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no-place-like-the-family-homeNewNo Place Like the Family HomeNorth Florida
Family teachers Craig and Victoria Shelton, at left, are joined by four of the young women they mentor for a family photo
Monday, Jan 23, 2017

​​​Boys Town stabilizes the lives of displaced children

This article is written by Steve Bornhoft. It was posted on tallahasseemagazine.com in January 2017. The photos are copyrighted by Lawrence Davidson.

After four years working as a correctional officer, Craig Shelton was ready to make a career move. His wife, Victoria, newly graduated from Florida State University, was — she would find out — ready to start hers.

The couple paused when they spied an online job posting: Boys Town North Florida was looking for a teaching couple to lead a household of six teenage girls.

"I was the product of a poor family, but I got involved in church at a young age, and a family there took me under their wing and helped raise me," Craig said. "I had always wanted to help kids in the way that I had been supported, and Boys Town seemed to me to be the perfect opportunity to do so."

Victoria had planned to "go straight through" to a master's degree in social work.

"Working right away wasn't part of the plan, but once we read about the opening at Boys Town, we couldn't let it go," she said. "It's not just a job; it's a lifestyle. If you don't feel like you are called to do it — whether by a higher power or because it's your purpose in life to give back to children, you are probably not going to last very long.

"We were called."

The Sheltons had been married for two years when they signed one-year commitments to Boys Town. Two years later, they have no plans to leave any time soon.

Victoria grew up in Crawfordville as the oldest among seven siblings. For her, the prospect of a large family was "just like a regular day."

Guidelines for the Boys Town Family Home Program are established at the headquarters office in Omaha. But the household presided over by the Sheltons is an exercise, said Marcus Lampkin, Boys Town North Florida's senior director of program operations, in "self-governance."

Children are afforded a chance to "appeal the negatives" when disciplined. At family meetings conducted in the living room after the evening meal, cases are pleaded and "consequences" may be raised, left unchanged, lowered or removed by decision of the group.

But far more often than not, those family meetings have to do with positives: sharing accomplishments, planning outings, playing board games. 

The children — girls were first enrolled in Boys Town programs in 1979 — take turns serving as the household manager, and chores are rotated among them. Girls newly arrived at the house are required to stay in constant contact with a family teacher, but soon cross a "bridge" to greater independence.

Privileges include placing three foods that the girls would rather not eat on a "Yuck List." Broccoli is prominent among the foods listed.   

Children come to the Family Home Program after participating in other Boys Town programs; through referrals by social service or juvenile justice agencies; or through placements made by parents or other caregivers. The average length of stay is 12 to 18 months; children age out of the program at 18.

After Boys Town, children may return to their families, join an adoptive family or undertake independent living.

"We are here to play the roles of typical parents," Victoria said, "and to provide stability to children that have been through lots of transitions. Here, they see the same people every day."

The Sheltons recognize that one day, they, too, will graduate from Boys Town, and the children they will be mentoring at that time will have another shift to deal with.

Celebrating a Centennial of Service

Boys Town North Florida's 14th annual Spirit of Youth Gala will celebrate Boys Town's 100 years of caring for children with love, respect and dignity.

"Boys Town has delivered a century of help for every child, strength for every family and hope for every community," said Boys Town North Florida development director Dena Strickland, quoting the centennial slogan adopted by Boys Town programs throughout the country.

Those programs, founded by Father Edward J. Flanagan in Omaha in 1917, rely on a combination of public funds and community support.

The local gala, chaired by Matt and Sheri Bryan and Tim and Jill Meenan, will take place Friday, April 7, at the University Center Club. Boys Town North Florida currently is seeking event sponsors and donations of silent auction items.

Contact Strickland at (850) 504-5007 for further information about this and other centennial events.​

boys-town-a-beacon-of-hope-for-troubled-youthBoys Town: A Beacon of Hope for Troubled YouthNorth Florida
Thursday, Dec 29, 2016

​​​​​​​​This story aired on CBS Sunday Morning and was posted on cbsnews.com on December 25, 2016.

"There's no place like home." Rarely is that truer than this time of year. Our Christmas Cover Story is all about a very special home for some very needy children, as reported by Tony Dokoupil:

Right near the midpoint of America, ten miles outside of Omaha, Nebraska, there's a town that sits between childhood and whatever comes after.

"These young people are about to become citizens of the most famous village in the world," said Father Stephen Boes at a swearing-in ceremony.

