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after-heartache-a-young-girl-finds-redemption-and-loveAfter Much Heartache and Hardship, a Young Girl Finds Redemption and LoveNorth Florida
During a visit to Boys Town’s home campus in Nebraska, Emma met with Father Steven Boes, Boys Town’s National Executive Director
Monday, Oct 16, 2017

When staff members at Boys Town North Florida first met 14-year-old Emma Slater, they instantly took a strong liking to their new "bouncing ball of energy."

Emma's cheery disposition, however, belied a dark and tumultuous past.

Born in China, Emma was abandoned by her parents when she was just 3. A police officer rescued her from the streets and she was taken to an orphanage. Sadly, the orphanage staff neglected and abused her.  

Emma longed for someone to love her, and at age 7, she was adopted by an American family and brought to the United States. But two years later, the family dissolved the adoption and gave her to another family. That family also adopted Emma, but later tried to unsuccessfully pass her off to several other families. All of this occurred outside the child welfare system, so Emma had no one to protect her or advocate for her.

Eventually, Emma was placed in a locked residential facility. By the time she finally entered the formal foster care system, she was carrying a long list of trauma-related behaviors no foster parents could deal with and the despairing belief that she was unlovable.

In 2014, Emma arrived at her Boys Town North Florida Family Home in Tallahassee with severe attachment issues, academic failures and unresolved anger problems. If that weren't enough, the teen also suffered from speech and language impairments due to a cleft palate.

Despite the many disruptions and disappointments she had experienced, Emma was excited to be at Boys Town. Tonia Westerfield, director of the site's Family Home Program, called Emma's first two months a "honeymoon."

But then it all unraveled.  

"As the new school year approached, Emma felt intense anxiety," explained Tonia. "Those fears, combined with other stressors, led Emma to hurt herself and engage in scary behaviors."

Emma's combativeness grew more frequent and severe, and she was especially volatile when her Family-Teachers® (the married couple caring for her in the Family Home) corrected misbehaviors and provided consequences.     

"Emma equated love with material possessions. So when things were taken from her as a consequence of her negative actions, she thought love was being taken away, too," Tonia said.

Changing Emma's polarized, black-or-white thinking took time and patience. To help her broaden her thinking and understand the true meaning of love, her therapy included giving all of her personal belongings to Tonia. To earn them back, Emma had to demonstrate she could be a good "sister" to the other girls in her Family Home. That meant treating them with respect, helping to take care of the home and not putting herself or anyone else in danger.

Emma accepted the challenge, grateful that Boys Town didn't give up on her. After months of intense therapy and skill teaching, Emma earned back all her prized possessions. She even became a role model to others in the program.   

With her behaviors in check, staff turned their attention to improving Emma's academic performance.

Emma was below her grade level and failing her classes when Boys Town contacted a local academy that offers specialized instruction to students with speech and language challenges. Emma was accepted into the school and thrived in its single-classroom environment, earning straight A's and advancing multiple grade levels.

While Emma progressed socially and academically, her caregivers developed a plan to have her cleft palate repaired. Fortunately, Boys Town National Research Hospital® in Omaha, Nebraska, helps thousands of children who are deaf, hard of hearing or, like Emma, have speech and communication problems.

After multiple trips to "Omahoma," as Emma called it, a team of craniofacial specialists designed a treatment plan to correct her condition and successfully performed reconstructive surgery.

Now, the volatile, emotionally damaged girl who came to Boys Town two years earlier had blossomed into a poised young lady who laughed easily, shared generously and loved unconditionally.  

As Emma's journey of personal growth and physical healing continued, fate intervened in the most heartwarming way.

During a review of Emma's case file, a letter from one of her previous foster parents, Janice and Ervin Slater, was discovered. It described the heartache they felt over not being able to provide the level of care Emma needed, along with the hope that she might someday return.    

"In Emma's therapy sessions, she often talked about the couple and described them as very kind. She felt a lot of remorse for how she acted in their home," Tonia said. 

Boys Town reached out to the Slaters. Without hesitation, the couple made the five-hour drive from their home in Dade City the very next day.     

The emotional reunion was such a success that the Slaters, with Boys Town's consent, began the adoption process. Six months later, Emma had finally found what had so painfully eluded her… a forever family. And this time, forever means forever.  

boys-town-north-florida-partnership-makes-a-differenceBoys Town North Florida Partnership Makes a DifferenceNorth Florida
Dr. Weaver, Brayton Frank and Regina McQueen
Monday, Sep 18, 2017

Through Boys Town programs and services, children's lives are changed thanks to the individualized attention and support they receive; thanks to this, Brayton Frank is now able to see the world more clearly.

