Growing up in Kailua, on the windward coast of Oahu, Peggy Kruse exudes all the warmth and happiness and laid-back vibe one would expect of a native Hawaiian.
She has a rich voice and a laugh that will make you drunk with joy – just like a mai tai at sunset.
So perhaps it’s no surprise that Kruse has taken a leading role in spreading her aloha spirit to a neighborhood in southwest Anaheim that is known for gang activity — and the ensuing bloodshed that, tragically, often comes with it.
A few days after a gang-related homicide Aug. 9, 2015 that happened just blocks from the elementary school where Kruse volunteers, the mother of two organized a community meeting for residents and police officers.
The idea: Get residents of the area known as Ariel-Olinda to become more empowered and “take back their neighborhood,” as Kruse puts it.
For years, Kruse says, many area residents have been reluctant to come forward with information to the police or to report suspicious activity in their neighborhood.
Many are undocumented residents.
And many fear reprisals from gangs.
But residents, Kruse says, need to become more accountable for making their neighborhood safer.
They live, after all, practically adjacent to Danbrook Elementary School and Western High School.
For her efforts in strengthening relations between police officers and residents, the Anaheim City Council recognized Kruse, a volunteer at Danbrook Elementary, on Nov. 3, 2015.
Kruse is a member of the Anaheim PD’s Chief’s Neighborhood Advisory Council, a group of community members representing 22 neighborhoods throughout the city that was established in 2013.
The advisory council meets with Chief Raul Quezada and his command staff monthly and is intended to build on the Chief’s Advisory Board, established a decade ago.
About 75 people — residents and police officers — showed up at the community meeting Kruse organized Aug. 12 to discuss crime trends in the neighborhood.
The point of the meeting, and the monthly dinners Kruse later organized with Knott Avenue Christian Church, was to get residents and police on the same page and reduce crime in the neighborhood bound by West Olinda Lane and West Ariel Place.
“My goal is to empower residents with knowledge about how they can make their neighborhoods better, how they can have a better life, and how they make their community better for their children,” Kruse says.
She says a lot of progress has been made in the Ariel-Olinda neighborhood, but more work needs to be done. The area has a highly transient population and is primarily lower income.
“If you see something, say something — that’s what it all comes down to,” Kruse says.
“The main thing I wanted people to understand is that their calls to police matter. No matter how small an issue they think it is, it matters.”
Kruse and her parents and two brothers relocated to Southern California from Hawaii when she was 16. She has lived full time in Anaheim since June 1998 and has been a full-time volunteer at Danbrook Elementary since 2006.
Kruse, who graduated from Western High, now lives with her husband and two children, ages 12 and 14, near Western Avenue and Lincoln Avenue in Anaheim.
She says her faith in God and her aloha spirit make her want to give back to her community.
“The police are not the ones to fear,” Kruse says. “They are our friends.”