The Anchor House annual 500-mile bike ride fundraiser has been reimagined into a virtual experience to cater to the current restrictions amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

This year’s Anchor House Virtual Ride for Runaways will mark the 42nd year of the massive fundraising event that brings in over $500,000 for the year for the Trenton-based organization.

“Everybody has their own goal,” COO of Anchor House Foundation Kathy Drulis said. “As much as they love biking and they love what we do, they so believe in Anchor House so that’s what has always made our event so successful.”

This year’s change has brought many veteran participants back as well as new ones.

Anchor House 500-mile ride
Cyclists have traditionally biked 500 miles on the annual Anchor House ride for the past 41 years. (Jeanne Imbrigiotta.)

Mark Smith has taken part in Anchor House’s traditional 500-mile trek for 30 years. To commemorate his years of commitment, Smith, a veterinarian at Hopewell Veterinary Group Inc., set a personal goal to raise $30,000, or $1,000 for every year he has participated.

As of June 23, Smith raised $25,125 and pledged that if his donors help him raise within $1,000 of his goal that he will make up the difference. He has sent out 240 letters requesting donations.

Looking to this year’s virtual ride, Smith, 67, knows it will be a very different experience.

Riding alone or with one friend will be more difficult than when riding with a large group, as it psychologically wears the rider down. The friendships that have been built over years of participation will also be missed, he said.

Regardless of this year’s switch, Smith saw the pandemic as no excuse to forget about the needs of the youth population helped by Anchor House.

“I see them as the most vulnerable population,” Smith said. “They can’t do much themselves, and kids at Anchor House, they’ve been put into a really tough, tough spot as far as I’m concerned…And when I found out about Anchor House, and a chance to do more than just send a check once a year or twice a year, it was the perfect opportunity to do something to really help a lot of kids.”

Mark Smith Anchor House
Mark Smith has been an active participant in the Anchor House ride for decades and plans to complete another 500-mile ride this year. (Jeanne Imbrigiotta.)

Participants have a profile on the official Anchor House Virtual Ride for Runaways website, where they can display the funds they have raised and what their monetary and distance goals are, as well as options for posting blog entries of their participation.

The site will remain up throughout the length of the ride and the year, so donors may continue to contribute funds towards Anchor House.

Involvement may be different this year but it offers new options to join for those who haven’t been able to participate in the past.

Along with the decision to forego the group aspect of the ride and move everything remote, the Anchor House team created two more options for participation.

This year, participants can choose the regular 500-mile bike ride, the new 250-mile bike ride or a new 100-mile walk. Over the past 41 years of the event, the 500-mile ride has been done over the course of a week. This year, the event has been expanded to last six weeks—43 days—to accommodate both new and veteran participants.

“We wanted to kind of keep it that same endurance goal,” said Drulis, a Ewing resident. “We like to equate it with you’re helping out kids who struggle every day and so we want to have an event that is a struggle.”

The three options and six-week plan for participants allows for more flexible involvement, including a mother and daughter from Lawrence.

Cheryl Curbishley has participated in six Anchor House rides over the years, along with some of her family members, and is back again this year.

She is set to complete the 500-mile ride, while her daughter, Gwyn, is signed on to complete the 250-mile ride.

Although Gwyn has participated in the 500-mile ride in the past with her family, the option to do the shorter ride was what fit with her schedule this year.

“I feel like it’s more accessible for people to sign up for the six-week challenge because of the virtual ride…you’re not going to have to take a week off of work,” Cheryl Curbishley said. “You can do an hour ride in the evening after your job. You can do that a couple times a week and then do a long ride on Saturday and Sunday.”

A middle school language arts teacher in West Windsor-Plainsboro, Cheryl has known of the Anchor House ride since 1991, when she was dating her now-husband, who was a participating cyclist then and has ridden other times over the years.

Cheryl Curbishley Anchor House
Cheryl Curbishley (left), along with her daughter, Gwyn (center), and husband, Tom (right), have ridden together in past years to help raise money for Anchor House.

Being involved with Anchor House allows people to feel connected to helping the vulnerable children that may not have advocates and are living in unimaginable situations, Curbishley said.

