutors. “They really have helped a lot,” said Abrah. “I can do all sorts of problems I couldn’t before.”
That, of course, is the end goal of all of our programs: to help these children succeed in school and ultimately in life. Along the way, you might even get to play games and go swimming.
In one of our previous stories, we spoke about how integral the congregations of Zion Lutheran Church and Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church have been in the formation and continued support of Peace Neighborhood Center. However, these are just two of the many area churches that have contributed to our ongoing effort to break the cycle of poverty in our community. Namely, we would like to thank First Presbyterian Church, Bethlehem United Church of Christ, First Congregational Church, Ann Arbor Friends Meeting, Second Baptist Church, Temple Beth Emeth, Calvary United Methodist Church, Bethel AME Church, Temple Beth Israel, Northside Community Church, Ann Arbor Free Methodist Church and the First Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Ann Arbor for all of their efforts on our behalf over the years.
Donations from all of these vibrant and active religious communities have helped Peace Neighborhood Center to fund and expand its programs to include more children and families. Our Youth Services now provide much more activities for college prep thanks to this support. In addition, these congregations have demonstrated faith in action over and over as volunteers have continuously helped to staff our volunteer tutoring each semester. Many church members regularly volunteer to help with meal preparation for after school programs. During the holidays, we are always amazed at the generosity of these congregations as they help us to serve 300 area families with toys and gift cards.
In so many different ways, Peace could not do what we do without the support of our friends at these congregations and we want every member to know how much their support is appreciated. From the bottom of our hearts, thank you!
Dana Peterson has been coming to summer programs at Peace Neighborhood Center since she was heading into the second grade. At that time, her brother was sick and her mom needed to find some affordable daycare options for Dana. Peace proved to be a great fit, and Dana loved it right from the start. “I remember the first day I came was a Lake Day and everything was fun and loud,” remembers Dana. “We went swimming had a great time. The whole summer was fun.”
After that first summer, Dana did not return to Peace summer programs until she was heading into the sixth grade when she became a part of the Leadership Development Camp for middle schoolers. As a part of LDC, Dana attended a number of workshops aimed at academics and picking out a career. She also got to visit many different parts of the University of Michigan campus. All of that pales in comparison to the fun she remembers. “I remember being absolutely amazed by Paul Johnson’s alter ego Paulelujah,” Dana says, referencing the very flamboyant costume Paul would often don as a part of leading LDC programs. “One day, Paulelujah was up on stage and I turned and Paul was there in the audience with us! I didn’t know at the time that his brother Brian looked just like him. It was a great trick.”
This year, Dana has joined the Peace staff as a Camp Counselor helping to lead a group of students through another great summer of fun. “Peace has taught me so much,” Dana says. “It is humbling and grounding to see so many kids, often times from difficult circumstances come together to have such a great experience. I’m happy to be a part of it as a Camp Counselor again.”
Growing up in Ann Arbor, Amy Pachera knew of Peace Neighborhood Center because of school friends who attended programs. She had an idea of the services they offered and the academic support they provided, but it wasn’t until after college when she became a volunteer tutor herself that she truly began to appreciate the depth of what went into helping each individual child. “I absolutely loved being a tutor and part of the organization’s Special Friend program,” she recalls. “I was amazed at how Peace serves as a stable spot in these kids’ lives and they were able to let their guard down and just be. It was something I was very happy to be a part of.”
After a few years as a tutor in the 90s, Amy had to step back as travel and distance became an issue because of work. After coming back to Ann Arbor and starting a family with her husband Tom, Amy soon found herself back at Peace in a new capacity, this time as a member of the board of directors. Amy quickly became a fundamental member of the fundraising committee, helping to spearhead new initiatives and organize events both big and small. She reached out to friends and connections and helped raise both funds and the organization’s profile throughout the community. In 2011, Amy became president of the board. Under her leadership, Peace found itself gaining more stable financial footing as well as refining its programs to include quality services for more children throughout its after school and summer day camp programs. Recognizing the important need to fully fund Peace’s summer programs, Amy took it upon herself to help organize an annual fundraiser that has allowed Peace to include more youth in summer day camp each year. Even after stepping down from the board once her term expired, Amy continues to assist the organization in many ways, including providing educational summer learning workbooks for students through her work at ThinkStretch.
“What is so special about Peace to me is how everyone comes together for a common goal,” Amy reflects. “An entire community from board members to volunteer tutors to staff members to teachers to police officers to donors – you name it, and they are coming together to help these children and their families achieve success. It is so inspiring to watch all of that come together.” Well, we here at Peace are inspired by you, Amy. Thank you for your efforts on our behalf!
Monty Vincent became involved with Peace Neighborhood Center shortly after coming to Ann Arbor back in the early 1970s. Working for Gelman Sciences at the time, Monty watched as Rose Martin and a group of Peace supporters spread out through the building to use the phones as a part of a telethon fundraiser in 1976. Monty was struck by Rose’s personality and strong presence and soon found himself a supporter of Peace himself.
Over the years, Monty’s friendship with Rose grew and throughout his various positions he regularly helped to employ clients Rose was working with in order to get them back on their feet. Monty was amazed at how involved Rose was in the lives of the individuals she was helping and how good she was in predicting who would be able to turn their lives around. Witnessing these lives change before his very eyes, Monty became very invested in Peace Neighborhood Center and wanted to help take it to the next level. “For me, Peace is a special place that I feel confident in supporting,” he said. “When you give to Peace, you know for a fact that the money is going to help children and families in your community. It’s not going to be spent on something somewhere far away, doing something you have no way to know. It will be helping people who need it right here – and nobody is getting rich off it.”
