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Boys Town is On a Mission

Photo copyright of Dave Hansen.

This article is written by Derek Gomes. It was posted on newportri.com June 6, 2017.

 

From its humble beginning on an undeveloped piece of land off West Main Road, Boys Town New England now serves about 1,000 children and 400 families from across Rhode Island and Southeastern Massachusetts.

In the beginning, Boys Town provided foster care to at-risk children and helped keep together faltering families. Through the years, it has expanded its menu of services, including opening five homes that accommodate up to 29 children on its Portsmouth campus and offering parenting classes.

The local chapter of Boys Town celebrated its 25th anniversary last year; the nonprofit agency that has 12 locations across the country is celebrating a century of service in 2017.

The local campus, built on 18 acres of donated land, is a safe haven for boys and girls who suffer from neglect, behavioral issues or abuse. Presently, a total of 19 children live in the five single-family homes with adults who provide them with structure and guidance, according to two long-time staff members.

The Rhode Island Department of Children, Youth and Families and its counterpart in Massachusetts refer children and families to Boys Town.

"We believe in structured work," Development Director Ashley Medeiros said. Children "get some free time if they earn it."

The skills reinforced in the homes, such as completing chores and following directions from adults, prepare the children to return to their homes or to navigate adulthood, added Doug Vanden Hoek, senior director of program operations.

Boys Town staff stay in touch with individuals who reach adulthood and "age out" of the program, making sure they pay their rent and hold down a job, Vanden Hoek said.

The youngsters currently living at Boys Town range from about 3 years old to recent high school graduates. In addition, the agency has 40 licensed foster homes off campus.

Through the years, Boys Town has evolved and added to its services as needed, Medeiros said.

The Rev. Edward Flanagan began what became Boys Town as a refuge for homeless boys in the area of Omaha, Nebraska. The model to help at-risk youth evolved from there to foster homes and then to live-in communities like the campus in Portsmouth.

Now, Boys Town is doing more outreach work to prevent families from dissolving or children being tagged by the state system in the first place.

Many of the 62 staff members rarely step foot in the Portsmouth headquarters. They work on the road, visiting family homes and schools, where they provide outreach services.

"We don't want kids taken out of home, but we know for some kids it's inevitable," Vanden Hoek said.

Boys Town New England has an annual operating budget of about $9 million, some of which comes from donations to the chapter and assistance from the nonprofit's headquarters, Medeiros said.

Its goal always will remain the same.

"There will still be that behavioral model," Vanden Hoek said. "We're just trying to change behaviors here."

Without the safety net Boys Town provides, some children would fall through the cracks.

"There's so much need," Medeiros said. "These kids wouldn't have a home. We're able to stop that. There kids now have careers and futures."

For more information about Boys Town New England, visit boystown.org.