In this town, almost every kid is at a crossroads -- and the goal of all the grown-ups here is to help kids leave Boys Town behind.

"I do solemnly promise … that I will be a good citizen."

Eighteen-year-old Chase Pruss, from Dodge, Neb., was sworn in here six months ago --  arriving, like a lot of the kids, straight from jail.

"I took the school safe," he said.  "Just for money. For Beer money. And gas money. And buy cigarettes."

Two more break-ins followed, and Pruss ended up arrested in front of his bewildered parents. "My mom was crying, my dad was crying," he said.

He had run through four different schools, stolen and lied.

And he faced 80 years in prison, ​until a judge helped get him into Boys Town. "I ​​had that mindset of, "I never want to ever ​put myself in the position where I could land myself back in an orange jumpsuit," Pruss said. "I never ​wanted my ​jail ID ​number to say ​who I was."

Andre Harris (right) in class at Boys Town. CBS News

Seventeen-year-old Andre Harris came to Boys Town the same way.  Nearly three years ago, back in Amarillo, Texas, he stole a car, and ended up in juvenile detention.

"I didn't feel like I was gonna amount to anything after that," he told Dokoupil.  

Frankly, he didn't think he'd amount to much before jail, either. College seemed out of reach. He can't remember hearing someone say they were proud of him.

Dokoupil said of Boys Town, "More felons per capita here than any town in Nebraska."

"Probably!" Harris laughed. "But we're all doing our best to change."

Almost every week here at Boys Town, new boys (and since 1979, new girls, too) are sent by social workers, judges and desperate parents. Most of the kids have been unable to live anywhere else without getting in trouble.

And Boys Town is their last chance.

"A lot of people would say they're bad kids," Dokoupil said. "Is that how they see themselves when they get here?"

"Some of our kids do," replied Tony Jones, one of Boys Town's "family teachers." "They see themselves as, you know, on the bottom of the totem pole."

And how do they change that mindset? "You show them that this is your decision. This is your life."

Jones and his wife, Simone, run one of 55 homes on campus. Eight Boys Town children live there like a family, alongside the Jones' three biological kids.

"Every single young man that has come through my home has now become a part of my family," Jones said.

This is a large part of what makes Boys Town so powerful; all 360 kids living here have paid Boys Town parents like Tony and Simone.

"It's a professional, full-time Dad, brother, uncle, cousin -- whatever my boys may need me to be at that particular time in their life, that, then, is who I become for them," Jones said.

Tony Jones and his wife, Simone, and three children share their home with eight Boys Town students. CBS News​

He began at Boys Town as a boy himself. He was born to a shattered family in Detroit. "I can recall my brother and I standing at a bus stop, and it was in the dead of winter. And we only had one pair of socks to share between the two us," Jones laughed.

But then a priest gave the Jones brothers a chance to change their lives at Boys Town. "It was a total transformation," he said.

Dokoupil asked, "Where do you think you would be if you had said no to Boys Town?"

"Oh, two places: I would either be incarcerated, or I would be dead."

Father Edward Flanagan, the founder of Boys Town. CBS News

The Jones story is typical of a hundred years of stories at Boys Town, which began in 1917 as Father Flanagan's Home for Boys. The most beloved clergyman in America, he created arguably the most famous reform school in the world.

Of his charges, Father Flanagan said, "His bruised and tortured heart and mind must be nursed back to normal health through kindness."

You may remember a 1938-Oscar winning movie about the place starring Spencer Tracy. But what you probably don't know is it's a real town, with a real post office and police department.

At about $65,000 per student per year, Boys Town is comparable to a top private college -- and it's mostly taxpayers footing the bill.

But taxpayers pay for prisons, too -- more than $39 billion a year nationally. Boys Town says it can help keep those prison cells empty, while nearly doubling the chance that these students will graduate from high school.

Dokoupil asked Jones, "How do you avoid coming in and being just another person telling them all the things they're doing wrong?"

"By telling them all the things they're doing right," Jones replied. "That's how you help kids change. It's being able to say, 'Hey, young man, you did a good job this morning getting up.'"

"It almost sounds like a joke."

"Well, you know something? That little praise goes a long way."

That little praise goes all the way back to Father Flanagan's ​founding idea: "There are no bad boys."

And if that all sounds too pat to be successful … well, the results say otherwise.

When asked where he would be without Boys Town, Chase Pruss replied, "I'd be in lockup." As did another.