In the late 1990s, Monty was a part of a group of Peace supporters that explored the possibility of raising the capital necessary to build a new, larger facility to house Peace’s programs. One of the things that was found to be necessary was a new fundraising database and the infrastructure necessary to do the work. This was a significant cost and not something Peace could afford at the time. Monty went ahead and wrote a check to make it possible. Over the next few years, in addition to his other contributions he made sure to provide for all of the marketing costs of the capital campaign so that every dollar others gave would go directly toward the cost of construction. His tireless spirit helped to move the project from a pie-in-the-sky idea to a concrete reality.
In 2003, thanks in large part to Monty overseeing construction and keeping costs low, the beautiful new Home for Peace was built and continues to house our programs in grand fashion. As Monty and his wife Julie bid farewell to Ann Arbor to retire to Mexico, we would like to say thank you for all of your efforts on our behalf. Thank you, Monty!
Mimi Harris first came into the orbit of Rose Martin and Peace Neighborhood Center in June of 1974. Mimi had just finished graduate school and had a job working at Juvenile Court downtown. Earlier that year, Rose and Sally Vinter had started the “Change Program” out of the Ann Arbor Housing Commission to work on issues at the North Maple Estates public housing site. “As a part of that program, Sally had gone to several different governmental and nonprofit agencies in town and begged a piece of staff from each one,” recalled Mimi. “Not many came forth, but Judge O’Brien of Juvenile Court offered his volunteer coordinator and that was me.”
As Mimi describes it, working with Rose and Sally was working with forces of nature. They believed, and were usually correct, that they could overcome all obstacles. That summer, the city had allocated some money for summer youth employment. “I casually mentioned that maybe we could start a drop in childcare and employ the teenage girls and give the moms some time off,” continued Mimi. “I think that was the second time I met with them. ‘Do it’, they said. And so I did. That’s just how things with Rose and Sally went.”
Mimi not only continued to work with Rose once she became the director of Peace Neighborhood Center, but formed a lasting friendship for over four decades. During her time working directly with Peace, Mimi served as the liaison between the organization and the Discovery Center as the daycare opened in the new building on Peace’s grounds. She also served as a board member for many years in the eighties. Mimi recalls with fondness the many Family Nights filled with neighbors and the educational trips used to inspire the children. While she, like all of us, misses Rose terribly, it is gratifying to see her legacy continue to make a difference in the lives of so many in our community. Thank you, Mimi, for your part in making Peace Neighborhood Center what it is today!
Teriana Sharp is a perfect example of the long-term goal of all of Peace Neighborhood Center Youth Services. A 2011 graduate of Eastern Michigan University with a degree in nursing, Teriana has worked as an RN at St. Joseph Mercy Hospital since 2012 and is currently working in the Medical ICU. She is also a great mother to her two young daughters Imani, 5, and Iyana, 2. She has also recently applied to Madonna University to get her Master’s in nursing.
She first came to Peace Neighborhood Center at the age of 9 when her family moved to Ann Arbor from the Lansing area. Starting in Summer Day Camp, Teriana entered the REACH program in the fall before aging into Alternatives for Youth and finally the College/Career Prep Club. Beginning at age 13, she returned to Summer Day Camp as a Camp Counselor for many years helping the students younger than her.
“Peace is just like another family that encourages you to be successful with love and support,” Teriana reflects. “It helps give people the strength to develop themselves and get through college,” something Teriana knows a little about. “It also gives people experiences that stick with you, like when Rose took the girls to Mammoth Caves. That was a great trip and I look forward to taking my girls there someday.”
Teriana is the first of her family to graduate from college, and she has done so despite not having a stable home environment when she was younger. We are incredibly proud of her, and grateful to have been able to play a role in her life!
For the past seven years, Peace Neighborhood Center has been blessed to have Kenya Jackson on staff overseeing many of our programs. Kenya first came to Peace for a job interview in January of 2009 for the Satellite Centers Manager position. She met with Bonnie and Paul who were impressed and hired her shortly afterward. Kenya recognized early on that Peace was not just another workplace. “The relationships that have been formed with the families in the neighborhood are really unique,” she notes. “It’s really remarkable to see these long-term, generational connections pay off as you watch people grow and overcome obstacles.”
Coming as a graduate from the University of Michigan, Kenya’s academic background prepared her for a research-based approach to service delivery. While the organization has very much benefitted from her expertise in this area, her time at Peace also taught her that often one must roll with the punches on an everyday basis. Kenya has proven herself able to do just that time and again, and has helped provide great insight in how best to help strengthen our programs. This is a good thing, since she has been put in charge of so many over the years!
As mentioned, Kenya was initially hired to manage the operations of the satellite centers Peace runs at the North Maple Estates and Maple Meadows public housing sites in partnership with the Ann Arbor Housing Commission. Early on, though, her growing relationships with the families in those neighborhoods took on a life of their own resulting in the formation of a separate program known as the Family Enrichment Program. This program featuring workshops that help parents run stronger households is now a very successful part of everything Peace does and Kenya has been at the forefront of it since its very beginning. Over time, she also has taken over the supervision of the Leadership Development Camp for middle schoolers Peace runs during the summer and the College & Career Prep Club including all of the many college visits Peace organizes each year. In partnership with Food Gatherers, Kenya is the primary manager of the Friday Food Distribution program Peace holds every Friday morning, helping to put fresh produce, bread and other items in the hands of 50 to 60 households each week.
As Peace’s jack-of-all-trades, we are so grateful to have Kenya Jackson as a part of our ongoing mission to break the cycle of poverty in our community. Thank you, Kenya!