Anchor House Inc. serves abused, runaway, homeless, aging out and at-risk youth and their families in the Mercer County and Central New Jersey areas. Emergency shelter, transitional living, homelessness housing and street outreach programs, along with opportunities to learn life skills and receive school-based counseling and parent support services are initiatives that need the funding raised by the ride.

Managing the funds raised is the charity arm of Anchor House, Anchor House Foundation Inc. Working as a separate, tax-exempt non-profit, the foundation provides the Trenton organization with grant funding throughout the year for its programs.

The programs have helped youth grow to aspire and achieve their goals despite the difficult situations they find themselves in.

Zena Aluboudi, 20, has been a part of the Anchor House Anchorage Transitional Living Program for about two years. Between working, attending community college and playing for her college’s basketball team, Aluboudi has experienced the help that the annual ride provides her and so many other youths.

“I’m a student-athlete and I’ve been working and I’ve been saving up,” Aluboudi said. “I’m just trying to succeed as much as I can and to set examples and standards for other residents and other people that were once like me with no home, to see that there is hope, that you can make it out and just work hard.”

Contributions from the annual ride help those youths in Anchor House programs to continue education and work towards bigger goals.

Aluboudi is on track to complete her associate’s degree and moving on to Rutgers-Newark to finish a four-year degree. Along with playing basketball for Rutgers, she wants to acquire an internship at the statehouse or a law office to help her achieve her dream of becoming a defense attorney and working in congress one day.

In the past, Aluboudi and many other kids involved in Anchor House have participated in the ride’s send-off event and welcoming back celebration, traditionally held at Quaker Bridge Mall.

This year will be different, but the children of Anchor House still see the importance of being a part of the fundraiser. Aluboudi plans to join Anchor House executive director Kim McNear, a Lawrence resident, in the 100-mile walking event, while creating and holding signs to bring awareness to Anchor House supporters and riders.

“I feel like this ride affects specifically the community because I consider myself to be one of the lucky individuals that have come through these doors,” Aluboudi said. “Because Anchorage and Anchor House, they really provide these youths with so much opportunities, with scholarships, with opportunities for work, just life skills in general.”

The decision to go virtual was made jointly between the Anchor House Foundation Ride Committee, the foundation’s Board of Directors and the executive director of Anchor House.

Changing the platform of the ride while keeping to the same start date as previous years was seen as the best option to keep the community of bikers engaged and safe.

The ride kicks off on July 11, allowing participants to sign up until the day before.

By making this year’s ride an option of different route lengths over a longer period of time, the goal was to encourage more individuals to join who may have helped out in previous years or shied away from the strenuous 500 miles traditionally completed in a week.

“This is a unique situation,” President of Anchor House Foundation Board of Directors Thaddeus Mikulski said. “It appears that we are attracting some people who might not otherwise have been involved.”

Although Anchor House intends to continue their ride fundraiser normally in coming years, they do intend to learn from this year’s altered event, said Mikulski, an attorney in Pennington.

The six-week window is meant to create an option so that participants don’t need to take off from work and may complete their miles as they please, making aggressive training not as necessary as previous years.

Although the group aspect of the ride will not be the same Anchor House is working to make sure participants still know how much they are helping.

Lawn signs and painted rocks are being worked on by Anchor House and its youth to help spread the word around Mercer County of the time and efforts the riders and walkers are contributing.

Whether on their own, with family members, outside or indoors, the Anchor House ride is on its way to raising its funding for the year. 

Every rider or walker is asked to raise a certain amount depending on their participation. Every cyclist riding 500 miles is asked to raise $750. Cyclists riding 250 miles are asked to raise $500. Walkers or runners are asked to complete 100 miles and raise $200.

“I think we’re hoping that again, the awareness is raised for the issues that our young people are facing, the programs and services that Anchor House offers and how vital they are to our community,” said McNear, the Anchor House executive director. “We are really hoping in the midst of everything that’s going on, really looking for an opportunity to provide a little bit of normalcy, if you will. So for those who’ve been going on the ride 30 plus years you become used to that, one or two years you become used to it…that sense of family.”

To sign up or donate to the Anchor House Virtual Ride for Runaways, visit https://anchorhouseride.rallybound.org/.