Anabel Cruz and Raven Vawters first met thirteen years ago at Peace’s Leadership Development Camp (LDC), our summer program for middle school students. They both have fond memories of their time as teen camp counselors and the skills they learned. Today they both serve as Youth Program Coordinators at Peace and are looking forward to another fun summer at Peace—as colleagues.
How did you first get connected to Peace?
Anabel (second from right): “I first came to Peace’s Summer Day Camp when I was five, the summer before first grade [at Bryant Elementary School]. I spent every summer at Peace. I still remember how much my mother appreciated that Peace was affordable and that I had a safe place to be in the summer, instead of just hanging out in the neighborhood. And she still remembers the first person she met was Bonnie.”
Raven (third from left): “I first came to Peace when I was twelve, as a rising 8th grader for the summer Leadership Development Camp (LDC). My mom learned about Peace when she met Bonnie through Rose Martin. I met Anabel that summer.”
What do you remember most about Peace’s Summer Camp? Any favorite memories?
Anabel: “I have so many memories. I think what sticks with me the most is the trips we took, the clubs I was a part of, and the new relationships I was able to build every summer. I started off pretty shy
since I lived on the other side of Ann Arbor and didn’t know many people. Paul [Johnson] who worked there at the time would announce my name everytime I walked through the doors: ‘Annnaabbeellllll’, which made me feel welcomed . . .that someone noticed and cared that I was there.”
Raven: “The one memory from that first year that always sticks with me was a trust exercise that required all of us to be blindfolded and hold each other’s hands as we travelled [at right]. Staff walked us around inside and outside, and we never let go of each other’s hands. Even when staff jokingly honked one of the van’s horns in the parking lot, we never let go. I think that shows the relationships you get to build during the summer, and that even with people you met just a few weeks ago, you can put your full trust in [them].”
Both Anabel’s and Raven’s first paying job was at Peace as Summer Camp Counselors:
Anabel: “I still remember receiving my very first paycheck ever. Growing up I babysat family members alot. I always knew that most people considered it to be a job, but for me it was something you did to help out family. So when I had the opportunity to attend summer programs at Peace like I did every summer and get paid for it, I was so excited. I was able to learn the basics as well as so many other life skills. Back then, we were in charge of food for camp, ensuring we had everything loaded in the vans that we needed for any off-site trips. It honestly didn’t even feel like we were working. Everyone knew how important it was to get the job done and we had fun working together. At the moment I had no idea I was learning skills that I would continue to use to this day.”
Raven: “My first job at Peace was in the kitchen too. I learned everything about scheduling, tight deadlines, and team work. We prepped all the food for the entire Summer Day Camp, which included breakfast, lunch, and a healthy snack. About 100-150 meals/day Monday-Thursday. We had to prep and pack up all the food and supplies for field trips, and needed to have everything on the Peace Bus ready to go. On Tuesdays, Peace headed to Silver Lake in Chelsea. Once we arrived, we were responsible for unpacking, serving lunch, and cleaning up. Bonnie always grilled the hotdogs. The best part as a staff member, you got your hotdog bun toasted.”
Anabel Cruz attended Washtenaw Community College before earning her BSW at Eastern Michigan University. She taught preschool at the Kindercare Learning Center for a few years before joining Peace’s full-time staff. Raven Vawters earned her BA in Psychology from Cornell College, a small liberal arts college in Iowa. She also earned her ABA (Applied Behavioral Analysis) certification, and worked one-on-one with young children with autism before joining Peace’s full-time staff in 2018.
Anabel is the Youth Program Coordinator for Peace’s two satellite centers at South Maple and West Arbor, where she coordinates Peace’s youth services and hosts community events and activities for kids in their own neighborhood. Peace’s goal and Anabel’s role in these neighborhoods is to create a stronger sense of community, and a safe space for children and families.
Raven is Peace’s Children’s Services Coordinator and helps oversee programs for elementary school kids at Peace’s main center — which includes after-school academic support and enrichment activities.
Both Anabel and Raven cite their experience at Peace as young people, as well as Peace’s family-style approach and unconditional support for youth, as the reason they choose to work at Peace Neighborhood Center.
Anabel (at left): “One of the biggest reasons I chose to study social work is the impact I knew Peace has had on my own life growing up . . .and all that I witnessed here as a young kid. I got to see what social workers did in a different light than most people talk about and saw the difference they make for families. I always knew I wanted to be on the other side of that growing up. There’s a lot of love here, and Peace continues to be a part of my family. The ability to go through the good and bad times together gives much more value to the work that we do here, and I am beyond proud to be a part of it.”
Raven (at right) adds:“I love working with young children and watching them grow. The first grade campers I had as a Summer Day Camp Counselor are now entering 9th grade themselves. . . I’m still here because when we say ‘family’, we mean it. For everyone who comes through our doors, we treat you as part of our family—no matter who you are, now matter where you’re from, no matter what you’ve been through. You are always part of the Peace Family.”