Talin has been coming to Peace Neighborhood Center’s Youth Services since he first started in the Reach After School Program in kindergarten. Since that time he has come up through the ranks, progressing into the Alternatives For Youth After School Program for middle school students and now joining the ranks of the Ninth Grade Academy in his first year of high school. Along the way, Talin has enjoyed all of the terrific experiences offered by Peace’s Summer Day Camp and Leadership Development Camp each summer. This year, these programs will work together to give 140 Youth the opportunity for new experiences and lasting memories. Unlike in years past, though, this year Talin will cross over to the staff side of things as he takes on the role of a Camp-Counselor-In-Training helping to guide the younger campers on their journey.
For six weeks this summer, children will visit parks, museums, lakes, zoos and many other destinations around Michigan and Ohio while rekindling friendships. They will hone their academic skills and try out new talents in clubs that focus on music, drama, visual art and many others as they explore their world and their own creativity. Through it all, Talin will be there to offer his advice and role model his leadership. “I’m excited to give back,” he said. “Peace is a place that helps everyone and makes you laugh. I’m happy to be a part of it.”
For our part, Peace is excited to support Talin as he moves forward in life. He plans to follow in his older sister’s footsteps and go to college to pursue a degree in either science or math. It is stories like Talin’s that illustrate the end result of our Youth Programs, especially the important Summer Day Camp element.
Dorothy Fillinger remembers a time before Peace Neighborhood Center. Back in the 1960s, Dorothy lived on Patricia Street in the neighborhood when the public housing sites at North Maple Estates and Maple Meadows opened. She watched as the area began to change and she saw the tensions that built up in the community as a result. She also saw the good that the new Peace Neighborhood Center was doing and she decided to be a part of it.
Dorothy joined the young organization as a Board Member in the early 1970s. As a member of Zion Lutheran Church, she was very proud of the work Peace was doing in the location that Zion helped donate. “Everybody was so cooperative,” Dorothy recalled. “I remember Bonnie being a kid here and now he’s the Director. The concerns the neighborhood had then, well, they aren’t concerns today and Peace has a lot to do with that.”
While the racial tensions Dorothy remembers may have receded, there are still issues facing the neighborhood and Dorothy is happy that Peace is around to help the children and families. She recently joined our ongoing volunteer partnership with Zion Lutheran Church to help prepare meals for our Youth Services. We are blessed to have her continue to volunteer her time, as we are with all of our many, many community volunteers. Peace Neighborhood Center could not do what it has done over the past 45 years without dedicated citizens like Dorothy Fillinger championing our cause.
Thank you, Dorothy and thank you to all of our committed neighbors throughout the community!
In 1986, Paul Johnson’s uncle brought him to Peace Neighborhood Center for the first time because he thought the nine-year-old boy needed some direction. Paul’s behavior in elementary school had gotten him into trouble more than once and his uncle didn’t want to see him go down the wrong path. 30 years later, it’s safe to say that he didn’t and Paul says he owes a lot of that to Peace. “Peace is a safe haven,” he explains. “I really feel the most important part about Peace is right there in the name: Peace Neighborhood Center. It really is my center; the place I go to laugh or to cry, to find family and solutions.”
When he first started back in the 80s, Rose Martin asked him what he wanted to do, meaning what he wanted to do in life. Paul answered that he would do anything, meaning he wanted a job. Rose liked this response and she gave him a job stamping paychecks. This would be the first of many responsibilities Paul would have for the organization over the years as he took on different roles helping out in youth programs. After he graduated high school in the 90s, Paul left to attend Southern University in Baton Rouge where he got a Bachelor’s in Education in 1999. He went to work for Kaplan as a School Relationship Coordinator and did some teaching in the Atlanta, Georgia area before becoming a Regional Operations Manager for Edison Schools in Baton Rouge.
Paul’s journey with Peace didn’t end there, though. In 2006, he returned to the organization as Program Director under Bonnie Billups helping to extend services to the next generation of Peace kids. Paul infused programs with his characteristic humor and style leaving lasting memories for the youth still talked about today. During his time as Program Director, Paul was struck by the way Peace opened up possibilities for children. “I remember taking kids out for an overnight camp up in Hell, Michigan and Bonnie told the kids to look up. Most of the kids had never been out in the country before and had never seen so many stars. These kids just sat transfixed watching the heavens and that was sort of symbolic to me. Everything we were doing was trying to open these kids up to the fact that there is a whole big world out there. You just have to look up.”
Paul left the organization in 2014 to return to the Atlanta area where he is a Student Engagement Specialist in the DeKalb County Schools. Since he left, Paul also got married and became a proud father of a son Devin, and a daughter Aniyah. He also became a published author with his book IXI: Rise of the King co-written with his brother Bryan Johnson. Peace is blessed to have shared in his infectious smile for so many years!
Linda Dumas first got involved with Peace Neighborhood Center through our partnership with Girl’s Group back in 2004. Her older daughters were a part of the Girl’s Group services that met weekly at Peace. When her younger daughters were in need of some after school assistance, she got them involved in Peace Youth Services. Her children have benefitted from all of Peace’s youth programs starting with the REACH after school program for elementary youth and progressing into the Alternatives for Youth program for middle schoolers and the Ninth Grade Academy. Every summer the girls were involved in Summer Day Camp, too. Linda has been very impressed with the great academic support her daughters have received, but she is surprised at all of the services she received herself.
As a part of the Family Enrichment Program, Peace helped Linda work through some of the problems she faced as an unemployed single mother of four. While supporting her in her job search efforts, Peace helped her out by obtaining some needed dental work donated by Enspire Dental. After three years of unemployment and struggle, Linda got a job at the Ann Arbor YMCA doing maintenance. This allowed her to pay her subsidized rent and support her children.
