Gimme shelter

Bob Kreek has had a long, successful career in television. He was senior vice president of film acquisition for HBO in the late 1970s before becoming COO of Fox’s TV Group and founding CEO and president of Comedy Central.

“But you get to be a certain age,” the Bronxville resident says, “and you and the entertainment industry are out of sync. It was time for me to do something different.”

That something different was the Youth Shelter Program of Westchester (YSPW), founded by a group of local judges some 40 years ago as a rehabilitative alternative to our punitive penal system for certain qualified offenders.

“New York state is only one of two states that treats 16- and 17-year-olds as adults,” says Kreek, president of the YSPW board of directors. (The other is North Carolina.) The 16- to 21-year-olds in the program are not hardcore criminals. Adds Kreek, whose management style has always been “compassion with a dollop of ruthlessness”:

“These are good kids who screwed up. There but for the grace of God go I.”

The young men are housed in a 12-bed facility in Mount Vernon that has a strict regimen. They’re taught table manners and given an opportunity to complete their GED, or high school equivalency, as well as time with career counselors and social workers. And while there are occasional forays to concerts, the Bronxville Public Library and jobs with local chefs and animal shelters, the program is a lockdown situation.

It’s one that works, says Kreek, who joined the YSPW board in 2009.

“The recidivism rate is very low,” he adds, for the hundreds of offenders who have completed the three- to nine-month program. “They generally stay out of the prison system.”

This past summer was a special one for the program’s selectees. They had an opportunity to take part in four workshops with the neo-impressionist painter Ouattara Watts, known as Ouattara, a protégé of the graffiti artist Jean-Michel Basquiat — thanks to support from ArtsWestchester, the Katonah Museum of Art and the Pelham Art Center. The resulting works, along with boldly colored paintings by Ouattara, Bradley Theodore and other artists, were exhibited last month at The Rye Arts Center to benefit YSPW.

“The work being done is so valuable,” Kreek says, “that I think we have a responsibility to expand the program.”

For more, visit ysow.org.

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