And if that all sounds too pat to be successful, just listen to the results. Tesharr said, "I've been here for a short amount of time. But since my first day I didn't feel like I was in a place where I couldn't leave. I felt like I was home."

Of course, the Boys Town way does not work for every child who comes here; there are failures. But for Chase's parents, Dan and Trish, it's been nothing short of a Christmas miracle.

Dokoupil asked them, "Who was Chase before Boys Town and who is he today?"

"He was dishonest, disrespectful, a thief," said his mother. "And now he is the Chase that I always wanted him to be."

For Andre Harris, the change has been no less dramatic since stealing that car. "It's not even the same person," he said.

And how is he different? "My actions, the way I speak. I've grown up. I've become a young man."

He's a school leader now … a star on the track team … and he's just found out he's headed to college next year.

But first, he's headed to Amarillo for the holidays … a place he hasn't seen in nearly three years. It's a place that Boys Town has been preparing him for since the very day he made his grand theft exit:

It's home.

"This is my Christmas gift," Robert Harris told Dokoupil. "This is all I wanted!"

Andre Harris is welcomed by neighbors back home in Amarillo, Texas. CBS News
holiday-celebrations-at-boys-town-north-floridaHoliday Celebrations at Boys Town North FloridaNorth Florida
a decorated Christmas tree
Thursday, Dec 29, 2016

​​Boys Town North Florida celebrates their holiday season with a large gift drive. Hope for the Holidays is a large gift drive sponsored by donors. Donors are encouraged to sponsor a child or a family and are given their Christmas wish list in order to purchase the children or families their dream present or provide money for Boys Town to purchase the gift on their behalf.

The Boys Town North Florida Christmas Classic is also another event held in honor of the holiday season. This golf tournament is a fundraising opportunity to help fund programs and services provided by Boys Town North Florida.​

This-Forever-Family-Has-an-Unbreakable-BondThis Forever Family Has an Unbreakable BondNorth Florida
De’Andre found the perfect fit with the Fargasons. Left to right: De’Andre, Reid, Renee, Vivian, Patrick and Logan.
Wednesday, Nov 23, 2016

​​​​"Great!"

This simple statement is how a young boy of few words describes what it means to finally have his own forever family. 

De'Andre Fargason is an energetic 13-year-old with a "kind soul and beautiful smile." In March 2016, he was adopted from a Boys Town North Florida Family Home, where he had lived for two and a half years.

Today, De'Andre is surrounded by the love and stability of his new family – parents Renee and Patrick Fargason and three new siblings – who opened their hearts and embraced the teen as a son and brother.

Few would have predicted such a positive situation, given where De'Andre was just a few short years ago.

At the age of 10, he was left at an emergency shelter. It was the culmination of a tumultuous period in his young life.

De'Andre's mother was emotionally erratic. Parenting often overwhelmed her, and she frequently left De'Andre in the care of his grandmother. That arrangement, however, proved less than idyllic. Older and in poor health, Grandma's old-school approach to dealing with her grandson's mischief and defiance included heavy doses of physical punishment.

One unfortunate, yet inevitable, result of that abuse was a deep pool of pent-up resentment. 

According to De'Andre's Boys Town North Florida Family-Teachers®, Misty and Trinity Mackley, being told "No" was the trigger that led to many frustrating moments for the young boy in their care.

"Anger was his main issue throughout his time at Boys Town. He had trouble communicating his feelings verbally at home and school, so he would break things," explained Misty.

Addressing his anger issues took patience and a lot of teaching.

The Mackleys worked closely with De'Andre's elementary school in setting behavioral expectations and boundaries. Misty and Trinity also taught coping skills, including self-calming strategies, so he could take more control of his actions. This skill-based approach empowered De'Andre not to be a victim or a slave to his emotions.

When efforts to reunite De'Andre with his mom, who lived out of state, were unsuccessful, he became eligible for adoption. Eventually, the Wendy's Wonderful Kids Program helped connect the Fargasons with De'Andre and the Mackleys.

"De'Andre gave us a tour of his Boys Town home, and we shared a meal. He was very sweet," said Renee.

It was a gradual getting-to-know-you process. Renee and Patrick worked with the Mackleys over a four-month period to prepare themselves and De'Andre for their new life together.  

"De'Andre made deep connections with the Mackley family. He trusts them, and we continue to foster that relationship. I'm grateful to them, and know they truly love him," said Renee.

