It’s day two of the Anchor House Ride for Runaways and Mereides Delgado’s tush is already sore after spending two days on a bicycle. Even though her legs are a bit stiff and she has some other aches and pains, she is not complaining. Instead she is smiling, laughing, and chatting up the other cyclists.
The encouragement the other cyclists offer has powered her up the hills, along with her motivation for doing the ride, which is never far from her mind.
Delgado is the director of the Anchorage, Anchor House’s transitional living program for young adults ages 18 to 21, and she has worked at Anchor House — the only agency providing shelter to runaway, abused and neglected kids and teens in Mercer County — for eleven years.
The Brown University graduate studied computers and organizational behavior and then worked in the corporate world in New York City before she had an epiphany that she needed a career where she could be helping others. Her pastor in Somerset, Buster Soaries, encouraged her to go to divinity school and she graduated from Princeton Theological Seminary in 1997. She started a doctorate program, but then felt called to work outside the church, and took a job with First Concern, an independent living program in Somerset. When the program closed, she took a job at Anchor House working with young children in the Angels’ Wings program. While she can work with any age group, she felt the pull to work with young adults and is happy to be in her current position working with young adults ages 18 to 21.
“My heart goes out to that age group,” she says. “Younger kids always have that hope that they will find a family that will adopt them. The are also more resilient. But with older teens, this is it. It’s do or die. They are looking at what their futures are going to hold.”
Delgado says it is important that young adults get as many life skills as they can, and build as much of a security net as they can by saving money if they are going to be successful in life. The Anchorage program gives them those skills.
“Some of these kids have never really experienced love. They’ve had so many adults in their lives fail them,” she says. “My job is to really let them know there is someone out there who cares — that there are a whole bunch of people who really care about their future and are willing to do the best for them, willing to do everything to make sure they can put their best foot forward and see their strengths, not just focus on their past, and their upbringing.”
Anchor House focuses on what the kids and teens can do, and how much they’ve come through, she says.
“It’s not about just thinking of them as survivors,” she said. “It’s looking forward, and thinking about how they can move forward with life to be the people God intended them to be.”
Delgado also has four children who are not her biological kids. Her oldest son, now 29, was in an independent living program that closed when he was 17. He was tired of being shuffled around and saying goodbyes all the time, and would have chosen to be homeless rather than being put in another foster home. Delgado decided to as she says, “put my money where my mouth is” and become his foster mom. Since then, she has adopted another other boy who is nine, a girl, now age seven, and is the foster mom to an energetic two-year-old girl she is in the process of adopting.
She was inspired to participate in the Ride for Runaways when an Anchor House colleague, Tannya Hemingway, did the ride several years ago.
“I was really exciting to see her go out for it, do it, and come back. It was monumental to me,” she says. “From that point on I told my friends I wanted to do the ride. I wanted to do it to show my commitment to Anchor House, and it was on my bucket list. But I had no real concept of what goes into it. ”
The hardest part was finding time to train between work and raising three kids under the age of 10. She had to squeeze in training rides whenever she could, sometimes getting in a ride in near her home in Lawrence before work. She used personal days to train, and also rode Saturdays when her mom could babysit.
She credits other cyclists for helping her prepare, especially a group called the Slow Spokes, led by veteran cyclists Tom Imbrigiotta and Rick Squires. They are slow, but steady, and finish the ride each day. During the first Anchor House training rides, the Slow Spokes and other cyclists made sure she didn’t take wrong turns, and gave her tips about how to prepare for the ride.
“The Slow Spokes are just fantastic,” she says. “They welcome cyclists who are not fast riders who want to do something for a cause. The camaraderie, the fun, the jokes, the laughs and the encouragement have been great. People have been positive, saying `you can do this. Take it 20 miles at a time. You might not be in the best physical shape, but you can do this’.”
Delgado said now that she has experienced the ride, she sees the ride as an extension of the Anchor House family.
“At Anchor House, you definitely feel from the staff and the kids that you are part of a family. That’s how we operate,” she says. “With the Anchor House cyclists you have that same feeling.”
On Tuesday, the 173 cyclist participating in the 37th annual Ride for Runways will pedal 69.5 hilly miles from Corning, New York to Wellsboro, Penn., climbing 3,327 feet.
Check out the Planet Princeton YouTube channel for our video series on the ride participants.
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.