After awhile, she applied for a new position at the YMCA in Automated Systems Maintenance for which she didn’t think she was qualified. She worked with Peace staff on her interview skills and got the job despite only having a high-school diploma. Peace’s involvement didn’t end there, though, as soon after, her car broke down requiring a lot of work. Peace helped her find affordable solutions and got her back on the road in order to support her in her new position. Things for her family are much improved and she is now attending Washtenaw Community College to get her Associate’s degree in HVAC with an apprenticeship at the Ann Arbor YMCA soon to follow.
We are so happy and proud of your accomplishments, Linda!
In 1998, 12-year-old Talasha Moore first came into Rose Martin’s orbit in an interesting way: by hiding in her basement. Talasha’s grandmother had passed away a few years earlier and her mother was struggling with addiction. As a part of that struggle, her mom began to attend a meeting of the Bahai faith at Rose’s house. On this occasion, she brought Talasha and her sister Tamescia with her and the girls played with the other children in the basement. When it was time to go, Talasha and Tamescia hid. Life had become difficult at home and they liked being at Rose’s. When they were finally discovered, Rose asked them about their situation and from that moment on, Talasha was a part of the Peace Family.
While Talasha’s family lived in Ypsilanti, she wasn’t able to attend after school programs regularly. However, that didn’t stop Rose from including her in as many ways as she could. She was always calling to inquire about her and involve her in trips and other outings. During the summer, she got involved in Summer Day Camp as a camp counselor-in-training. Before long, she was driving for Rose and doing all sorts of tasks for the Center.
As she progressed through high school, Talasha took full advantage of the newly formed College and Career Prep Club. Bonnie Billups and Paul Johnson helped her through a series of workshops centered on applying for college. Rose took her under her wing and helped her craft several letters for scholarship and grant applications. Eventually, Talasha got accepted to Southern University in Baton Rouge and Peace staff members helped her get all of her financial aid in order to attend.
That fall, Bonnie loaded Talasha up in the van with all of her stuff along with nine younger girls from the College and Career Prep Club. The group drove all the way down to Baton Rouge to get Talasha set up in her dorm and to tour many different universities throughout the south. Her first two weeks at Southern were difficult for her and Talasha called Bonnie nearly every day to ask him to come get her. Bonnie demonstrated some of his patented tough love and staunchly refused. Instead, he encouraged her to stick it out and let her know that Peace would be with her along the way. As time wore on, Talasha did indeed begin to enjoy herself and excel in college. Peace helped her with some of her out-of-state fees, books, summer class tuition and occasional care packages in the mail.
In 2010, she graduated with a bachelor’s before returning to Michigan to earn her Master’s in Rehabilitation Counseling from Wayne State. Talasha now works for Avalon Housing as a Support Services Manager where she assists individuals in need at the shelter and throughout Washtenaw County. She is very happy to be back in the community and doing her part to help others in the footsteps of Rose Martin.
Raylan Holman was in kindergarten in 1976 when he first got on the Peace Neighborhood Center bus to come to youth programs. Throughout elementary and into middle school, he came to view Peace as a safe haven. Rose and the rest of the staff cared about him and everyone who attended programs. They cared about what he had to eat. They cared about his behavior in school. They cared about his grades and who he was hanging out with. In every way, Peace was like a second home.
As he grew older, Raylan became involved in football and came to programs less. However, after he graduated from high school, he became a volunteer and began to help the younger kids. Raylan helped with everything from shopping for after school meals to tutoring young people. After he got his chauffer’s license, he started doing pick-ups and drop-offs at the area schools and houses. In 1995, he accompanied current Executive Director Bonnie Billups with a number of young men to the first Million Man March in Washington, DC. Raylan felt very proud to be a part of the Peace Neighborhood team. It forced him to become a role model for all of the young people he was working with and he feels this really changed his outlook. Ultimately, he credits his time at Peace with making him a better husband and father today.
In 1996, he graduated from Eastern Michigan University with a degree in Health Administration and left Peace to pursue a career at John Hopkins Cardiology in Maryland. Over time, he went on to receive an MBA from the University of Phoenix in Columbia, Maryland while working for the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore. Since then, he has moved to Florida to become a grants administrator for Lutheran Services of Florida where he oversees a successful head start and early head start program.
Through it all, Raylan credits Peace with helping him to achieve success. It is his hope that other young people will continue to receive the great care and love that he did along with all of the valuable life lessons. “You should never judge a book by its cover,” said Raylan. “Every Thanksgiving, Rose would take some of us down to the homeless shelters and we would bring folks back to the center for a big meal. One year, I saw one of my classmates there and realized he was homeless. I realized then and there that things aren’t always what they look like on the outside. You have to approach everyone with compassion because you don’t know their struggle.”
Thank you, Raylan, for sharing your memories of Peace and for continuing to be a role model for our kids!
While many know of Peace’s after school programs, one aspect of Peace’s services we provide for the families in our community that might go unnoticed is case management. This important element of our wrap-around programs handles both short-term crisis intervention as well as helping families reach long-term goals over time. When it comes to Peace’s unique relationship with the families in the Maple Meadows public housing site, this duty primarily falls on the shoulders of Case Manager Elanda Curry.
Elanda first started with Peace Neighborhood Center back in 1976. From the age of four until she was nine, her family lived in Maple Meadows and Elanda attended after school programs at Peace on a regular basis. Even after her family moved across town, she stayed regularly involved at the center. One day, the phone rang and a ten-year-old Elanda answered it as professionally as she knew how. On the other end of the phone was a judge calling for Rose Martin. When Rose picked up, the judge inquired about the young lady who had answered the phone so that he could compliment Rose on her professionalism. When Rose finished her conversation, she hired Elanda on the spot as a receptionist, a job Elanda held until she was 14.
This is something Elanda feels speaks to what Peace means to the families in our community. “There is a great level of compassion here,” she said. “Peace will take a chance and hire a child, even a problem child and that confidence boost to that young person might be the thing that changes their life.”
