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This article by Jack Florek was prepared for the

December 19, 2001 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights

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Tom Florek: The Kid Brother Has a Mission

I always wondered exactly what it was that my younger

brother was up to every Wednesday night for the past 13 years.

As it turns out, Tom Florek has been a volunteer at Anchor House in

Trenton, working with teenagers in crisis. Anchor House provides

shelter

for troubled children, offering programs to assist in solving problems

of runaways and their families. These programs include group

counseling,

temporary shelter, medical attention, drug prevention, and an outreach

program to area students between the ages of 12 and 17.

"When I first started volunteering back in 1988, I did it because

I wanted to do something good for people," says Tom. "But

I discovered over the last couple of years that I really do enjoy

it. I’m not there to change the kids or fix their lives or anything.

I’m really just there to spoil them for a few hours, and they

appreciate

that."

What that entails is taking three to six young people out one evening

a week for some fun. That could mean seeing a Trenton Thunder baseball

game, or using the CYO swimming pool in Yardville, or playing a game

of pick-up basketball (see photo above). "In the wintertime it’s

a little tougher," Tom says. "Sometimes we go to free-play

night at the Mill Hill Playhouse, or maybe a Princeton basketball

game. But often we go play video games at the Oxford Valley Mall."

Wherever the destination, however, he’s careful to choose a place

that is unfamiliar to the teens. "I’m careful to take the kids

out of their familiar circle," Tom points out. "You don’t

want them to go hang out with their friends and act rowdy, so if

you’re

going to take them to a mall, make sure it’s one they don’t usually

go to."

An important part of working with the teens is being sensitive to

their likes and dislikes, yet still being able to set limits and

enforce

the rules. It is a flexibility that Tom has learned over the years.

"I always make it a point to tell them why I’m enforcing the

rules,"

he says. "They’ll want to walk around the mall by themselves,

but I’ll tell them I can’t allow that because I’m responsible for

them and I have to keep an eye on things. They’ll complain, saying,

`Ah, you don’t trust me.’ So what I do is let them walk 10 yards ahead

of me, pretending they’re on their own, and that’s fine."

Tom Florek was born in Buffalo, New York, where his

father worked for a trucking company and his mother was a school

teacher.

He graduated from the University of Buffalo in 1985 with a degree

in Computer Science. He has lived in New Jersey since 1987, working

at Educational Testing Service as a computer programmer. His wife,

Debbie Pisacreta, also volunteers at Anchor House and takes part each

July in the annual 500-mile bike ride to raise funds. "Last year

180 riders raised $420,000 and Debbie certainly did her part,"

says Tom. "And afterwards she had sore muscles for over a

month."

For those wishing to volunteer their services to do important work

in a low-stress environment, Anchor House "is a super place to

volunteer," he says. "It’s very mellow. You can set your own

hours. The staff is incredibly supportive. You don’t have to volunteer

to work with the kids if you don’t want to. Some people just come

in and cook, or do fix-it jobs. Whatever talent you have, we can use

it."

On the other hand, my brother tells me that working with the young

people of Anchor House has enriched his life in a way he could never

have anticipated. "They’re really inspiring," he says. "I

like to say the kids aren’t the ones who need to be changed. They’re

just regular old teenagers and they’re just incredible to hang with.

They’ll challenge you, but once they see that you like them and you’re

not trying to pull something over on them, they’re great."

Anchor House is located at 482 Centre Street in Trenton. To volunteer

call Kim McNear at 609-396-8329.

— Jack Florek


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