It’s Not Just a House, `It’s Home’: Teens Find Safe Haven and More at Anchor House Program
Marcellus was looking forward to enjoying the prom and graduating from high school, but an argument with his grandmother the week leading up to the big celebration left him worrying about where he was going to live instead.
He had always lived with his grandmother in Piscataway. He didn’t meet his birth mother until 2005, and only saw her one other time a few years after that. His father was in and out of jail.
So when his grandmother kicked him out of the house after a dispute about how he should spend the $100 a relative gave him for the prom, he didn’t know where to turn for help.
“I’ve never been in such an overwhelming situation,” Marcellus says. “It was scary.”
He stayed with a friend for a few days, and then moved in with a cousin. After four months, the cousin told him he had to move out and become independent.
Marcellus explored all his options and found he didn’t have many. He had no job, though he had tried to find one all summer. He tried reaching out to other relatives, but had no luck finding one to help him.
“I was still looking for resources, because I still had hope for my future,” he says.
Then one day while searching for information online, he found out about the Anchorage, a transitional living program in Trenton that provides shelter to homeless young adults ages 18-21 and teaches them to become independent. The Anchorage is run by Anchor House, the only nonprofit in Mercer County that serves abused, neglected and runaway children and teens.
“It was either Job Corps, the Anchorage, or a homeless shelter,” Marcellus says. “I was worried that the Anchorage would be full, or I wouldn’t get in.”
He applied to the program, and two weeks later he was accepted. He moved in to the Anchorage in September of 2013.
The transition took some time to adjust to, but Marcellus adapted quickly.
“It was like an empty hole in me that first night,” he said. “I wanted to be liked by the people.”
He had never lived in a city, though he was used to hearing gunshots and seeing drug dealers on the streets when he visited Plainfield as a kids with his dad. He had to learn to use public transportation and navigate the city on foot. But he loved living at the Anchorage.
“It felt like home. This is my house,” he says. “I was used to being told what to do all the time when I lived with my grandma. But here it’s the opposite. You make your own decisions. You learn to be independent.”
Marcellus got a part-time job at Kohl’s in Hamilton a month after he moved in to the Anchorage. Now the 20-year-old works full-time at the Amazon Warehouse in Robbinsville.
“I knew if I stayed at a part-time job I’d never be able to save enough money to pay rent,” he says. “With a full-time job I get health insurance and other benefits too.”
Working at Amazon means taking a shuttle to work at about 6 a.m. and returning home at about 8 p.m. Marcellus is motivated to continue with the long commute and work hours because he is saving his money to buy a car and rent an apartment in Philadelphia. An animal lover, he dreams of living in an apartment where he can have a dog or two, maybe a poodle and a Labrador.
“I’m always working towards my future,” he says.
He wants to study criminal justice and become a parole officer. His goal is to help others, just like he has been helped.
“I don’t know where I’d be without this program,” he says of the Anchorage. “They teach you how to find a job, budget, and save money. The staff members are patient and you can talk to them about anything and know it will be kept confidential.”
When he first heard about the annual 500-mile Anchor House Ride for Runaways, he was skeptical that so many people would bike such a long distance for the charity.
“I was like 500 miles? You’re joking, right?” he says. “Then I saw all the preparations — all the sports drinks and water and snacks being packed into the truck — and I said wow, this is serious.”
Marcellus joined a large cheering section at Arm & Hammer Park in Trenton at 7 a.m. Saturday to say goodbye and good luck to the 173 cyclists and 36 support crew members who are participating in the 37th annual ride beginning Sunday morning.
The cyclists will pedal 74.4 miles from Oswego, New York to Geneva for day one of the seven-day ride.
“To me means the world that people want to support this agency,” Marcellus says. “I don’t know what I would have done without Anchor House.”
Planet Princeton and Planet Trenton, in partnership with the Trentonian, are the official media sponsors for the 37th 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.