After graduating from Pioneer High School, Elanda went on to get a degree in social work from Eastern Michigan University. Three years ago, she came back to Peace Neighborhood Center as a Case Manager. While the role is not easy, Elanda feels her experience of having lived in Maple Meadows has made it easier for her to communicate with the families living there. “It helps them to relate better,” she said. “Every family is a unique situation. Here at Peace, they are not just numbers, but people, and we have to talk to every one of them to find out what it is they need.”
Thank you, Elanda, for your caring service to our families!
Our thirteenth story is an update on story #9 as we celebrate with Peace Family member Charde. On Tuesday, March 29th, 2016 at Skyline High School, Charde officially signed her letter of commitment with the University of Michigan where she will attend this fall. Charde will be receiving a full scholarship from U of M Athletics to join the Women’s Track and Field Team for shotput and discus. She doesn’t plan on stopping there as she eyes law school after receiving her Bachelor’s. We could not be prouder. Congratulations, Charde!
As we move along with our 45 Stories of Peace Neighborhood Center, we have to mention our longstanding relationship with the University of Michigan School of Social Work and the amazing social work interns Peace has enjoyed from so many universities over the years. Beginning in the 1990s, Peace became a field placement site for students involved in the Master’s of Social Work program at U of M. Since then, Peace has involved students from all over, including Eastern Michigan University, Washtenaw Community College, Concordia University, Ferris State University and even international students from all over the world. This important part of social work education takes students outside of the theory learned in the classroom and into practical real-world application of their studies. It also has served as an invaluable resource for Peace in providing effective programs that benefit from the energy and enthusiasm of the students.
Terri Strom first came to Peace Neighborhood Center in 1999 as an intern doing her field placement work as a social work student at the University of Michigan. She shined in her time as an intern and was hired as a staff member after graduating in 2000. In addition to her role as Peace’s Child Services Coordinator, Terri took over the role of Field Placement Supervisor for all of our interns in 2008. Even though she left Michigan to return to her home state of Minnesota in August of 2015, Terri continues to consult for Peace as the Field Placement Supervisor for our interns.
Reflecting on her time at Peace, Terri was reminded of something Rose Martin would always say to her: “You are blessed and highly favored.” Rose was usually referring to Terri’s three beautiful children when saying this, but Terri feels as though the statement applies to all aspects of her time at Peace Neighborhood Center. In fact, it applies to everyone who walks through the doors at Peace, whether they are a client, a supporter, a staff person or an intern. Every single member of the Peace Family is blessed and highly favored.
And we at Peace are blessed and highly favored to have all of these wonderful interns every semester to help make our programs as impactful as possible. Thank you to all of our partners at all of the universities we work with and to all of our interns past and present!
When Marcus first came to Peace programs, he was suffering from a number of issues that were collectively contributing to his poor academic performance. This was not his fault. He simply did not have the support structure necessary for healthy development. Despite that, though, Marcus is an exceptional young man with an extraordinary work ethic and a drive to succeed.
Marcus came to Peace from a dysfunctional household that was thoroughly impeding his academic progress. His father was incarcerated. His mother was unreliable and suffering from substance abuse issues. His older brother was also entangled in substance abuse. This put Marcus in the difficult position of attempting to raise his younger brother and sister at the age of 12. He was even skipping school at times to try to get his younger siblings ready and on their way to their schools.
Ann Arbor Public Schools and Child Protective Services both eventually took notice of the situation and began to seek ways to intervene. Part of that process involved getting Marcus enrolled in Peace Neighborhood Center Youth Services. While Peace got him into our Alternatives for Youth after school program for middle school youth, we also attempted to address his home life and advocate on his behalf with school officials and his case manager with Child Protective Services. Peace saw to his transportation issues as well as those of his siblings and involved the help of a neighbor to keep an eye on the family.
While Marcus showed improvement academically, his home situation continued to deteriorate to the point where Peace had to get him moved into temporary housing before getting him set up more permanently at his grandmother’s house. While his support structure was still lacking, it is a testament to both his character and intelligence that he brought his grades up during this tumultuous time period. He is now happier and more involved in school than ever before. Now a high school junior, Marcus plans to attend college after graduation and major in business. With the bonds he has formed in Peace Neighborhood Center’s Youth Services, it is our hope that he will continue to succeed.
While this story illustrates some of the extreme situations Peace encounters in the lives of the youth we serve, it is unfortunately not extraordinary. The fact is that these types of stressful home situations are all-too-common among the at-risk youth we serve. Peace has consistently stepped in to fill that void in children’s lives over our 45 year history.
Kevin Hudson first became a part of the Peace Family in 1990 as an undergrad student at Eastern Michigan University. Kevin started as a Program Coordinator for Youth Services that year, serving under the direction of Yusuf Jones and Rose Martin. He was immediately struck by the unique structure of the program—a structure focused on coming together as a community to help everyone just like a big family. While Kevin graduated from Eastern and moved into his graduate studies at the University of Michigan, he assumed the role of therapist for the children at Peace. With a brief stint out in Maryland, Kevin spent the better part of the 1990s helping to improve the lives and futures of the children he worked with at Peace.
In 1999, Kevin left the organization to become a school social worker in the Ypsilanti Public School system. There, he encountered a completely different structure, one that required a very different approach. Over the course of his time there he found that the informal communication and direct relationships that were the cornerstone of Peace’s service delivery was just not something that was possible in the public school setting. The dialogue between formal educators and the parents and students they work with is not one that is open to the same techniques that are so effective at Peace. Where parents would share freely about their children’s issues at Peace, they would be more hesitant with school staff. This was not one big family, and the lack of trust is an issue that Kevin has spent his career finding ways to correct.
