A homecoming on two wheels: Founder returns for 40th Anchor House Ride for Runaways

Joe Yuhas pedals on day one of the 40th Ride for Runaways. Photo: Martin Mbugua.

Four decades ago, Joe Yuhas was looking for ways to raise money for a new shelter for runaways in Trenton when he saw two bicyclists zip by as he was stuck in traffic. He had an idea: Why not raise money for the shelter through bike-a-thon?

The shelter, Anchor House, was in desperate need of money to keep its doors open. Yuhas was a new Trenton councilman at the time, and served as the first presidents of the Anchor House board of directors.

In 1979, he recruited his brother Michael Yuhas, Andrew Shedlock and Jim DeBosh to ride with him for the inaugural trip. The four headed down to Jacksonville, Florida and pedaled 1,100 miles back to New Jersey. They didn’t have professional bike gear, they didn’t have a support crew, and they didn’t have a detailed route mapped out. But they had four bicycles, a desire to help area teens, and a youthful optimism that everything would work out. They made it back to Trenton, raised $5,000 for Anchor House, and the ride was more successful than anyone imagined it would be.

Yuhas was only 21 at the time, and was focused on the immediate needs of the shelter. Little did he and his three cycling companions know then that Anchor House was to become one of Mercer County’s top charity organizations serving children and teens

“It was only looking back later after the organization grew that I thought to myself, we were really not much older than the teens we were trying to help,” Yuhas said on Sunday.

“It’s too bad that we still need a place like Anchor House all these years later,” he said of the organization that has expanded to serve more and more teens and young adults.

He chatted about the early history of the Anchor House Ride for Runaways between sips of water as he took a break from pedaling. Now 61, he made the trip from Arizona to cycle in the 40th annual ride. The last time he participated in the ride was in 2003.

The terrain is mostly flat in Arizona, and the climate is dry, so Yuhas is adjusting to biking on hills in the humid weather this week. He made it through day one of the Ride for Runaways Sunday with no problems, pedaling 79 miles from Harrisonburg, Va. to Winchester, Va.,and climbing 5,500 feet while enjoying the scenic Shenandoah Valley countryside with his fellow cyclists. The group will pedal 72 miles from Winchester to Frederick, Md. on day two of the ride Monday, climbing 3,200 feet.

Michael Yuhas, (l) surprises his brother at a rest stop on the first day of the Ride for Runaways. Photo: Martin Mbugua.

At the second rest stop of the day on Sunday, Yuhas was greeted by a surprise visitor, Michael Yuhas, who took a detour from his Tennessee vacation to see his brother. All thoughts of hills, sore muscles and tired legs disappeared as the brothers embraced.

Yuhas and the rest of the cyclists and support crew members received another surprise visitor on Sunday near the end of the route.

Denise Bard, a former Anchor House client who lives in Virginia, heard the riders would be stopping in Winchester. She, her children and friends made signs and cheered the cyclists on for the last 10 miles of the route. She also talked to the cyclists about her experience living at Anchor House.

Now 43, Bard went to Anchor House for 31 days when she was just 14 years old and was in an abusive situation.

“For the first time in 14 years I could go to sleep and not be scared,” she said of her first night at Anchor House. “I could finally breathe.”

Anchor House helped Bard learn skills to cope with her situation and move forward, she said.

“Anchor House was my foundation,” she said. “If I didn’t go there, I wouldn’t be here today. I’m sure of that.”

Patty Helmlinger Jewell (l) with Denise Bard at the end of day 1 on the Anchor House Ride for Runaways.

She is now a mother of two and is a special needs advocate in her community. She said Anchor House staff members helped her see that there were people in her life who cared about her, like her soccer coach at Hamilton High West, Patty Helmlinger Jewell, who is now a veteran Anchor House cyclist. Jewell didn’t know about Bard’s situation at the time, but was a role model and important influence on her. The two stayed in touch over the years after Bard graduated and left the area.

“My counselor told me to find the good in the people in my life and carry that with me,” Bard said.  “I didn’t have parents, but there were people in my life who were like parents. Coach Patty was one of those people. I focused on the positive and took everything she taught me with me.”

Joe Youhas bikes on day one of the Ride for Runaways. Photo: Daryl McMillan.
The cyclists pedaled 79 miles on Sunday. Photo: Daryl McMillan.
Cyclists biked from Harrisonburg to Winchester, Va. on Sunday. Photo: Daryl McMillan.
The cyclists climbed about 5,500 feet of hills on Sunday. Photo: Daryl McMillan.
Alan Dybvig of Princeton is one of two 79-year-old cyclists pedaling on the Ride for Runaways. Photo: Daryl McMillan.
A group of cyclists reaches the top of a hill on day one of the Ride for Runaways. Photo: Daryl McMillan.
Day one of the Ride for Runaways. Photo: Daryl McMillan.
Reaching the top of a hill on day one of the Ride for Runaways. Photo: Daryl McMillan.
Cyclist Tom Ryan plays at a park during the last rest stop of the day on the first day of the Ride for Runaways.