Frank was placed with Boys Town North Florida's Foster Family Services in May 2016 after being negatively discharged from his foster care placement due to behavioral issues that greatly affected his performance in school.

When seven-year-old Frank would become agitated or frustrated, he would immediately become angry and display verbal and physical aggression towards those around him. Frank's Individualized Education Plan (IEP) was started last year to assess his eligibility to receive specialized support in the classroom to help him achieve his academic goals and avoid suspension, which he had been prone to in the past.

While awaiting his eligibility, Foster Family Services Consultant Regina McQueen worked diligently with Frank's school, case manager and new foster parents to help Frank succeed and ensure that his needs were being met. Throughout this process, it was discovered that little Brayton Frank needed new glasses. With the earliest appointment available through a medical provider two months away, Boys Town turned to Dr. Tony Weaver of Eye Associates of Tallahassee.

After learning about Frank's struggle and situation, Dr. Weaver immediately set up an appointment to see him. Weaver, a long-time supporter of Boys Town North Florida and its mission, squeezed Frank in for an appointment despite his full schedule. Weaver and his associates went above and beyond to give back to Boys Town and change the life of a child in need. "Cute kid! He stole our hearts," said Weaver.

Now, with improved vision and through the kindness of Dr. Weaver, Brayton Frank is able to recognize objects, shapes and numbers that he was unable to see before. With his improved vision and IEP process coming to a close, Frank will be able to reach his academic goals and see the world more clearly. Boys Town North Florida's goal is to reunify Frank with his biological parents, who are overjoyed that his needs are being addressed and taken care of while he is not in their care.

community-partnership-provides-quilts-to-bt-n-floridaCommunity Partnership Provides Quilts to Boys Town North FloridaNorth Florida
Stitch n Time
Thursday, Aug 17, 2017

For youth who come to Boys Town, the transition into a new situation can be daunting. Creating a comfortable environment for these kids when they arrive is essential, which is why Boys Town North Florida decided to revive a long standing tradition to make the youth feel a little more welcome.

Boys Town North Florida began partnering with the Stitch-N-Time program at the Leon County Detention Facility in Tallahassee to provide quilts to kids when they first enter into Boys Town's care. The site received its first 39 quilts and 34 school bags on January 26, 2017 from the Stitch-N-Time program.

Stitch-N-Time is a program that teaches its members all parts of the sewing process. Through learning these skills the individuals also learn how to work as a team, acquire new skills, and give back to their community. This program will be providing Boys Town North Florida with more quilts every 3 months so the site can continually provide them to children in all their programs. 

"Stitch-n-Time is one of the premier trusty programs in the State of Florida," said Officer Guy, who oversees the program. "The program enables the trust to do their time in a rehabilitated environment while contributing to the community."

Quilting has been an important part of the Boys Town mission and story for many years. It began in 1918 when Father Edward Flanagan's mother Honora organized the first Mothers Guild meeting, where each week volunteers would gather to create quilts and sew clothing for the boys. Throughout the 1920's, you could find a lovingly stitched quilt on each and every bed in the Home.

"Due to the history of the Mother's Guild in Omaha, we were excited to be able to give our youth the same opportunity and carry on the tradition here in North Florida by giving each of our campus youth a quilt," said Lindsey McDole, Executive Assistant for Boys Town North Florida.

By upholding a time-honored tradition, Boys Town North Florida is able to make the youths' situations a little less scary while maintaining a mutually beneficial partnership with the Leon County Detention Facility.

Thanks to Stitch-N-Time Boys Town North Florida youth can curl up in their quilts after a long day, relax, and be thankful for the opportunities that Boys Town North Florida is providing for them.

jen-standley-goes-above-and-beyond-to-assist-youthJen Standley Goes Above and Beyond to Assist YouthNorth Florida
Jen Standley
Tuesday, Jun 27, 2017

​Jennifer "Jen" Standley began her journey as a Boys Town employee in 2010 when she and her husband became Licensed Foster Parents. One year into their time as foster parents, the Standleys adopted a boy and his two adult siblings. Their adoption reunited the siblings for the first time in 10 years.

