A wooden anchor fixed to a wall in a local safe home for children is more than just a decoration.

It is a symbol of what The Anchor House aims to provide: a protective harbor for boys who are survivors of domestic minor sex trafficking. But the anchor is also symbolic of Restore One's efforts to hold to its mission: to open a residential recovery program for boys that is believed to be the first of its kind in the nation.

Restore One, which in its five-year history has faced financial challenges, local opposition and a hurricane, stands ready to open the doors of The Anchor House this fall, more than a year later than co-founders Chris and Anna Smith had hoped. The faith-based nonprofit organization is working to finish furnishing the home, hiring staff and acquiring a license from the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services.

You're naive if you think you're going to take on something like this and it's going to happen overnight, Chris Smith, Restore One's director of engagement, said.

The husband-and-wife team and Pitt County natives were 23 years old when they first envisioned a home where boys who had been sexually exploited could live while they worked to regain stability.

We do get the question sometimes, 'What's taking you so long?' Chris said. That's OK. They just see a mission. They just see a vision, but what they didn't see is a hurricane or building a program model pretty much from scratch.

Our hope is just to create something that's going to outlive us and to create lasting life change, he said.

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.

Weathering the storms

The Anchor House's two structures, which took nearly a year to build, were flooded following Hurricane Matthew. Both the 4,430-square-foot, two-story main building and the 1,639-square-foot cottage sustained damage.

It was not the first storm Restore One had weathered. The ministry had spent years trying to find a suitable location for The Anchor House. Property donated in 2013 was too small to accommodate the facility. A few months after Restore One broke ground on its current property in 2015, some local residents appealed to the Greene County Board of Commissioners to stop the home from being built in their community.

When Hurricane Matthew hit in October, Restore One had completed construction but was in the midst of a campaign to raise funds for operating expenses for The Anchor House. The damage was not covered by flood insurance, which the ministry had acquired weeks before the hurricane hit.

After the waters receded, the Smiths learned that most of the flooring would have to be replaced, along with baseboards, lower cabinets and lower sections of sheet rock in both buildings.

Steve Grant, a member of Restore One's board of directors, remembers seeing the water that overtook within hours what had taken months to build.

They (the Smiths) were pretty devastated, as you can imagine, Grant said. But I knew even then that we were coming back.

It's kind of like a family, he said of Restore One supporters. It's the same thing we would do if my home flooded. My friends would come help me; my family would come help me. It was kind of that kind of environment. We all just got together and got it done.

Volunteers from half a dozen churches spent Saturdays ripping out carpet and insulation, hauling away pieces of dry wall and scrubbing sections of floors that could be salvaged.

Leah Little of Crosspointe Church in Winterville was one of them.

You see the heart that they have for God and the heart that they have for these children, and you just want so badly to see them succeed and to see this come to fruition, she said. Every God-ordained ministry or venture has its oppositions and has its setbacks. Satan's going to do everything he can to see this not come to pass, but God's faithful, and he's been with them on this entire journey.

The response from supporters following the latest setback was encouraging to the Smiths, who were amazed to receive a $10,000 check from a church in Colorado to help repair the damage. In addition, several builders and installers who had been hired during the initial construction came forward to repair or replace damaged areas, volunteering their time and some of the materials to do so.

We've seen people coming out to work at The Anchor House, and they said, 'I was really disappointed when this flooded, and I wanted to see it back up because this is a really great thing that you all are doing,' Anna Smith, Restore One president, said. A lot of people are tenacious about wanting to see restoration of boys happen.

What about the boys?

Boys often are considered overlooked victims of sex trafficking. According to the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority's National Survey of Residential Programs for Victims of Sex Trafficking, of nearly 700 beds available at residential programs across the nation, only about 25 werefor male victims.

We know that about 50 percent of commercially sexually exploited children are boys; about 50 percent of pornography (involves) boys, Anna Smith said. We still have no safe homes for boys and very little programs that will work with boys. I think it's a cultural thing. ... We often view boys and men as invincible. They can't be victims. The poster child of a sex-trafficked person is a female.

That is what Mike Eggleston discovered when he began to research domestic minor sex trafficking programs about two years ago. A corporate attorney in Leawood, Kan., Eggleston was watching a public television documentary about sex trafficking in America when he began to wonder why the program seemed to focus exclusively on efforts to help women and girls.

The overwhelming thought that came up in me was, 'What about the boys?' he said. Who's doing anything to do this same kind of outreach for boys who are being sexually exploited, who have been sexually abused?

His search for answers led Eggleston to Restore One. He started corresponding with Chris in the spring of 2015, getting ideas for how he might help start a similar ministry in his community. He became a financial supporter of The Anchor House and earlier this month flew from Kansas to North Carolina to see the finished product.

We could avoid so much hurt and brokeness as a society if we would just quit ignoring that this problem exists, Eggleston said. We need it for every single state in the country to stop thinking that sexual exploitation is only about foreign female victims because it's not.

I feel so passionate about this particular topic and about us as a society creating more on-ramps for boys to get healing and to be transformed, he said. (They are) forgotten, underrepresented, no one to speak out for them, no one to really care and show them that this is a problem that is bigger than just them.

Eggleston understands what it is to feel alone. Growing up in small towns in the Midwest, he was sexually abused by people he should have been able to trust, among them a choirmaster and a teacher.

It did a number on me and on my self-worth and my identity and who I am, whether I am good enough, he said. I somehow blamed myself for these things that happened when I was 4 and a half years old, when I was 14, when I was 16, as if I was the adult in the situation, and I wasn't.

Though Eggleston reported the assault by his teacher, school officials were hesitant to believe him. After the teacher admitted the abuse, no one ever followed up with me ever again, he said.

I never got any help. I never had anybody to talk to. It was just buried, and it was shameful, and I had embarrassed the family, he said. ... Somehow it was my fault, and I felt it profoundly.

A changing tide

Chris Smith, who began conducting interviews in 2014 for the yet-to-be-released documentary film BOYS, said he has heard similar stories from other men who were sexually exploited as children.

The survivors that now are adults say there was nothing available for them to get help, he said. They knew deep down if they did come out, there would be no help for them.

In recent years, the Smiths have seen that perception begin to change as abolition groups such as Shared Hope have begun to devote attention during national conferences to the issue of male survivors of sex trafficking.

When we first stepped out on the scene and I don't think this is a sole tribute to Restore One by any means there were no breakouts on men and boys, no men who were survivor representatives at these conferences, Anna Smith said.

We are seeing changes, small change, but we are seeing change, she said. I would go so far as to say I believe we're making history by opening this home and by the work that we do. I believe that. We're changing history.

Chris Smith said he has heard similar statements in the abolition community about Restore One's unprecedented work, but the ministry is keeping its focus on its mission.

At the end of the day we're just about changing lives and helping boys, he said, helping males find peace and restoration.

Restore One has established a registry at Wal-Mart, Target and on Amazon to provided needed furnishings and supplies for The Anchor House. For more information, visit restoreonelife.org or email The Anchor House Director Linda Royster at linda@restoreonelife.org.

Contact Kim Grizzard at kgrizzard@reflector.comor 329-9578.

Read the original:
Anchored in hope: Boys' home pushes forward - Greenville Daily Reflector

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