After nearly three years in the Family Home Program, the boy who was quick to destroy property during fits of anger had become a role model and protector to other youth.  

Now De'Andre is protective of his siblings and his forever family. He's embracing ​the role of big brother. He's making ​​happy memories. And best of all, he's feeling great about where he is and who he is.

 
ART-Town-Inspires-Youth-in-the-North-Florida-CommunityART Town Inspires Youth in the North Florida CommunityNorth Florida
Friday, Nov 11, 2016

​​Art, Resources, Training (ART) Town is a Boys Town North Florida program that provides unique, innovative ways to deliver life-changing services to more children and families in the Tallahassee community. This program focuses on restorative care that can assist children and families with personal growth in a welcoming, therapeutic environment.

Academic Resources, therapy services, fine arts, visitations, and foster parent training sessions and parenting classes are some of the services and programs offered at the new facility as part of the ART Town program.

In connection with the fine art portion of the ART Town program, Boys Town North Florida recently held an art project for youth from September 20 -22. The project hosted a total of eight Boys Town youth from North Florida programs and two youth from another local organization that provides shelter to at-risk children. The project was led by Anne Hempel, a local artist who volunteered to share her love for art with the youth throughout the three day creation process.

"I enjoyed teaching the class very much. Each child's painting was so unique and beautiful, just as they are." Hempel said. "All of the students put forth effort towards the project, were inquisitive and eager to learn. I appreciated all the smiles and hugs."

The goal of the project was for the children to create their own rendition of Van Gogh's "Sunflowers" series of paintings while working to restore their sense of self and improve their overall emotional well-being. The process began with a sketch of their flowers and vases, then moved to picking a background color and concluded with adding a rustic glaze over the painting.

One youth, Ashanti, stated that his favorite part of the art project was the "glazing" step. This unique process is part of what makes Hempel's work so distinctive. She repeats this process on all her work which results in the painting taking on a rustic, vintage look.

The new ART Town facility and programs helps Boys Town North Florida serve an additional 50 children each year through academic tutoring and mentoring programs, provides foster parent training that increases the number of children served by foster homes by 30, and provides parent training to families across the community that results in a large spread positive impact.

Thank you to Anne Hempel for leading an inspirational event and congrats to Boys Town North Florida on the success of their new ART Town program!​

USTA-Florida-Section-Foundation-Grant-Leads-to-Summer-Tennis-for-Foster-ChildrenUSTA Florida Section Foundation Grant Leads to Summer Tennis for Foster ChildrenNorth Florida
Wednesday, Oct 5, 2016

​This blog post was posted on ustaflorida.com by Kelly Tucker.

Boys Town North Florida finished up its summer tennis program in early September with approximately 15-20 foster children who ​live in one of the group homes located on the organization's campus in Tallahassee.

Boys Town North Florida has been serving abused, neglected, and/or abandoned children and ​​families since 1983 by partnering with local area agencies and businesses to enhance the quality and variety of care provided in the community.

Boys Town received a grant from the USTA Florida Section Foundation last year and is now working with volunteers from the Tallahassee Tennis Association and Tallahassee Parks, Recreation, and Neighborhood Affairs to provide kids an opportunity to ​play tennis once a week at the LeVerne F. Payne Community Center's tennis courts off Fourth Avenue.

The program will begin its fall season in early October.

volunteers-team-up-for-boys-town-north-floridaVolunteers Team Up for Boys Town North FloridaNorth Florida
Volunteers helped Boys Town North Florida check off several needed items from its ART Town playground “wish list”.
Wednesday, Aug 31, 2016

​​This article was published on tallahassee.com on August 30, 2016.

More than 20 local Lowe’s employees recently traded in their days off for a week of hard work under a scorching sun, all to benefit the children of Boys Town North Florida.

The community service effort came after the two Tallahassee Lowe’s stores chose Boys Town’s ART Town as its annual Lowe’s Heroes program project. The employees hung new cabinets, built a gravel pathway and installed several pieces of playground equipment, all with materials donated by Lowe’s.

With big smiles and open hearts, the ​volunteers helped Boys Town North Florida check off several needed items from its ART Town playground “wish list” and create a place where children in the site’s care could happily blow off steam, romp around and just be kids.