After some time, Kevin became the Safe Schools Assistant Principal in Ypsilanti before going to work in the Ann Arbor Public School system as a Class Principal at Pioneer High School where he works today. Kevin has been on the front lines of the effort of bridging the achievement gap in our community that exists in the socioeconomic divide that often goes unnoticed. However, he has not found anything in the public school system that has the effectiveness of a Peace Neighborhood Center to address this issue. He now regularly encounters students at Pioneer who he had as elementary students at Peace years ago and he marvels at how much they have benefitted from Peace programs.
In 2015, Peace was very happy to welcome Kevin back to the organization as a member of the board of directors. Peace’s relationship with Kevin Hudson is a small example of the overall relationship Peace has with the Ann Arbor Public Schools. We truly work together as a team in this community to provide the greatest service we can to our kids. Thank you to Kevin and to all the educators and administrative staff in our schools. We could not do it without you!
Gail first became involved with Peace in 2007, shortly after she and her three children had moved to Ann Arbor from the Jackson area. Struggling with disability issues and having difficulty obtaining full-time employment, Gail was unsure of her next move in life. Driving down the road one day, she just happened to see Peace Neighborhood Center and decided to stop in to inquire about what it was that Peace did.
After speaking with staff members, Gail hurriedly signed her children up for Youth Services. Over the course of the next several years, Peace quickly became a touchstone for her and her family. All three children have been a part of Youth Services for the past nine years, each showing improvement in both grades and behavior. Her daughter Charde will graduate high school in June of this year and was recently the recipient of Peace’s Stellar Student award for carrying a 3.6 GPA. Charde plans to attend the University of Michigan in the fall to continue her track and field career and study Criminal Justice with an eye on attending law school. Gail herself has benefited from Peace’s Family Enrichment Program, enhancing her parenting skills as well as helping empower her to achieve her own employment goals.
Sitting down to recount her experiences, Gail wanted to stress how touched she was that Peace embraced her immediately and without judgment. “I am so in awe of Peace’s ability to help people help themselves,” Gail said. “I think every city should have a Peace Neighborhood Center. Without them, I don’t think my family would have achieved our goals. They have helped develop my children into leaders while supporting me to become a better parent. I have never been around a group of people more genuine or concerned for my well being. It is a blessing to be involved with Peace.”
Over the course of their time with Peace, Gail’s family has benefited from the REACH after school program for elementary youth, the Alternatives for Youth after school program for middle school youth, the Summer Day Camp program, the Leadership Development Camp program, the College & Career Prep Club, the Family Enrichment Program and Peace’s Annual Holiday Toy & Food Drive. Each one of these programs works in tandem with the other services to provide a cohesive and comprehensive web of support for Peace families. It is this holistic approach that has driven Peace’s success over the years.
In 1980, Peace Neighborhood Center received a federal grant from the Office of Juvenile Justice to provide services to adolescents focused on juvenile delinquency prevention. As a part of the grant, Peace was able to bring on-board three VISTA volunteers (Nancy Workman, Larry Walhberg and Ann Romaker) who joined Youth Specialists Tom Militzer and Arnett Chisholm in starting the inaugural year of the Alternatives for Youth after school program. That first year saw Peace offer supportive services, enrichment activities, field trips and career exploration exercises to 40 middle school youth from the surrounding community. These young people were termed “at-risk” due to their socio-economic situation and the problems facing them in their immediate environment. The curriculum of the program was designed to deter drug use, violence and other behavioral issues among these youth, offering each child access to a responsible, caring Youth Specialist counselor. The program saw terrific success almost immediately, with 98% of the youth enrolled in the first two years of the program having no police contact or court referrals. In 1983, Peace received an award for the program from the Office of Juvenile Justice as an Exemplary Project. After the grant, thanks to the overwhelmingly generous support of individual members of the Peace Family and several area organizations such as the Ann Arbor Kiwanis and First Congregational Church, Alternatives for Youth found a way to remain a part of Peace’s Youth Services. In fact, it has found a way each and every year since as it celebrates its 36th year of continuous operation in 2016. While the model has changed over the years to address emerging needs, the program continues to keep assist youth in making good choices. Now under the guidance of Alternatives for Youth Coordinator Leah Logan and with funding from the Coordinated Funders of Washtenaw County, Peace will be serving 65 sixth through ninth graders in the 2016-2017 school year. We expect great things from this current crop of young people, just as we have seen from those who were with us in the very beginning. Alternatives for Youth alumni over the years have gone on to a number of successful career paths. As examples, we have seen them become supervisors in factories, university administrators, medical support staff, IT professionals and business owners. The most common thing we have seen, though, is that they have become middle-class citizens and pillars of their community. It is this that speaks to the overwhelming success of the program and what makes Peace eager to continue to provide this type of programming year-in and year-out.