Now working as an Administrative Assistant for the Boys Town North Florida Family Home Program, Jen continues to make an impact on kids every day not only through her daily job duties, but also outside of work. From mentoring to teaching cooking classes, her passion for helping youth has been a blessing to all of the kids she helps.

"Jennifer Standley is a true Boys Town hero," said Development Director Dena Strickland. "She genuinely cares about our children, exemplifying our North Florida Culture of always 'Going the Extra Mile' to ensure our children are well taken care of. This is just one example of many and I am very proud of her initiatives – she is a true GEM!"

Jen has taken on many projects and roles to ensure kids have the life skills they need to become successful. This past summer, she taught two cooking classes to youth in the Family Home Program. The youth learned to make roasted buffalo chicken with yellow rice and broccoli, which turned out to be a fan favorite among both the kids and staff. Standley's cooking class, helped youth become more confident and self-sufficient.

"It fills my heart with pride and joy when I see our youth experience new things. There's nothing better than cooking a meal and having a youth ask for the recipe because they want to cook the meal they just ate," Standley said.

But Standley's kindness doesn't stop at cooking classes. Her most recent project is assisting with Boys Town North Florida's new state program called "Keys to Independence." This statewide program was created to assist youth in Foster Care with passing their exams and driving tests to obtain their Learner's Permits and later their Driver's License. Standley holds a study group at ART Town to help youth study for their driver's exams. Recently, three youth passed their Learner's Permit test from the DMV thanks to Jen.

"Because of the success of these three girls who passed their Learner's Permit tests, we constantly hear other youth asking Jen when she can help them," said Tonia Westerfield, Boys Town North Florida Family Home Program Director. "It's a beautiful thing to witness."

"Seeing their faces light up with excitement and seeing how proud and confident they were when they passed their tests is what makes what I do worth every moment," Standley reflected.

In addition to the Keys to Independence program and cooking classes, Jen also mentors Boys Town youth who have aged out of the system. She helps them with the transition to adulthood by providing advice and teaching valuable life skills.

"It brings me much joy to work with such a wonderful agency that shares the same philosophy as me," Standley said. "Kids matter! This is why I do what I can to help these youth who may not have every opportunity as other youth."

boys-town-north-florida-chosen-to-present-at-provider-to-provider-expoBoys Town North Florida Chosen to Present at Provider to Provider ExpoNorth Florida
Boys Town North Florida Chosen to Present at Provider to Provider Expo
Wednesday, Jun 21, 2017

Boys Town North Florida recently participated in the Provider to Provider Expo: Local Advocates Strengthening Families Together held on April 10, 2017. Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum organized the expo with the purpose of providing an interactive day of professional development for providers to focus on learning local resources and their referral processes, engaging with other agencies, facilitating connections with families and engaging with peers in the local system of care.

Boys Town North Florida was chosen to be one of nine agencies to present. The Expo featured different providers, including Boys Town, Kearney Center, FSU School of Medicine, the Early Learning Coalition, Play Big Therapy and many other organizations dedicated to providing for children in the community. 

Matthias Sidney, Boys Town North Florida Coordination Services Consultant, and Bethany Lacey, Boys Town North Florida Senior Director of Program Operations, were given the opportunity to share more information about Boys Town's centennial, history, legacy and current impact within the community with those in attendance.

Each organization was provided with 15 minutes to present to the crowd of over 200 individuals. Those in attendance were made up of representatives from different sectors of the community such as the school district, law enforcement, child care, hospitals and social service agencies.

"It was so exciting to see all these providers come together with the common goal of wanting to ensure families receive the right service at the right time!" Lacey said. "It was powerful to witness all these agencies working together to ensure that no child or family falls through the crack, and that every resource if made available to our families in need within our community!"

mom-finds-new-life-with-boys-townNew Mom Finds New Life with Boys Town North Florida’s HelpNorth Florida
Tuesday, Apr 25, 2017

No matter what Leanna did, it was the wrong thing. And it always earned a beating from her boyfriend.

He beat her if she was quiet. He beat her if she spoke. He beat her as she held their new daughter, and he beat her as he drove the car during a family trip to Tallahassee.

Besides the physical and emotional pain of the constant abuse, Leanna also suffered from post-partum depression and self-esteem issues. But those things didn't matter to her boyfriend either. When he was angry, or even just displeased, Leanna could expect bruises and black eyes.

Leanna tried to reach out for help. Several times, the family was involved with the Department of Children and Families. But it wasn't until one of those DCF contacts resulted in a call to Boys Town North Florida's In-Home Family Services® program that life began to change for her and her newborn daughter.