Since 1983, Boys Town North Florida has been serving local children who are most at risk due to behavioral and emotional problems. In 2015 alone, the site provided direct care for 801 children through its five programs. ART Town, the site’s newest program, opened in January as a retreat where children and families receiving Boys Town services can focus on restoring their spirits and healing their souls. ART Town provides mentoring and tutoring, therapy, family visitations, art lessons and a variety of other activities.

united-states-mint-unveils-designs-for-boys-town-centennial-commemorative-coinsUnited States Mint Unveils Designs for Boys Town Centennial Commemorative CoinsCalifornia, North Florida
Wednesday, Aug 24, 2016

​​​This press release was published on usmint.gov August 23, 2016.

Designs for coins commemorating the 100th anniversary of the founding of Boys Town were unveiled today during a ceremony at Boys Town Music Hall in Boys Town, Neb.

"Each time a person looks at any one of these unique designs, it will spark an interest in learning about the history of Boys Town, acknowledging the extraordinary efforts made by this organization to give comfort and purpose to children in need, and recognizing the significant contributions of Father Flanagan," said United States Mint Principal Deputy Director ​Rhett Jeppson.

Jeppson was joined by Boys Town​ representatives Cordell Cade and Kymani Bell, mayor and vice mayor, respectively; Dan Daly, Executive Vice President, Director of Youth Care; and Jerry Davis, Vice President of Advocacy.

Public Law 114-30 authorizes the Mint to mint and issue no more than 50,000 $5 gold, 350,000 $1 silver, and 300,000 half dollar clad coins with designs emblematic of the centennial of Boys Town. 

The gold coin obverse (heads) features a portrait of Father Flanagan.  Inscriptions include "BOYS TOWN CENTENNIAL," "IN GOD WE TRUST," "FR. EDWARD FLANAGAN," "LIBERTY," and "2017."  The obverse was designed by United States Mint Artistic Infusion Program (AIP) Designer Donna Weaver and sculpted by Mint Sculptor-Engraver Don Everhart.

The gold coin reverse (tails) features an outstretched hand holding a young oak tree growing from an acorn.  As ​stated in the idiom "Mighty oaks from little acorns grow," this design represents the potential of each child helped by Boys Town to grow into a productive, complete adult.  Inscriptions include "UNITED STATES OF AMERICA," "THE WORK WILL CONTINUE," "FIVE DOLLARS," and "E PLURIBUS UNUM."  The reverse was also designed by Weaver and sculpted by Mint Sculptor-Engraver Jim Licaretz.

The silver $1 coin obverse features a young girl sitting alone and gazing upward into the branches of an oak tree looking for help.  The empty space around the girl is deliberate and meant to show the child's sense of loneliness, isolation, and helplessness.  Inscriptions include "BOYS TOWN," "When you help a child today...," "IN GOD WE TRUST," "LIBERTY," and "1917-2017."

The obverse was designed by AIP Designer Emily Damstra and sculpted by Mint Sculptor-Engraver Joseph Menna. 

The coin's reverse features an oak tree offering shelter and a sense of belonging to the family holding hands below it, which includes the girl from the obverse.  Inscriptions include "...you write the history of tomorrow," "UNITED STATES OF AMERICA," "ONE DOLLAR," and "E PLURIBUS UNUM."  The reverse was also designed by Damstra and sculpted by Menna.

The clad half dollar obverse features an older brother holding the hand of his younger brother in 1917.  They walk toward Father Flanagan's Boys Home and the 1940s pylon representing what would become Boys Town.  Inscriptions include "BOYS TOWN," "1917," "2017," "IN GOD WE TRUST," "LIBERTY," and "Saving Children."  The obverse was designed by AIP Designer Chris Costello and sculpted by Mint Sculptor-Engraver Renata Gordon.

The coin's reverse features a present-day Boys Town neighborhood of homes where children are schooled and nurtured by caring families.  Out of these homes come young adults who graduate from high school and the Boys Town program.  Inscriptions include "UNITED STATES OF AMERICA," "E PLURIBUS UNUM," "Healing Families," and "HALF DOLLAR."  The reverse was also designed by Costello and sculpted by Mint Sculptor-Engraver Phebe Hemphill.

Pricing for the Boys Town Centennial Commemorative Coins will include surcharges-$35 for each $5 gold coin, $10 for each $1 silver coin, and $5 for each half dollar clad coin-which are authorized to be paid to Boys Town to carry out its cause of caring for and assisting children and families in underserved communities across America.