Since its beginning, Peace Neighborhood Center has always done its best to identify emerging needs in our community and to come up with unique solutions wherever possible. Back in 1992, one such need became apparent with a phone call to Rose Martin from the then principal of Dicken Elementary School. He was concerned about some trouble the school was having with some students from the Maple Meadows housing site. These students were being disruptive on the bus, sleeping in class and generally misbehaving. Rose went down to Maple Meadows and after meeting with some of the families, it was determined that one of the major issues was that the students were not receiving proper breakfasts. Many of the parents residing at Maple Meadows at the time were suffering from rampant drug abuse, leaving their children without enough support. Rose found two very caring members of the community Elmira Collins and Lula Fortson (better known as Miss Tuta) who were interested in trying to help. Rose gave the two women $100 out of her pocket to start a breakfast program. For the first four months, Elmira and Miss Tuta ran the program using card tables in Elmira’s kitchen, offering breakfast to 15 elementary school students each morning. As time wore on, the program began to include middle schoolers and high schoolers snowballing into 30 breakfasts a day. At 5 o’clock each morning, these ladies would rise and prepare a hearty and nutritious meal for each child. They would make sure the kids were dressed appropriately and bathed for school before walking them to the bus. Eventually, the Ann Arbor Housing Commission agreed to allow Peace to oversee the program in a building on-site that became a community center. This all took place before Ann Arbor Public Schools had any breakfast programs of their own, and it met this emerging need head-on. Peace supporters Jack & Jean DiGiuseppe stepped up to help supplement the program, going to the grocery store to supply the food each week. After several years, the school system adopted a breakfast program of its own, but Peace did not forget the importance of having nutritious meals as a part of its Youth Services. Each program the organization runs today incorporates this essential need into its structure, serving over 14,000 meals per year. We want to thank Elmira and Miss Tuta for helping to start this important part of Peace services over 20 years ago. You can’t address a child’s needs if they are hungry. That must come first, and here at Peace it always will.
In 1975, Peace Neighborhood Center became a formal nonprofit organization, solidifying its place in our community. It was also in 1975 that a life-long friendship was formed between Rose Martin and Peace Family member Mary Watkins. At that time, Mary was a teacher at Abbott Elementary School teaching second grade. Living in the area, she had been involved with Project Neighborhood and had a real interest in helping the children in the community. Mary had heard about Peace Neighborhood Center and Rose Martin through word of mouth, but it wasn’t until she encountered a student she couldn’t reach that she decided it was time to talk to Rose. In Mary’s class that year was a young boy who would not speak. It wasn’t that he couldn’t speak, he just didn’t speak. Mary tried everything she could think of to draw the boy out of his shell, but nothing seemed to work. Eventually, Mary met with Rose Martin to see if this woman she had heard about could help. Rose listened to the situation and immediately told Mary that she needed to visit the boy’s home. Mary had tried speaking with the boy’s mother at school, but Rose cautioned her that the only way to know the boy was to go to his house. Mary followed Rose’s advice and the two visited where the boy was living. It turned out that he was living at his aunt’s house where his mother had fled after a domestic abuse situation. Mary, Rose and the boy’s mother and aunt discussed the situation while he stood listening nearby. They all agreed he was a bright boy, but that he was very shy. They discussed various ways of supporting him at home and how Mary could help in class. The next school day after the visit, the boy came to class and smiled at Mary. He said hello, and from that point on talked regularly. He was no longer afraid of Mary because she had come to his house. She was now like family. It was advice that Mary never forgot, and it has become a philosophy at Peace Neighborhood Center. We are all family here, and you can’t be afraid to talk to your family. We are blessed to have Mary Watkins as a member of that Peace Family along with all of the wonderful teachers we have worked with over the years. Thank you, Mary!
Keeping in mind the history of Project Neighborhood, we will now turn our attention to the founding of Peace Neighborhood Center itself. In answer to the issues that had arisen since the opening of North Maple Estates and Maple Meadows in 1968 and 1969, the formation of a new organization started to come together. In 1971, members of Project Neighborhood, Zion Lutheran Church, Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church and the Interfaith Council of Congregations formed a committee who met at the site of the old Peace Lutheran Church. This committee became known as Peace Neighborhood Center and began to conduct services for children and families under a volunteer board and volunteer director. Ron Gregg of First Baptist Church became the head of the newly formed board and Jan Krohn became the organization’s first volunteer director. The services the organization could provide at the time were limited, as it had no formal budget. For the first few years, Peace primarily provided after school enrichment activities for twenty to thirty children from the immediate surrounding area. It was at this time that Nancy Bogen first got involved with the organization as a Master of Social Work student at the University of Michigan. Nancy spent a great deal of energy advocating on the behalf of Peace Neighborhood Center families to help them receive the aid they needed from the surrounding social safety net. In May of 1974, Nancy was selected to become Peace Neighborhood Center’s first paid director, working with a very modest budget of $24,000 for the total operations of the Center for the year. Services were extended to more families and things began to snowball. After that first year, Nancy found herself exhausted and passed the baton to Linda Solomon, a very energetic volunteer, who served as temporary director. Under Linda, Peace Neighborhood Center formally became a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization in 1975. When it came time to settle on a permanent director, the Peace board hired Rose Martin – and the rest is history. With Rose’s guidance, Peace began to provide substance abuse recovery and other services to adults alongside its other programs. By the time Nancy returned in 1976 to help raise funds for the organization, it had bloomed into an impressive set of services synonymous with Rose herself. While her methods were often unorthodox, Rose’s results spoke for themselves. Families throughout the area were given the individual care and attention they needed to help improve their situation. The long standing mission of Peace Neighborhood Center to break the cycle of generational poverty in our community was born.
In this installment of 45 Stories of Peace Neighborhood Center, we will actually take a look at something that occurred before Peace even came into existence. Peace Neighborhood Center owes its long history of helping children and families in our community to another organization known as Project Neighborhood. Without the efforts of those involved with Project Neighborhood setting the stage for the type of services Peace now provides, it is very doubtful that we would be celebrating this 45th Anniversary milestone this year.
Back in the summer of 1968, racial tensions throughout the country and especially in Southeastern Michigan had resulted in some devastating effects on the region. Most of us are familiar with the riots in Detroit that occurred in 1967. One result of that civil disturbance that might have been lost to time, however, was the opening of the North Maple Estates public housing site in Ann Arbor the following year. As North Maple brought in a significant number of new families, mostly African American, existing residents in the area began to have concerns that what had happened in Detroit was on its way to their backyard.