For eight weeks, Boys Town Family Consultant Monica Smart worked with Leanna. First, Monica helped Leanna and her baby move in with some nearby relatives. That took the mother and child out of harm's way. Then Monica began teaching Leanna the skills she would need to find her own place, get a job and live life on her own terms, without fear and pain.

After many meetings punctuated by frustration and tears, Leanna was ready to apply the problem-solving skills she learned in the program. She began connecting with community agencies and resources to find housing and a job, and enhanced her parenting skills so she could give her little girl the best care possible.

Leanna ended her services with Boys Town North Florida facing a future that still holds many uncertainties. But today, she has her own apartment and is moving forward with self-confidence and the knowledge that everything she is doing is the right thing for her and her daughter.  

"Boys Town is a lifesaver and I thank you all for everything that you have done for my family," she said.

bt-celebrating-100th-anniversaryBoys Town Celebrating 100th AnniversaryNorth Florida
Boys Town Celebrating 100th Anniversary
Monday, Apr 17, 2017

This story is written by Julie Montanaro. It was posted on April 7, 2017 at

Boys Town was first made famous on the big screen in Hollywood in the 1930's.

"Boys Town is real. It's a drama greater than the imagination of Hollywood's greatest storytellers," the original Warner Brothers movie trailer begins.

It highlighted the work of Father Edward Flangan at his Omaha, Nebraska home for at risk children.

Spencer Tracy earned an Oscar for his portrayal of Father Flanagan in the film.

That Oscar is now in Tallahassee to help "Boys Town" celebrate its 100th anniversary.

Boys Town historian Thomas Lynch traveled all the way from Omaha
carrying that statue under lock and key.

Spencer Tracy donated it to Boys Town.

"Father Flanagan received the Oscar from Spencer Tracy the day after he received it in 1939. Father was actually ill in bed and we have pictures of him holding it in his pajamas and then he placed it on his desk and kept it there for ten years until he passed away."

Those willing to wear white gloves can hold the autographed Oscar and take pictures with it at Boys Town's annual gala.

"An Oscar is something people are very interested in and many people are amazed at how heavy the Oscar is," Lynch said. "They just love to see it because they see it on t.v. and they can actually hold one."

The Oscar is usually under lock and key in a museum. It'll be on display at Friday night's sold out Spirit of Youth gala.

That gala is the biggest fundraiser of the year for Boys Town here in Tallahassee.

It has helped nearly 800 children in the past year cope with abuse and anger and start to believe in themselves.

Boys Town alum Ashley Jackson says she is living proof that all things are possible.

Ashley Jackson got her first degree from FAMU.

She's now working on her master's at Florida State.

We met at the "Unconquered" statue. It couldn't be more apt.

"You begin to develop a hopelessness in people, because you know you've seen so much bad," Jackson said.

Jackson survived years of abuse, bouncing from foster home to foster home before landing at Boys Town.

"Boys Town actually made my 15th foster home," she said.

Jackson was thrust into foster care at the age of seven. By 15, she says, she was angry and lashing out.

"All the other foster homes, all the other people in my life, they gave up on me, which didn't help because I had given up on myself, you know? But when I got to Boys Town, they didn't," Jackson said. "Because they believed in me so much, it caused me to start believing in me."

This vivacious 26 year old is now determined to be a voice for other foster kids and share the words she was so desperate to hear - and believe - herself.

"You are capable. You are intelligent and you have the willpower and potential to accomplish anything you want to accomplish. Don't let anyone tell you you can't. Always know that you can," she said.

Ashley will be headed to Washington, D.C. next month for an internship in Congressman Al Lawson's office.

This is just one of the success stories that Boys Town is celebrating.

It directly helped more than 8,000 kids in Florida in 2016 and tens of thousands more nationwide.

Former-Boys-Town-North-Florida-Youth-Finds-Her-Calling-in-AdvocacyFormer Boys Town North Florida Youth Finds Her Calling in AdvocacyNorth Florida
Wednesday, Apr 12, 2017

Ashley Jackson had a story to tell about growing up as a foster child.

When the opportunity to share that story came along, it put the former Boys Town North Florida youth on a national stage as an advocate for children.

Ashely traveled to Washington, D.C., last year to speak as a Young Advocate as part of a national panel briefing before the House of Representatives. The briefing was hosted by the Campaign for Youth Justice and the Coalition for Juvenile Justice.

