‘They showed you that you mattered’: Anchor House changes the lives of teens

Timothy Ingram receives his award at Rutgers University last month. Photo: Krystal Knapp.

Timothy Ingram shakes his head as he remembers the day a few years ago when the police showed up at his mother’s house. He had moved back in with his mom after living in foster care, and things weren’t going well at all. The two fought a lot. Police were dispatched to the house, and told Ingram he had a choice: Be taken to the psychiatric ward, or go to Anchor House.

The shelter for runaway, abused and neglected teens in Trenton sounded better than the psychiatric ward, so that’s where he decided to go.

“I made the right choice,” he said. “I went there and it was so much better than home. People cared about you. They made sure you did your homework,  had clean clothes to wear, and got to school on time. They looked out for your best interests. They showed you that you mattered.”

Ingram enjoyed group activities like going to the mall or to the Six Flags Great Adventure amusement park. “It was the first time since I was little that I felt like I was doing things like a family does,” he said of the outings.

One of the most helpful things about his stay at Anchor House was meeting with a counselor every week. “It was helpful to have someone to talk to who really listened, who wanted to know what was going on in your life and what your experiences were,” he said. “The counselor made me feel cared for, and taught me how to deal with my emotions and conflict.”

Now 19, Ingram lives at the Anchor Line, an apartment program for homeless young adults ages 18-21 where residents are taught the skills they need to live on their own. When he became old enough to qualify for the program, Anchor House’s outreach director, Ben Thornton, encouraged him to apply. Ingram now works for an employment agency, and has gained job skills through the Isles Youth Institute. He is learning to create a budget and save money to prepare for the future. He serves on the Anchor House Youth Advisory Council, advocating for his peers, and has volunteered at the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen. Last month the New Jersey Alliance for Children, Youth and Families honored him as youth leader of the year for his advocacy and volunteer efforts.

Ingram said he doesn’t know what would have happened if he didn’t end up at Anchor House. “I don’t think I would care about my life now,” he said. “I’d probably be living on the streets or be in jail.”

More than 150 cyclists are biking 500 miles from Harrisonburg, Va. to Lawrenceville this week to raise money to support the shelter and other Anchor House programs like the Anchor Line. The cyclists will pedal 78 miles from Harrisonburg to Winchester, Va. Sunday, enjoying Shenandoah Valley scenery and rural roads for the first leg of the seven-day trip. Cyclists collect donations from friends, family and colleagues for the ride. The goal for the 40th annual Ride for Runaways is to raise $525,000. The cyclists and support crew members are well on their way to reaching that goal. As of Saturday night, they raised $365,000.

Anchor House runs several programs, for children, youth and young adults between the ages of 12 through 21 who have suffered abuse, neglect, or homelessness. The Anchor House programs are organized by age and provide emergency respite, transitional living and outreach services.

Zena Aluboudi, 18, and Tony Hines, 19, both live at the Anchorage, a transitional living program for young adults.

Aluboudi was having conflicts at home when she found out about the Anchorage program. She has lived at the Anchorage since February, taking the bus to commute to her high school in North Brunswick. She is grateful to the staff at the Anchorage for teaching her skills to live on her own like how to budget for food shopping, and how to apply for jobs. “Anchor House offers you a lot of opportunities,” she said.

Hines, a track champion who just graduated from Trenton Central High School, loves math, and is applying to colleges, found out about Anchor House through his school guidance counselor. He left home because he didn’t have the resources he needed there, like enough food, clothes, and access to a laundromat, which the family did not always have money for.  “I’ve learned a lot of life skills here,” he said of the Anchorage. “I have a passport. I know how to manage money.  They provide you with recreational activities, and enough food and clothes — everything you need.”

To learn more about Anchor House or to make a donation to the 40th annual Ride for Runaways, visit anchorhouseride.org. Planet Princeton is the media sponsor for the ride. 

Anchor House staff member Ben Thornton gets ready to board a bus headed for Harrisonburg, Virginia on Saturday morning for the start of the 40th annual Anchor House Ride for Runaways. Photo: Daryl McMillan.

Ride for Runaways co-chair Julia Obetz (l) and Anchor House Executive Director Kim McNear (r) with new Trenton Mayor Reed Gusciora at the Ride for Runaways sendoff at Arm & Hammer Park on Saturday. Photo: Krystal Knapp.
“Wonder Woman” Sue Fanning takes a selfie at the Anchor House send off on Saturday morning. Photo: Daryl McMillan.
A bagpiper plays at the Anchor House Ride for Runaways sendoff on Saturday at Arm & Hammer Park in Trenton. Photo: Krystal Knapp.
Loved ones say goodbye and good luck to Anchor House riders at the sendoff on Saturday morning at Arm & Hammer Park. Photo: Daryl McMillan.
Bikes away the cyclists in Harrisonburg, Virginia Saturday afternoon. Photo: Daryl McMillan.