December 12, 2012

Bill Nemitz: Portland teen shelter a testament to 'average' Joe

By Bill Nemitz

(Continued from page 1)

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Joe Kreisler

John Ewing / Staff File Photo

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"He was my field-placement supervisor for a year when I was at Preble Street in the early 1990s," said Brennan, who at the time was studying for his master's degree in social work at the University of New England.

"I think it was a great example of taking the ivory tower to the streets," said Brennan. "That type of rich opportunity for people who are going to school, to be able to also be involved in the community that way, I don't think you can measure the value of that."

Kreisler, according to son David, often bristled at social programs that greeted the needy with means testing and other bureaucratic hurdles before deciding whether to help them.

"Eligibility stuff was all (expletive) to him," said David Kreisler. "If people have a need, you should do what you can to meet it. The door's open."

Which brings us back to the teen shelter. Early next month, it will replace Preble Street's rickety old Lighthouse Shelter for wayward kids, on nearby Elm Street.

The Joe Kreisler Teen Shelter, promises the plaque installed Tuesday near the entrance, will be "a place where acceptance is the rule, and where people truly listen to one another. A place where love stops and stays with them awhile."

Preble Street paid $2.5 million to buy, renovate and furnish the two-story brick building at the corner of Preble Street and Cumberland Avenue. The agency also has $1.5 million socked away to operate the shelter for the next 10 years, and offer expanded hours at its nearby Teen Center.

Every penny came from private donations within Maine, said Swann. The low-profile fundraising effort, he said, took only four months to reach its goal.

Joe Kreisler would have stood up and cheered. Or would he?

"As much as he would have loved all the private funding, he would have been troubled about the absence of public funding," said David Kreisler, who was a social worker before he became a Portland attorney 20 years ago. "Because he would think that the community and government -- all of us -- have a role in making sure the disenfranchised have their needs met."

Tuesday evening, members of this community came together to see Preble Street's latest miracle for themselves. Many had personal memories of Joe Kreisler, while others confessed they weren't quite sure who the man was or what he'd accomplished.

All the more reason to name the place after him. As Swann noted, "It's important to honor not just people of great wealth, but also people who have done great work."

Back when she was a girl, Janice Bailey would walk with her father around the canyons of Manhattan. Invariably, he'd point up at the massive skyscraper at the intersection of 42nd Street and Lexington Avenue.

"That's the Chrysler Building," Joe Kreisler would tell his daughter. "But they spelled the name wrong!"

Not this time.

Columnist Bill Nemitz can be contacted at 791-6323 or at:

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