Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXV, No. 30
Wednesday, July 27, 2011
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At The Annual Anchor House Ride The Rallying Cry Is “It’s for the Kids!”

Anne Levin

It has become a local rite of summer. The annual Anchor House Ride for Runaways, a fundraising bicycle trek that covers 500 miles in seven days, is familiar not only to the nearly 200 cyclists who take part, but to the countless friends, family members, and co-workers who pledge donations for the cause.

What started as a five-man challenge to help teens in crisis 33 years ago has morphed into a summer tradition for cyclists spanning several age groups and fitness levels. Like most fundraisers, the Anchor House Ride, which raised $445,000 this year, has its social side. But participants say that the organization’s mission to provide emergency housing, food, clothing and outreach programs to teens, younger children and families is always at its core.

“When it’s the fifth day in a row and you’re tired of eating peanut butter and fluff sandwiches, someone reminds you that it’s for the kids. It’s such a rallying cry,” says John Murray, president of the Anchor House Foundation. “It just gets in people’s blood. There’s a real commitment there. The message is always there: It’s for the kids.”

The arrival of riders at Quaker Bridge Mall on the last day of the trip is normally a celebratory occasion. But this year’s ride ended in tragedy on July 15 when longtime cyclist Doug McCune collided with a car that was stopped at an intersection. Mr. McCune, a prominent scientist at Princeton Plasma Physics Lab, died in the crash. The accident marked the second fatality in Anchor House history. During the 1998 ride, 15-year-old Cory Golis was killed after being struck by a car.

Though shaken by the recent loss, participants in this summer’s ride expressed their enthusiasm for the cause and the important role the ride has taken on in their own lives. From “newbies” to veterans, all said they will do it again.

“This is my nineteenth year,” said Princeton child psychiatrist Martin Weinapple. “I like being around people who energize me. It’s a challenge and it’s a good charity. I enjoy working with and for children, and that’s what this is about.”

Alan Dybvig, also of Princeton, had just turned 70 when he decided to join the ride two years ago. “I had given up running because my knees were giving out,” he said. “I thought I’d give this a try, that it would be a one-shot deal. But somehow, enough of what is really good about the organization slowly grabbed hold of me. So I re-upped, and I’m going to keep re-upping. There’s simply no pretense about the members. You can scratch the surface of the guy or woman to your left or your right, and you’ll find a doctor, a nurse, a world class scientist like Doug, or maybe a fireman. You’ll find average, great, or terrible riders. You just simply don’t know anything about anybody except they are there for camaraderie and a wonderful cause.”

A group of concerned citizens founded Anchor House in 1978. The name “Anchor House” used the analogy of a ship dropping anchor to provide shelter in a storm. Runaway homeless and abused youth were the target. “It is a safe place to rest; wait through the storm while in crisis and a way to move on when the crisis is calmed,” the organization’s website reads.

Anchor House works to put broken families back together, if possible. If not, youth are moved to a safe place. Babies and children as well as older teens are beneficiaries of the various programs supported by the organization. The Anchor House Shelter for children aged 10 to 17 is one example, providing a 24-hour program for runaway, homeless, and at-risk youth and their families. According to the website, 65 percent of the youth are successfully returned to their families within 30 days.

The Ride for Runaways raises more than a third of the agency’s annual budget. “We started mostly as just a temporary shelter for runaways, and the focus was to provide services to the kids referred to us,” said Mr. Murray. “But it has grown tremendously. We’re still focused around children, but we see kids from infants through the aging-out population (18-years-old). We try to provide a little safety net to keep the progress of these kids going. There seems to be a need there, so that’s what we focus on.”

Mr. Murray was a runner before he joined the ride 19 years ago. “I didn’t know anything about riding. It’s pretty natural on the ride that the novices latch onto the experienced riders,” he said.

Despite the differences in endurance and experience, most cyclists finish each day rather than hitching a ride on the “sag” truck. But it is always there. For the 178 riders on the recent trip, there were 32 support crew members on constant patrol.

“Every 20 miles you have a very welcoming group of folks busily making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches or offering you fruit,” said Mr. Murray. “They really take care of us. There are the rovers, who rove between sag stops. If you get into distress and need help, there is a car not far away at any time. A scout is sent up ahead on every route to make sure things are safe, and there is a roving mechanic, Pete Garnich from Knapp’s Cyclery, working from six to six each day.”

Each year’s ride is carefully planned, said Mr. Murray. “Sometimes I want to shoot myself at the meetings because we go through everything so meticulously. But it comes out as a pretty well oiled machine.”

Princeton resident Steven Schulz is a three-year veteran of the ride. While distressed by the accident on the recent trip, he remains enthusiastic and plans to participate again next year. “It’s a wonderful event. It’s nice to solicit for a wonderful cause but actually enjoy it at the same time,” he said. “While that horrific event gave me pause, after riding the rest of the day and talking to my family, I’d absolutely do it again.”

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