When Annabelle Marie homeschooled her three boys, they traveled each day to San Francisco for circus school. When her oldest son Francisco Cruz was about seven years old, he fell from a pole while doing a monkey hold with three other children, and it terrified him. He refused to go back to class, but for Annabelle, quitting was not an option. For two weeks they drove to class every day and Francisco sat outside until he found the courage to go back on the mat. Today, Francisco is at the top of his field as an acrobat, and a graduate from the National Circus School in Montreal. His younger brother Raphael recently had the leading role in Iris for Cirque du Soleil, and their youngest brother Dominic is also a skilled artist.

Like her boys, the path was never easy for Annabelle as she practiced her way to becoming an accomplished violinist, singer, music educator and the Founding Director of VOENA, the world-renowned children’s choir based here in Benicia.  Although she was born with an affinity for music, she credits her mother for creating a supportive musical environment that included many music lessons and long drives while singing in full harmony with her four siblings. It was her mother who instilled in her what she now calls the VOENA Big Three: to have a hard work ethic, to be self-motivated and to accept the challenge.  “This is the infrastructure for a strong self esteem,” says Annabelle.

“I believe that when you hit your threshold, that’s when it’s time to do whatever it takes to cross it. It’s not always going to feel good,” says Annabelle. “The greats weren’t great because they were born talented or because they were born to sing, dance or write. They were great because they were determined.”

Watch Francisco and Raphael Cruz here.

See more about VOENA at voena.org.