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More Than Just a Shelter: Anchor House Teaches Teens and Young Adults Life Skills

Micheldy Pierre cheers on the cyclists as they leave Trenton.

Terrance Alford didn’t know where to turn after his grandmother passed away.

The teen had been living with her since he was 15, and after her death he had nowhere to go.

“I didn’t know where I would stay from day to day,” he said. “I crashed at friends’ houses and sometimes slept over at my sister’s or aunt’s. I moved from place to place all the time.”

Alford was homeless for five months. His grades slipped because of the situation, and it looked like he might not graduate from Trenton Central High. Then the resourceful teen searched the Web and  learned about Anchor House, the Trenton-based shelter for abused and neglected kids and runaways.

Anchor House runs two programs, the Anchorage and Anchor Line, for teens and young adults that provide them with shelter and teach them to live independently.

With the support of Anchor House, Alford boosted his grades and graduated from high school on time last month. The staff at Anchor House also made sure he  enjoyed the end of high school like other teens do, celebrating his graduation and helping him go the the prom, tuxedo and all. He will attend Mercer County Community College in the fall.

“Living here at the Anchorage for the last three months has changed my personality,” he said. “I used to be mad a lot. I let stuff get to me. I’m not the same person I used to be. A lot of things happened to me here to help me change.”

The 189 cyclists on the 35th annual Anchor house Ride for Runaways will bike 500 miles over the next week to raise money to keep the doors of Anchor House open and help young people like Alford have a better future.

After a sendoff celebration at Arm and Hammer Park in Trenton Saturday morning, the cyclists boarded buses headed for Burlington, Vt., where they will begin their seven-day journey Sunday. The ride raises almost $500,000 a year, more than a third of the annual operating costs for Anchor House programs.

Alford and many of the young people who live at Anchor House were at the sendoff celebration to cheer on the cyclists.

Micheldy Pierre, 21, was attending Mercer County Community College before she came to Anchor House. She was living in a home where there was domestic violence.  She was having trouble concentrating on school work, and constantly felt stressed at home.

Then a friend from school told her about Anchor House. She lived at the Anchorage for a year and a half before moving to the Anchor Line apartment program in September.

“Anchor House taught me how to be independent, and I learned life skills like how to budget my money,” she said. “I was shy when I came here, but I learned to open up to people.”

Pierre attended school while holding down a full-time job at St. Francis Medical Center, and this fall she will transfer to Rutgers University to study biology. She wants to become a physical therapist.

“I love science, especially anatomy and physiology,” she said. “I can’t wait to go to college in the fall.”

Ashanieyan McClinton was placed in her first foster home when she was three years old. She lived in more than a dozen foster homes before she was sent to Anchor House. Her last foster parent exploited her, demanding that she turn over her monthly allowance from the state each month.

In October of 2011, the state Department of Youth and Family Services referred her to Anchor House.

“It was the worst day of my life,” McClinton said. “I didn’t want to be here. The first two weeks were tough, then I got used to it.”

At first Anchor House seemed like jail, she said.

“I was so  used to being on my own, doing what I wanted, when I wanted,  going in and out of the house  when I wanted, without anyone caring what I did. It felt like a loss of freedom at first.”

McClinton enrolled in college and got a job working at McDonalds. Now she lives in the Anchor apartment program and understands that the rules are meant to help the residents.

“Anchor House is a great program. It makes you a better person, and I’d definitely recommend it, ” she said.

Residents of the Anchorage and Anchor Line outside the Anchorage.
Residents of the Anchorage and Anchor Line outside the Anchorage.

Michael Woods, who came to Anchor House in July 0f 2011 at the age of 19 after his mother kicked him out of the house.

“You might think you know how to live on your own, but then you learn there is a whole bunch of stuff you don’t know,” he said. “There are a lot of rules, a lot of things you have to do here like chores, but they teach you how be self-sufficient. You are living with people in the same situation as you are, so there are a lot of disagreements sometimes.”

One of the biggest struggles for Woods and others is finding work. Pierre was laid off from St. Francis Medical Center, and others have had difficulty getting jobs.

Woods began working at Homefront when he was 14, has been a part of the Americorps program, and has worked at the Trenton YMCA. He loves tutoring kids, and likes any kind of work in the social work field helping others.

“I’d love to find work again,” he said. “It’s tough.”

Even after young people leave the program, they still return to Anchor House to check in, receive support, and see old friends.

Jennifer Margentino lived at the Anchorage back in 2007 when she was 19. She had been living with the father of her child, but the relationship didn’t work out. After her mother died suddenly, the Anchor House staff rallied to support her, and the staff and residents all attended her mother’s funeral. Two weeks later her grandmother died, and they supported her through that too.

Now she lives on her own with her son, and has an office job in Pennsylvania. She stops in for a visit to the Anchorage on a regular basis.

“Even after I left they helped me a lot. I could come over and talk about issues I was going through,” she said. “They’ve always been there for me.”

Reporter Krystal Knapp is a cyclist in the 35th annual Anchor House Ride for Runaways. For more information about Anchor House or to make a donation, visit www.anchorhouseride.org, where you can also make online donations in a cyclist’s name. Donations can also be sent to the Anchor House Foundation, P.O. Box 2357, Trenton, NJ 08607-2357.