The Mint will announce the release date and additional pricing information for the Boys Town Centennial Commemorative Coins prior to their release in 2017.

 
new-playground-for-boys-town-nearly-completeNew Playground for Boys Town Nearly CompleteNorth Florida
Friday, Aug 19, 2016

​​​This article is written by Julie Montanaro. It was published August 18, 2016 on wctv.tv.

A new playground is being built that will help abused and neglected children relax and have fun.

Kids at Boys Town will soon have a chance to run, swing and climb. A team of 'Lowe's Heroes' spent the whole week building them a playground, all for free.

"Just how much we put a smile on another kid's face. That's what's going to be going through my mind every time we drive by here. It's amazing," says local Lowe's manager, Angela Williams.

Dena Strickland with Boys Town adds, "It's going to be so enriching in the lives of our children. They are going to love it. "

The playground includes a see-saw, swings, pull-up bars, and even a putting green.

The project is expected to be completed by the end of the week.

boys-town-awards-youth-at-annual-banquetBoys Town Awards Youth at Annual BanquetNorth Florida
Thursday, Aug 4, 2016

​​​​​This article was posted on tallahassee.com on August 1, 2016.

Boys Town North Florida held its Awards Banquet last Thursday at the Tallahassee Automobile Museum. Those youth being awarded showed up in style thanks to Mikes Limousine Service as they were greeted in turn by Dj Willie Brown.

Every child receives an award - From “Most Improved Academic Performance” to “Most Courageous” there was an individual award for every child in the Family Homes Program.
The top two awards  — “Youth of the Year” and “Ambassador of the Year” — recognize the recipients’ ability to represent Boys Town in a positive manner within the community.

This year's Youth of the Year is Joshua and Ambassador of the Year is Emma.

Both Joshua and Emma came to Boys Town with a lot of reasons to be angry and untrusting.  It took a little while for the Family Home staff to prove that they were committed to helping them.  Once they understood that the Home's goal was to let the light inside of them shine bright, they embraced every ounce of help they were offered with arms wide open.

About Joshua: Joshua had developed such a strong sense of self and has goals for his future.  He is an example to the other youth that your past does not have to define your future.  If there is any way he can help, Joshua will be there and will put his best foot forward every time. He has earned the title “Youth of the Year.”

About Emma: There isn’t a soul that comes in contact with Emma, that doesn’t leave ​feeling just a little lighter.   Her resolve to change her story, her desire to see everyone succeed and her ability to make every person she meets better just for knowing her, has earned her the “Ambassador of the Year” Award for the Family Home Program.

north-florida-soars-to-a-record-setting-galaNorth Florida "Soars" to a Record-Setting GalaNorth Florida
Tuesday, May 3, 2016

On Friday, April 8, Boys Town North ​Florida celebrated its 13th Annual Spirit of Youth Gala at the University Center Club in Tallahassee. The community came together to celebrate our children’s success through this year’s theme, “Carnaval: Watch Them Soar!” 

Chaired by Tim and Stephanie Jansen, the sell-out event included 11 live auction, 11 almost live auction, and 90 silent auction items for the 340 guests to bid on. Some live auction highlights included a Florida State football skybox seat package for twenty people, a Virgin Islands getaway for two, VIP Jimmy Buffett concert tickets and backstage passes, and a beautiful yellow Labrador puppy.

Guests could also commit to a $500 outright gift to become a “Boys Town Star”. In two minutes, 101 balloons were sold, raising $50,500—the most ever at this event.

Former and current Boys Town youth were also involved in the occasion. Youth Jayson and Jacelyn performed a traditional Samba dance routine, and Boys Town alumna Erica Flanders Posey spoke about her struggles and triumph with the guests. Florida’s First Lady Ann Scott was there to cheer them on.

Now in its 13th year, the gala has become a significant event in the community. It has grown each year in participants and money raised. One friend of Boys Town summed it up by saying, “It used to be a fundraiser. Now it has become a community event!”

Dena Strickland, Development Director of North Florida, was thrilled with the outcome of the gala. More than $300,000 was raised and will directly impact the children and families Boys Town serves.

“We are very thankful for our Boys Town Family, who, through their heartfelt gifts of time and treasure, play a significant role in changing our children’s lives,” Dena said. “As a result of their efforts, Boys Town is able to give our children the proper tools needed so we can ‘Watch Them Soar!’”

Thank you to the Boys Town North Florida staff who worked tirelessly to make this event such a success and to everyone who contributed to Saving Children and Healing Families ®.

art-town-at-boys-town-north-florida-officially-opensART Town at Boys Town North Florida Officially OpensNorth Florida
Monday, Feb 22, 2016

Nearly two years in the making,​ Boys Town North Florida’s ART Town officially opened on January 26, 2016.

