Suzie Blue was only 12 years old the first time she left home. She wasn’t sure where to turn, but she heard from other kids in her neighborhood that she could go to Anchor House.
“Everyone knew it was there, and that it was a safe place to be,” she says. “There were several times I felt I’d reached my absolute limit at home, and I didn’t know what to do.”
Suzie grew up just off of Broad Street in Trenton, within walking distance of the emergency shelter for runaway, abused and neglected children and teens. She recalls how she had to muster a lot of courage as young teen to go to the shelter on Centre Street.
“It was a very difficult thing to do, walking up those steps and ringing the doorbell,” she says. “I stood out there 20 minutes asking myself ‘should I do it or shouldn’t I?’ It was either ring the doorbell or go back home. I couldn’t go back home, so I rang the bell.”
From the age of 12 to 15, Suzie stayed at Anchor House when she faced a major crisis at home. Her mom was a single mother who was not taught parenting skills, and her father was frequently in trouble with the law. She attended a Catholic school in her neighborhood, but many of the kids were bused in from the suburbs. She didn’t fit in and everyone knew who her father was.
“My step-father had no skills to be a father, and my mother had her own issues at the time. It was very dysfunctional, and the situation became unbearable for me. I felt hopeless, and I felt my life was not important,” she says. “I had to grow up really fast. My childhood ended when I was eight. My mom had other kids, and and I had to take responsibility for my brother and sisters. I felt no one understood me or cared.”
Suzie was terrified the first time she went to Anchor House. “I didn’t know what to expect. I thought I’d get in big trouble with my mom. There were a lot of unknowns,” she says. “Once I got in the door though, I saw it as a safe place where you were understood. The people there cared and acknowledged your feelings, and I was validated and told I was important. I gained strength from that. ”
She recalls how David Brown, a staff member at the time, sat down with her, asked her why she was there, and listened to her story. “I cried my heart out.” she says.
“It was important just to know Anchor House was there,” she says. “A lot of inner city kids had things going on in their families. Some kids had it way worse than I did. You could interact with your peers there, and the counselors were always 100-percent dedicated to making sure you were okay. A lot of us didn’t have that at home. If I could have lived there as a kid, I would have rather lived there. Besides giving you safety and care, you felt the people there cared about your feelings, that you mattered.”
At Anchor House, Suzie was taught coping skills and learned form her own mistakes, lessons she says she has carried with her until today. “I learned not everything is about me all the time. I learned self love — you have to value yourself. I learned to care for the people around me, and make sure I’m not injuring them,” she says. “My children turned out so wonderful. The way David Brown treated me is the way I wish my parents had treated me. He was a role model for me when I had kids.”
Suzie became pregnant when she was 15, and had her baby at a home for unwed mothers in West Trenton that no longer exists. At 42, she now lives in Florida and all three of her children are grown up.
“I feel like they are my biggest accomplishment — successful, well-adjusted children,” she says. “My oldest is a father and provider for his fiancé and daughter. He works hard, he is full of integrity, and he is happy. My middle son put himself through Rutgers University while working full time, and joined the National Guard. He will graduate next year with a degree in political science and has aspirations to be a civil rights attorney. My daughter just graduated from high school, is determined, and knows what she wants. She got married on a Friday, graduated on a Saturday, and left for the U.S. Air Force the following Monday. She is in basic training now and I couldn’t be prouder.”
Suzie raised her kids as a single mother, selling cars and working other commission jobs. The self-described foodie loves to eat and cook, and turned her passion into a successful business. Friends raved about her hot sauce, and began requesting bottles. The first time she made the sauce, her son came home from school and sampled it, figuring he could handle the medium heat of the pepper with no trouble. “He was jumping around the kitchen and his face was red,” she said. “I told him ‘you’ve gotta respect the pepper’.” That’s the name she gave her hot sauce. She started a business with a partner three years ago, and”Respect the Pepper” hot sauce has a cult following.
When Suzie thinks back to her early teen years, she wonders where she would be today without the help of Anchor House.
“I’m grateful, and I hope the shelter has all the support it needs. A lot of places like that have gone extinct,” she says. “God knows what could have happened to me. I feel blessed that I had a place like that when I needed it.”
Krystal Knapp is a cyclist and embedded reporter participating in the 38th annual Ride for Runaways. For more information about Anchor House or to make a donation visit www.anchorhouseride.org or call (609) 278-9495. Checks can be made out to “Anchor House Foundation” and sent to P.O. Box 2357. Trenton, NJ 08607. Anchor House is a 501(c)(3) organization. Donors receive a thank you, but Anchor House never sells your contact info. or sends donors further requests for donations.