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After Years of Hurt and Shame, Youth Finds Friendship and a Future at Boys Town

Josh’s downward spiral began in the sixth grade. That’s when the bullying started.

“Everyone” in the entire school was after him, Josh felt. There was no place to hide. In seventh grade, he had sleepless nights, terrified of what the next day would bring. By eighth grade, he hardly spoke at school or at home.

The taunts and jeers wore Josh down. His grades plummeted. The few friends he had abandoned him. Josh was socially isolated and emotionally cold. He was always sad and sometimes angry. There were days when he was paralyzed by indifference – sitting, staring and doing nothing for hours.

Josh wanted his life to end.

The verbal and physical abuse heaped on him throughout middle school had stomped out Josh’s otherwise gentle disposition and easy-going smile. In their place was a silent, withdrawn boy who dressed in black and hid his face under oversized hoodies.

Josh’s father, Richard, was aware his son was being bullied. But he didn’t realize the depth of his son’s despair until Josh wrote about his feelings in a heartbreaking letter, revealing his suicidal thoughts and self-destructive behaviors. (Josh had used Richard’s razor blades to slash his legs and arms to “release” his pain.)

Immediately, Richard went to Josh’s school for answers. He was greeted with superficial concern. He then sought help from counselors, psychologists and psychiatrists, most of whom prescribed medications… and more medications. But there was no magic pill.

After nearly two years of at-home therapy and prescription medications, Josh was still in a shell. Believing a new approach was necessary, his therapist suggested that Josh go to Boys Town, which was a few short miles from where Josh grew up.

Richard would say later that agreeing to send Josh away was the hardest – and best – decision he ever made.

Josh was placed in the Family Home Program to get a fresh start in a new environment, new school and new peer group. The transition was rocky, and there was no quick fix. Josh kept his head down and his mouth shut the first month… and the second… and the third.

Just as he had done in middle school, Josh tried to distance himself from everyone so he wouldn’t be betrayed or hurt again. As more months passed, however, Josh learned that being aloof and disconnected at Boys Town wasn’t tolerated and doesn’t work.

With encouragement from his Family-Teachers® and others, Josh slowly began to open up. He connected with two boys in his Family Home, and the three became close friends. For a kid who had been ostracized and isolated for so long, making friends felt “amazing.”

As Josh’s confidence grew, so did his comfort level with everyone he met. He was no longer hiding.

Josh embraced Boys Town life, joining the drama, chess, computer and swim clubs. He got so busy living, his anxiety and depression waned.

Josh never cut himself at Boys Town, partly because of the extensive safety measures in place and mainly because of the counseling he received through the Boys Town Behavioral Health Clinic. The clinic’s psychologists design individualized and holistic therapies so the behavioral and emotional needs of children like Josh can be successfully treated.

Josh’s therapist and Family-Teachers worked together to ensure he had the support and guidance he needed to thrive. Josh rediscovered his self-worth and learned valuable life skills that allowed him to embrace life again.

Now, the sad, timid boy who had routinely hurt himself and hid in the shadows is a confident, college-bound young man who laughs easily, thinks fearlessly and acts boldly.

The stories provided about the children and families in our care are real. In some cases, names may be changed and details altered to protect their privacy and therapeutic interests.

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