For Ashley, it was a totally new experience.

"When Mr. Ken (Bender, Executive Director of Boys Town North Florida) called me and asked if I wanted to advocate for youth by telling my story in Washington, D.C., of course I jumped on the opportunity and couldn't wait for the trip," she said. "I had never been on an airplane before and this would be my first time in a new state."

During the briefing, Ashley spoke for just under 10 minutes. She described how she had bounced from one foster home to another for about 13 years, from 1995 to 2008. She recounted being incarcerated for six months for running away from one of her foster homes. And, she made it very clear that placing kids in a juvenile detention center is not the answer to teaching them right from wrong.

"It was a traumatic experience for me," Ashley said of her time in the detention center. "You have to understand the types of people you have in the system. I was incarcerated because I ran away. But I was a lot different type of kid than the others there. You have lots of gang-influenced people in there. That could have been a very bad thing for me. I became very angry being in that situation. I feel very fortunate that when I got out, I found someone that could help me. I found Boys Town."

Jackson said the people at Boys Town North Florida were different. They listened to her concerns, and she finally was able to trust someone.

"I had trust issues long before I was placed in juvenile detention," she said. "Being in 15 different foster homes will do that to you. Boys Town changed my life."

Ashley graduated from high school and then went on to Florida A&M University, where she earned a bachelor's degree in social work. She is now pursuing a master's degree in clinical social work and public administration at Florida State University.

She said being asked to speak in the nation's capital was a dream come true.

"The experience was motivational and inspirational. I got to experience advocating on a national level, and when I told my story, I realized public speaking and advocating for the rights of our youth is a path I want to take with my life. Also, it made me admire Boys Town even more than I already did."

Ashley said she feels she is just beginning to make a difference.

"The best part of the trip for me was being told, 'I know we will see you here again soon,'" she said proudly. "Being told that I belong there confirmed for me that I can make an impact on the system, and that's exactly what I plan to do."

North-Floridas-24th-Annual-Golf-Classic-Raises-60000North Florida's 24th Annual Golf Classic Raises $60,000North Florida
North Florida's 24th Annual Golf Classic Recap
Thursday, Apr 6, 2017

​Florida residents recently brought out their golf clubs and gathered into teams of four in hopes of earning the top score among the competition at Boys Town North Florida's Annual Winter Classic Golf Tournament.

This year's tournament marked the event's 24th year since it first began. To live up to the previous year's lavish venues, this year's Christmas Classic was held at the Golden Eagle Golf and Country Club in Tallahassee on Monday, December 12, 2016. Under the leadership of chairman, Eric Sharkey of Residential Elevators, a little over 150 players, volunteers, employees and youth gathered at the sold out event.

Teams of four teed-off at 10 a.m. while guest enjoyed the food and beverage vendors available. Staff members and youth from Boys Town North Florida's programs greeted and welcomed guests with holiday cookies at the Tasty Pastry Vendor tent as they arrived.

The large turnout of guests and outstanding commitment of the competitors resulted in an impactful amount of $60,000 raised to support Boys Town's North Florida's programs and services.

The top three gross winning teams were Tallahassee Ford Lincoln in first place with a score of 56, Residential Elevators coming in second place scoring 57, and Carr Allison taking third place with a score of 58.

"It was a fabulous Golf Tournament, and I thank our chairman, Eric Sharkey for leading this effort and look forward to his chairmanship during our 100th Anniversary Year and at our 25th Annual Christmas Classic Golf Tournament!" Dena Strickland, Boys Town North Florida Development Director said.

Boys Town North Florida extends a thank you to the following corporate sponsors for another successful event:

Event Sponsors: Eric and Hollie Sharkey, Centennial Bank, DRMP, Legacy Toyota, Bobby Dick & Merril Lynch Bank of American Corporation, Residential Elevators, Tallahassee Democrat, Thomas Howell Ferguson P.A., Bud Warehouses, Carr Allison Law Firm, Earl Bacon Agency, FMI Business Systems, Hancock Bank, Jersey Mike's Subs, Jim Moran Institute, The Kupiszewski Family, McKee Insurance Agency, Miller's Tree Service, NAI TALCOR, Pennington P.A., Prime Meridian Bank, Rodrigue & Rodrigue, and Rogers, Gunter, Vaughan Insurance Inc., Southern Fidelity Insurance Group, Summit Group/Mad Dog Construction, Syn-Tech System, Tallahassee Ford Lincoln and TriCon Builders.

