Giving Shelter: William Jones '75
Of all of photos in his office, William Jones ’75 is most proud of the one depicting a group of clean-shaven young men, dressed in shirts and ties, smiling broadly at a graduation ceremony. It wasn’t easy getting them to that point in their troubled lives, he tells a visitor. As he has for other residents of the Youth Shelter Program of Westchester, N.Y.—of which he is the executive director—Jones fought hard to alter their initial course.
The young men, between 16 and 21, had been convicted of a variety of crimes ranging from assault, possession and sale of a controlled substance, to robbery and grand larceny. “If we don’t get to them now,” Jones explains, “we’ll be spending a lot more later when they’ve become hardened criminals.” That’s why Jones—a former TV actor, self-described “incurable romantic,” and type-A manager of the Youth Shelter Program—spends 60 or more hours a week advocating on behalf of young offenders who have been referred to the 24-hour residential facility. Jones oversees mental health, substance abuse, and vocational and recreational programs for those who are incarcerated in the three-story Mt. Vernon house that functions as a jail without locks, a school and a home.
And when the bespectacled executive director isn’t pouring over grant proposals and developing new educational programs for the young men, he’s sharing recipes for success with them. “Life’s not just about having a lot of money and driving an expensive car,” he tells them. “If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything. Don’t compromise your principles.”
The downside of such intense commitment: It’s difficult to unwind at the end of the day, Jones confesses. It’s a problem he has struggled with all of his adult life—balancing what he is driven to accomplish professionally with the need to relax.
Before accepting his present position, which he has held since 1996, Jones was a supervisor for an adult male shelter facility, a deputy director for a family shelter, and a supervisor of students at Pace University, among other things. He also successfully led a movement for New York State legislation providing state-funded, high-school education facilities, like his, that serve as an alternative to jail.
At 50, he says, Jones is finally learning to strike a balance. In his office, rap music plays in the background. After hours, he swims. And he walks to his office when the weather permits.
And he takes time out to reflect on the feedback he receives from young graduates, like the ones in his picture, who had earned their high-school diplomas while at the Youth Shelter, then returned as counselors. A mother of one young man wrote:
“Words cannot express how grateful I am for the work you have done with my son….Your focus is always on the positive and the good that a person can achieve. You, personally, have been able to reach him when others have failed. I can honestly say you have given my son back to me.”
In what little time is left in his day, Jones writes poetry. There may yet be a sequel, he says, to a book of his verses he published in 1986, Derelict of Love.
“On many fronts, there’s more to come,” he says, smiling.