Groton - When his 1995 Pontiac Grand Am failed to start, Alan Anderson started working on it at 4 a.m. With no knowledge of what he was doing, he had figured out - using Google as a resource - that the starter was the problem.
He paid $80 for a replacement and put it in. He was done by 7:30 a.m.
"I had to," he said. "I had to get to school."
Anderson, 19, a senior at Robert E. Fitch High School, also needed the car to get to his job at Domino's Pizza in Mystic, where his cousin's friend hired him to work. He works as much as he can, sometimes as many as 50 hours per week, making pizza or delivering them.
The car is in rough shape with dings and bumps and a worn-out interior. Tape fills the space between one window and the top of the door, where the glass should reach. Tape is an integral part of the interior design; the Domino's Pizza sign might be considered an upgrade.
Anderson does what he has to do to pay his own way, including buying his own insurance, gas, rent, clothes, food and dates.
Anderson has 15 siblings, yet lives with the family of Frank Stitz-Galvan, a classmate and one of his best friends. Stitz-Galvan is the center on the Fitch Falcon football team. Often, it was his job to clear a path for Anderson, the team's fullback, to run.
These days, Stitz-Galvan's family is clearing a path for Anderson to pursue his goals.
Anderson treads lightly when it comes to discussing his family. He said not having the discussion is the best way to avoid people's judgments. He knows a lot of people won't understand when he talks of Tyrone, Eric, Robert, Daniel, Jason, David, Justin, Romance, Nicholas, Shawn, Sandra, Imaj, Natasia, Michele and Diamond. Some are biological. Some are adoptive. Some he has known most of his life; others, not so much. Some he stays in touch with; others, he sees by chance.
"I wish we could all get together in the same room, sit around one big table," he said. "I wish my mom was alive. I'd love to see us all, with her and my adoptive family, all together at the same time."
He was young when his mom died. He never had a relationship with his biological father. He took his adoptive father's first name, George, as his middle name.
"We're close," he said of his dad, George Anderson. "He would always check up on me when I was out. He'd call me to remind me not to make bad choices. He'd made sure I had everything I needed before he left."
That was more than a year ago, when George and Kim Anderson decided to move to South Carolina. Alan Anderson considered his options.
"That was basically the first decision I would ever have to make about my own life," he said. "I weighed the pros and cons. What's there that I can't get here? I'm in a school I love, I'm doing well. I've had the same girlfriend for six years."
That was enough. He stayed, at first with an aunt. Then, earlier this year, he made a connection with Stitz-Galvan.
The two shared a mutual friend and had met a few times, he said. They knew each other through football.
"I wasn't close to Frank until we went through some tough battles together, like when we played New London last year," he said.
"I always ran as hard as I could. I compare football to life. You have to fight for every yard."
And so he has. Fitch Principal Joe Arcarese calls Anderson one of the most diligent and respectful students in the building.
Despite the challenges, Anderson sees a bright side of life.
"My struggles are not as bad as some people's," he said. "I've had a lot of good people help me out. I hope I become successful so I can do that, too."
Stitz-Galvan and Anderson both plan to attend the University of Connecticut-Avery Point in the fall to pursue a degree in mechanical engineering.
They each had the same torn meniscus injury while playing football. Anderson helped him get a job at Domino's. And now they live in the same house.
"I was telling Frank one day about my situation," Anderson said. "When I told him I was paying $400 a month rent, he said he would ask his parents if I could stay at his house. Who does that? Nobody does that."
They said yes.
"I thought it was too good to be true," Anderson said.
Frank Galvan, Stitz-Galvan's dad, knew what it was like to fight one's way to success. He said he quit high school and was on the wrong track until a few of his friends became gang-related statistics, either dead or in jail. He returned to school, got his diploma and joined the Navy. He recently retired and in December earned his bachelor's degree. He is now working on a master's. His wife, Cindy Stitz-Galvan, has two.
"Whatever opportunity we can give Alan, we will. That's how we will approach this," Galvan said. "I told him, he doesn't have to pay rent so he doesn't have to work 50 hours a week. He'll need that time to study. I told him, we believe in education in this house. If you are going to live here, you will have to continue to pursue that."
Galvan said he has often talked about winning the Powerball and paying for the education of young people who couldn't otherwise afford college.
"You never know how God will call on you. Maybe he heard my wishes," Galvan said. "I didn't win Powerball, but maybe he said, 'Help this young man.' It's an honor to try to help him out."