Some residents, though, did not see only racial differences, but instead saw shared commonalities. These individuals, seeing the children walking to school and playing in the neighborhood merely saw children doing what children do. A few of these resident mothers started to meet over coffee and discuss what positive things could be done to help ease the tension. In the fall of 1968, they formed Project Neighborhood as a social interest group that involved a group of 20 young ladies from the area in activities such as cooking, sewing and art. As the years went by, this began to snowball to include more and more young people (boys, too) in different clubs and activities. Large neighborhood-wide picnics were hosted and the community began to come together.
It was in this climate that Peace Neighborhood Center was born in June of 1971 and we are eternally grateful to Project Neighborhood for paving the way for our beginnings. We would like to thank Mary Ann Pierce, Judy Hanks, Thelma Wallace, Mary Lindquist, Betty Wilson, Shirley Wood, Betty Calvert, Mary Watkins, Annie White and all of the members of Project Neighborhood for getting this very special initiative off of the ground. Thanks also to Bob Pierce who helped fill in the gaps of this part of Peace’s history. We are truly blessed to have such wonderful supporters who have been with us since the very beginning (and even before)!
Before we get too much further into our look at Peace Neighborhood Center over the years, we need to spend some time talking about Rose Martin. Rose Elaine Martin was born June 11th, 1942 in Camden New Jersey, and, like many people born in New Jersey, she never let you forget it. She cherished God, her family and life. Her parents Elwood and Elsie Martin were both deceased by the time she turned ten years of age, leaving her and her siblings orphans. She lived in over 38 different foster homes before she turned nineteen. This did not break her, but taught her, as she was fond of saying. From her book, One Rose Blooming, Rose said, “somewhere along the way, it occurred to me that the only way to live was to treat people like I wish people had treated me, not like they actually had. And when you’ve been abused, kicked around and under-valued as much as I have been, you sure have plenty of time to think about how people should treat each other.”
This became the foundational structure of her life and life’s work. She moved to Ann Arbor in 1971 in search of a new beginning for herself and her two children. Upon arrival, she talked herself into a job working for the City of Ann Arbor at the Ann Arbor Housing Commission as a Tenant Aide. It was there that she got involved with the effort to establish Peace Neighborhood Center. While at the Housing Commission, she created an innovative program called “Operation Education”. This program took low-income children on trips to educational places of interest around the country. Operation Education youth traveled to Mammoth Caves Kentucky, New York City, the Grand Canyon, Chicago, Washington DC, Canada and other places throughout North America. It changed lives! She became the Executive Director of Peace Neighborhood Center in April 1976. This allowed her to launch innovative programs that continued the path of changing many lives. Under her direction, Peace grew to become an iconic and respected community resource.
In 2006, after thirty years of being at the helm of Peace, she retired. However, like Rose often did, she did not do so in a traditional sense. Not soon after leaving Peace, she started a small project that she called Rose’s Good Company. While it was to be a smaller effort that she did in her spare time, like most things Rose worked on, it grew. Rose’s Good Company evolved into a nonprofit organization of its own designed to assist the unemployed, the homeless, dependent children, ex-convicts and recovering addicts.
Unfortunately, Rose passed away on January 22, 2013. While we miss her dearly every day, we are very proud to carry on her legacy of helping those most in need here at Peace Neighborhood Center. Her spirit inspires us and our memories of her keep us striving to do our best. Thank you, Rose, for everything.
For the second installment of our 45 Stories of Peace Neighborhood Center, we are going to rewind the clock a bit to the very beginnings of the organization in order to salute two of our community partners from the very start. In 1971, neighbors in Ann Arbor’s West Side were divided by racial tension. Public housing residents and private homeowners seeking a solution needed a place to meet and discuss commonalities and concerns. Stepping up, Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church and Zion Lutheran Church provided the site of the old Peace Lutheran Church to establish Peace Neighborhood Center as a self-governing, non-profit community center, leasing the land for a rate of one dollar per year – rent that no one ever collected, mind you. Since that time, Peace has expanded its programs to include a wrap-around continuum of services providing assistance to families throughout Ann Arbor and Washtenaw County. However, none of that would be possible without the help of Zion and Trinity in establishing our home in the first place. Once again demonstrating their overwhelming support, the churches then donated the building and land outright to Peace as instrumental partners in the creation of Peace’s new main building in 2003. We would like to send a big thank you out to the current staff and congregations of both Zion Lutheran Church and Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church as well as all of those individuals throughout the years who helped mold these partnerships. Thank you!
For our very first story of our 45 Stories of Peace Neighborhood Center, we would like to shine the spotlight on Bonnie Billups, Jr., a man who has been a part of Peace Neighborhood Center nearly as long as the organization has existed. Bonnie first became involved with Peace as a child enrolled in the agency’s Youth Programs back in the early 1970s. Proving himself to be a reliable and mature young man, Bonnie was hired on as a Program Assistant at Peace in 1976. He continued in that capacity through 1985, helping the agency expand and establish many long-standing services such as Peace’s Summer Day Camp program in 1982. Bonnie left the agency in 1986 to travel to California and pursue a career in music. While in the Los Angeles area, he continued to work in the youth development field as a Youth Lead Specialist at Vista Del Mar Child and Family Services. In 1991, he returned to Ann Arbor and Peace Neighborhood Center as the agency’s Program Director, a role he took on to great success for over 15 years. In 2006, he took over for the retiring Rose Martin as Peace Neighborhood Center’s Executive Director and continues to lead Peace in its role as a pillar of the youth and family service nonprofit community in Washtenaw County. Bonnie is proud to have served the youth and families of Washtenaw County for almost 40 years and to lead Peace Neighborhood Center into its fifth decade of its longstanding mission to break the cycle of poverty in our community. He is also very happy to get this story out of the way and to shift the focus onto other members of the Peace Family as we move forward.