ART Town at Boys Town North Florida is a retreat where children and families can concentrate on restoring their spirit and healing their soul. ART stands for Art, Resources and Training by providing a professionally supervised, therapeutic, central location where children and families can experience personal growth in a charming and welcoming environment.

In 2013, Boys Town North Florida purchased a home on two and a half acres adjacent from the Tallahassee, Florida campus. With help from many supporters in the Tallahassee community, the home was transformed into a calm and welcoming retreat center where teaching, training, therapeutic arts-related activities, meetings and counseling sessions can take place in a quiet, private setting.

ART Town brings another element to the already life-changing care that Boys Town North Florida offers to children and families. Prior to ART Town, there wasn’t a space where activities, such as art-related activities, foster parent training and common sense parenting classes, were offered due to lack of space. ART Town can provide individualized or group assistance, resources and encouragement to children and families that are facing a wide variety of challenges or situations. Additionally, ART Town will offer mentoring and tutoring services to youth.

Boys Town North Florida held a grand-opening ceremony for the new center on January 26, 2016. The event offered tours and information on the programs that will use the facility.

hearth-soul-supports-boys-townHearth & Soul Supports Boys TownNorth Florida
Friday, Oct 30, 2015

This article was ​originally published on October 25, 2015 by the Tallahassee Democrat.

Hearth & Soul donated $3,820 to Boys Town, its Non Profit Partner for the Month for September. Every month, Hearth & Soul partners with an area Non Profit to raise money and awareness for that organization's good work - 100% of the net profits from the sale of a special candle will benefit that month's Non Profit Partner. Hearth & Soul is a new concept in retail - it's both a gathering space complete with coffee bar and refreshments and a boutique offering select men and women's fashions as well as unique, curated items for every room in the home. 

teen-puts-trust-in-boys-town-north-florida-to-find-forever-familyTeen Puts Trust in Boys Town North Florida to Find Forever FamilyNorth Florida
Monday, Oct 12, 2015

Michaela was an angry 13-year-old who didn’t trust anyone.

That’s what becomes of a child who is removed from her home at age 3 and lives in more than 30 different placements during what should be her happiest years of childhood. 

Unfortunately for Michaela, there were no other options. Her terminally ill mother was an addict and there were no other family members who could care for her. Michaela’s tumultuous life in the child welfare system ended only when she was placed in a Family Home at Boys Town North Florida.

But even a stable, family-style environment wasn’t enough to immediately quiet the turmoil in Michaela’s life. The teen was expelled from two schools and suspended from another within three months of her arrival at Boys Town. It took four months of intensive therapy before she began to bond with her Family-Teachers and the other girls who lived in her Family Home.

The turning point came when Michaela realized she was part of a family that really cared for her, something she had never experienced in her young life.

Fast forward two years. Continual teaching and compassionate care had helped Michaela learn how to control her emotions, get along better with others, get back on track in school and, most importantly, trust. 

“Michaela became a very resilient girl,” said Tonia Westerfield, Director of the Family Home Program at Boys Town North Florida. “She started to have a positive attitude, believing ‘This is the life I’ve been given. I’m not going to let it get me down. It’s time to move on.’”

And the best was yet to come. While still at Boys Town, Michaela met Bill and Cynthia Jones at an event that brings together children and families that are interested in adoption. The couple, who had no children of their own, immediately took a liking to the 15-year-old. Soon, Michaela started visiting the Joneses’ home, eventually staying overnight and over weekends. 

Nine months after meeting the Joneses, she moved in with them. But just as when she had moved to Boys Town, the transition was a struggle.

“Michaela was nervous to leave Boys Town because it was the one constant in her life,” said Westerfield. “Being the only child in the household and not having all the activity and people to talk to she had at Boys Town was very difficult for Michaela. She said she would rather live at Boys Town than be adopted.”

Wanting Michaela to have a forever family, Boys Town again offered assistance. An In-Home Family Services Consultant began working with Michaela, Bill and Cynthia. Over eight weeks, the Consultant taught them skills that would help them build a healthy, lasting relationship and create a bond of trust as a family.

Michaela also was reminded that while the Joneses would be her family for life, she would always be part of the Boys Town family.

