YONKERS, N.Y. – Less than two years ago Larry Watts was homeless, recently released from a California prison and on his way out of a drug treatment center.
With the encouragement of his wife, the dad of five turned to help from Fathers Count, a Yonkers-based program designed to give ex-convicts a fresh start and the ability to become better parents.
Today, Watts, 53, is working as a driver for the Montauk Bus Company and says his relationship with his children is significantly better – successes that would not have come about without the help of Fathers Count.
“It made me take a look at myself,” Watts said Wednesday inside the program’s office at 20 South Broadway. “It helped me to get back to what I needed to do as a father, which is being responsible, being stable and learning how to deal with life on life’s terms.”
Fathers Count, part of the Family Services of Westchester, is a voluntary program that offers free counseling, workshops and job-placement activities. It is designed for fathers aged 18 years and older who are on probation, parole, soon to be released from prison or past due on child support payments.
The goal, said program coordinator Caroline Walcott, is “to promote responsible fatherhood by helping fathers become better parents and providers.”
The program was created in 2006 and funded by a federal grant. In 2011, Fathers Count was one of a select few programs around the country to have that grant renewed though 2014.
In the past two years, more than 200 men have walked through the doors at Fathers Count. A majority of them are from Yonkers but they also come from places like Mount Vernon, New Rochelle and White Plains, Walcott said.
Once in the program, fathers attend workshops twice a week for 10 weeks, learning things like conflict resolution skills and money management. They are given free access to anger management classes and relationship counseling.
Some work to earn their GED’s, while others are taught how to dress for interviews and how to write a resume.
Watts, who was born and raised in Yonkers, said the structure of the program helped him from falling back into old habits.
“I had someone that would hold me responsible,” he said. “I had someone that I would have to answer to, someone that could give me some positive feedback, some positive criticism.”
While Watts said he knows his road to recovery is far from over, he said his relationship with his children, and his life, is much improved since he finished the program in March 2012.
“Programs like this are really, really important and valuable to the needs and necessities of those people who are out there, that are seeking assistance and help in their family structures and situations,” he said.