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Safe house for boys to open in spring

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Chris Smith, president and co-founder of Restore One, talks about the completion of the Anchor House as he stands in a multipurpose room with his wife and executive director Anna Smith and Justin Cox, chairman of Restore One's board of directors in Scuffleton last week. (Rhett Butler/The Daily Reflector)

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Kim Grizzard

Thursday, January 14, 2016

After three-and-a-half years, a local ministry has completed construction on a safe home for boys that aims to be the first of its kind in the nation. But the work to build support continues.

Greenville-based ministry Restore One this week received a certificate of occupancy for The Anchor House, a residential recovery program for boys who are survivors of domestic minor sex trafficking. On Friday, the ministry will launch a campaign to help raise the funds to open the house to the first residents by late spring.

“This place is built,” Restore One President Chris Smith said. “Now we need (people) to come around us and support the Give for One campaign and help us open these doors.”

The campaign’s goal is to raise $260,000 to furnish the home and to help fund Restore One’s anticipated $400,000-a-year operating budget once The Anchor House is open.

Built on 10 acres near the Greene County-Pitt County line, The Anchor House is designed to give male sex trafficking survivors, ages 12-18, a place to live, attend school and receive counseling. The home, which eventually hopes to serve as many as 12 boys, will open with one cottage built to house four boys.

Nationwide, few recovery agencies provide services for boys, who are often considered overlooked victims of sex trafficking. According to Human Trafficking Search, a research database on human trafficking, until two years ago, there was not a single bed available for minor male victims of sex trafficking in the United States.

When they founded Restore One in 2012, Chris and Anna Smith hoped to change that. The husband-and-wife team, who previously worked with a residential recovery program for girls, planned to open The Anchor House to the first group of boys by 2014.

But The Anchor House, named for its goal of providing stability to trafficking victims, would first have to weather some storms of its own. The first came in 2013, when some Pitt County property offered to the ministry was determined to be too small to accommodate the facility. Restore One then considered land in neighboring Beaufort County, but soil and percolation tests showed that the site was not suitable for building.

“Then some people started kind of losing interest,” Chris Smith said. “Donors started questioning, ‘Hey is this ever going to happen?’ because we were spending seven months just trying to find land.

“People think you just go buy land, you build a building, it’s done,” he said. “There are a lot of factors.”

While they waited, the Smiths continued to share their vision for The Anchor House, speaking to civic groups and at churches and college campuses. Anna went back to school to pursue her master’s degree in social work and received training on how to use yoga as part of trauma therapy. Both she and Chris began work on a documentary film about boys involved in sex trafficking. (Titled “BOY$” and produced in conjunction with Black Tree Media, the film is scheduled to be completed by late summer.)

In the meantime, Restore One shifted its search for land to Greene County and celebrated a ground-breaking for The Anchor House in February. But the months that followed were far from smooth sailing.

Local residents went to the Greene County Board of Commissioners to voice their opposition to the home being built in their community. Commissioners adopted a resolution in June to oppose the location but later told opponents of The Anchor House that they had found no legal avenue to stop it from being built.

Months of being at the center of controversy took a toll on the Smiths, who also began to question how much longer Restore One might have to wait before accepting boys into the program.

“We were kind of like, ‘Man, is this going to happen?’ We kind of started to get a little scared,” Chris said of the months that the debate over The Anchor House was making headlines. “But the big thing, what encouraged us the most is when that story went viral we had people calling and emailing us from all over America saying, ‘I stand with you guys. I believe in you guys.’”

Anna agreed. “For every one person that has stood against us, we’ve seen 100 stand up beside us,” she said.

Restore One received calls from people who wanted to come help with construction, offering to paint or do other work for free. One such offer came from Pastor Tim Heath of Wayne County, a former director of home missions and evangelism for Original Free Will Baptist Churches. He and several disaster relief volunteers wanted to help finish the interior of the main activity building and the cottage where the boys and their house parents will sleep.

Though liability issues prevented the volunteers from being able to assist in construction, Heath hopes a group of churches will be able to contribute by funding and building an outdoor basketball court for the boys.

“The basketball court was something, that I feel like for those young men it would be a good way to release some energy, and I think it would be very beneficial for them,” he said. “... To look at young lives torn apart in that way and to have a ministry to be able to go out there and reach out to them and give them an option to live a better life, I think that’s what we’re all about is offering people a better way of life.”

Though The Anchor House does not expect to welcome its first two or three residents for a few more months, the Smiths already have received inquiries.

“We get calls all the time,” Chris said. “Just in the last month, we’ve gotten three or four calls for boys that need placement.”

As funding becomes available, Restore One plans to build two additional cottages to try to meet the demand.

“Right now we’ve got to get this open,” Chris said. “It’s going to happen; it’s in God’s timing.

“I don’t think we would have been ready in 2014 as an organization,” he said. “I just don’t think we were old enough, not personally, but organizationally.”

Though it has taken longer to complete The Anchor House than she would have anticipated, Anna said she is grateful for the process.

“I don’t want to say I’m thankful for the hardships,” she said, “but in a way I am because I think it’s growing the resiliency. We’ve really grown in our faith and our commitment to the mission and just knowledge that God has called us to do this work.”

 

For more information about Restore One, visit www.restoreonelife.org. The nonprofit ministry’s office is at 315 S. Evans St. Call 751-0411.

 

Contact Kim Grizzard at kgrizzard@reflector.com and 252-329-9578.

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