Hole Sponsors: BB&T, Benners Contracting, Dr. Joe & Marion Camps, Centennial Mortgage, Clark Partington, Demont Insurance Agency Inc., Electronet Broadband Communications, Farmers & Merchants Bank, Ferguson Plumbing, Florida Fence & Deck, Genesis, Ghost Controls, Sandy & Mark Goldman, Hunt & Hunt Interiors, Todd & Jeri Hunter, James Campbell & Associates, Lloyd Roofing & Construction Inc., Madison Social, Moe's Southwest Grill, RaGZ, Bill Reardon-State Farm Insurance, Riley Palmer Construction Company, Ryder, Southern Home Consultants Inc., Tallahassee State Bank, TRS Inc. and Whitaker Construction Group Inc.

Vender Sponsors: Ace Hardware, Edwin Watts Golf, The Egg, Eye Associates of Tallahassee, Gabriel Hanway, Golden Eagle Golf & Country Club, Moe's Southwest Grill, Signs 4 Today, Starbucks, Tallahassee Ford Lincoln, Tasty Pastry Baker, What A Graphic! and Tri-Eagle Sales.

boys-town-north-florida-names-new-executive-directorBoys Town North Florida Names New Executive DirectorNorth Florida
Marcus Lampkin
Tuesday, Jan 24, 2017

​​​Boys Town announces Marcus Lampkin as the new Executive Director for Boys Town North Florida, an affiliate of the original Father Flanagan's Boys' Home, where he will lead the organization's mission of saving children and healing families in the Tallahassee community.

Marcus is a human administrator with over fourteen years of administrative experience and twenty years of professional experience in the human services field. Marcus has been with Boys Town for fifteen years and served in many capacities including Senior Director of Operations for the Boys Town North Florida site for the past seven years. Marcus holds a Master of Science in individual and family services and a Bachelor of Science in criminal justice with a minor in social work. 

"We are very excited to announce Marcus as the new executive director in North Florida," said ​Father Steven Boes, Boys Town President and National Executive Director. "Marcus brings years of experience and a comprehensive knowledge of Boys Town programs to the position."

Marcus has received numerous commendations for his outstanding service to youth and families and was nominated for and awarded the state-wide competitive Florida Coalition for Children, "One Man Can Make a Difference Award"  and the Department of Children and Families Outstanding Service to Clients Award for Palm Beach County. ​

no-place-like-the-family-homeNo 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 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.​

capital-periodontal-associates-bring-smiles-to-boys-town-north-florida-youthCapital Periodontal Associates Bring Smiles to Boys Town North Florida YouthNorth Florida
Breanna is all smiles
Monday, Jan 23, 2017

​​​​Like most kids her age, 10-year-old Breanna Meraz is afraid of the dentist. In fact, a simple dental check-up caused the Boys Town North Florida youth to experience extreme anxiety and fear. So much so that she began to refuse dental examinations.

The intense fear that Breanna felt along with her refusal for examination, resulted in her dental provider sedating her whenever she had an appointment. Being sedated was a very traumatic experience for Breanna and this additional trauma was unnecessary to add to her already stressful young life.

After hearing about Breanna’s dentist office experience, Boys Town North Florida supporters stepped-in to help Breanna overcome her fear of the dentist in a comfortable setting. Board Chairman Rhonda Baldock, a long-time North Florida supporter, booked an appointment for Breanna with Dr. Tyler Baldock, owner of Capital Periodontal Associates. 

Candy, balloons and most importantly, smiles welcomed Breanna as she walked into the office and helped put her fears at ease. Dr. Baldock was able to perform a full dental exam, complete with x-rays, with absolutely no protest from Breanna. In addition to making Breanna feel comfortable, Capital Periodontal performed the exam at no cost to Boys Town. 

Following the appointment, Breanna couldn’t stop talking about her trip to the dentist and how much fun she had!

“The Baldock’s act of kindness demonstrates what our Boys Town family is all about: finding ways to give our children the tender love and care they need, providing them the right treatment at the right time.” Dena Strickland Boys Town North Florida Development Director praised. 

Boys Town North Florida extends a thank you to ​Board Chairman Rhonda Baldock, Dr. Tyler Baldock and Capital Periodontal Associates​ for their support and part in making a huge difference in Breanna’s life.

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 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


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.

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