By the time the Joneses’ adoption of Michaela was finalized, the teen realized she had been taken in by a family that really did love her and she was finally in her own home to stay.

Today, Michaela is a high school senior who is involved in sports and excels in the classroom. Her goal is to follow Cynthia’s career path, eventually styling hair in the salon Cynthia operates. And she still frequently stops by Boys Town North Florida to visit her friends and staff members.

Michaela was destined to find her happy ending; it was just a matter of trust.

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

mother-son-overcome-obstacles-of-heroic-proportions-with-boys-town-north-floridas-helpMother, Son Overcome Obstacles of ‘Heroic’ Proportions with Boys Town North Florida’s HelpNorth Florida
Monday, Sep 28, 2015

The dictionary ​defines a hero as “a person of distinguished courage or ability, admired for his brave deeds and noble qualities.”

Betsy Fisher says her 14-year-old son Marshal is deserving of that title.

Marshal has overcome a lot since enduring a childhood that was turbulent and painful.

At age 7, he was removed from his biological parents due to neglect and physical abuse. His mother was a drug addict and was incapable of parenting. She was in and out of Marshal’s life during his many foster care placements and tried to regain custody on several occasions. But her parental rights were terminated in 2008.

In foster care, Marshal’s behavioral issues made it difficult for him to stay in one placement. He threw sometimes-violent tantrums, was physically and verbally aggressive toward others and destroyed property.

A turning point occurred in 2010 when Betsy began working as Marshal’s mentor. For the next two years, Betsy was a constant in Marshal’s life and their friendship grew. However, Marshal was reluctant to fully invest in this new relationship because he had been disappointed so many times in the past by the very people who were supposed to be caring for him.

Even with the strong bond that was developing between Marshal and Betsy, Marshal still needed help to deal with his aggressive behaviors and his past. And he would eventually need a permanent home.

That’s when Boys Town North Florida entered the picture.

In 2012, Tonia Westerfield, Family Home Program Director for Boys Town North Florida, received a request to place Marshal, then 11, in one of the site’s Family Homes. “Typically we would not have taken a child with his level of behavioral issues and as young as he was,” Westerfield said. “But the only way for Marshal to remain in the county to have continued visits with Betsy and his therapist was for him to live in one of our Family Homes.  If Marshal would have moved out of the county, he would have lost his support.”

With Marshal now safe as part of a Boys Town family, Betsy was able to continue to visit him and provide support. Marshal’s behaviors improved over his nine months with Boys Town, and when he left, he moved in with Betsy.

Betsy had decided to adopt the boy to whom she had grown so close.

Boys Town In-Home Family Services® continued to help, working with Betsy and Marshal several weeks as Marshal transitioned into his new home.

Sara Soria, their Boys Town Consultant, said Betsy’s relationship with Marshal was a blessing, especially with what happened shortly after Marshal’s adoption was finalized.

Just as they were beginning their lives together, Marshal was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a type of bone cancer that most commonly affects children. He immediately began chemotherapy, but in the summer of 2014, his right leg was amputated below the knee and he was confined to a wheelchair.

Marshal’s illness brought on many changes for him and Betsy. Marshal had to withdraw from public school and begin homeschooling. Betsy switched from full-time to part-time at her job as a high school psychology teacher so she could care for Marshal. As a result, the family’s income was reduced, creating some financial hardships.

Again, Boys Town North Florida was there to help.

Soria assisted Betsy in trying to get subsidies for Marshal’s care, as well as doing what she could to make the family’s life just a little bit easier.

“Betsy needs around-the-clock help with Marshal,” Soria said. “He is a special needs child who will need assistance his whole life. The most important thing is continuing support and services for this family.”

Betsy said she can’t thank Boys Town North Florida enough for its help as she and Marshal continue their journey together.

“The bond between us continues to grow stronger,” Betsy said. “Marshal is my little ‘hero.’ He is a survivor in so many ways. We are learning from one another and loving one another. We can do this!”

Soria said despite the setback Betsy and Marshal faced with Marshal’s illness, they were fortunate to have each other when it happened.

“The beautiful thing is that when Marshal was diagnosed with cancer, he was in his forever home and with a mother who was committed to him,” Soria said. “Thank God he is with Betsy and not in the system. He has the love of someone to be with him forever.”

Marshal now realizes that even with all of his medical issues, Betsy is not going anywhere. As mother and son face their future, they do so with perseverance, dedication and love.

And Marshal the hero has a hero of his own to look up to.

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