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From Summer Youth Supervisors More Than 25 Years Ago to Boys Town Leaders Today

Boys Town Contributor

Boys Town’s Summer Youth Program may have been designed to give campus kids opportunities to gain experience and learn job skills, but little did its organizers realize what it could do for the young adults who worked summer jobs supervising the youth.

For then college students Lisa Gilpin, Matt Priest and Nick Thoreen, it not only gave them a summer job, but it also paved the way for them to eventually transition into full-time careers at the place they now call home.

And all three mention one man, the late Boys Town Fire Chief John Sing, for helping guide them in building their love and respect of the organization and leading them to want to continue their careers here.

All three accepted positions in the Summer Youth Program at Boys Town in the late 1990s. Today, they hold significant work titles at the home.

Priest is Director of Foster Family Services. Gilpin is a Senior Training Consultant. And Thoreen has followed in Sing’s footsteps as Fire Chief of the Boys Town Fire Department and Director of its EMS Training Agency.

For Priest, the summer supervisory opportunity at Boys Town just made sense.

“I was a student at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, exploring majors in 1996,” Priest said. “I had always wanted to be a people ‘helper’ after losing my mother to cancer at the age of 13. She was also a ‘helper’ as an elementary teacher. I always had the passion to help families and/or children because it felt like a common thread between she and myself. Seeing information on the Summer Youth Program at Boys Town, I was intrigued. It was a perfect entry position to this special place. It was such a great introduction to Boys Town programming and the Model of Care.”

Priest said the two summers he worked at Boys Town shaped his college trajectory.

“I met so many amazing people and the Summer Youth Supervisor role opened many doors for me” he said. “At college graduation, I already had a job offer as an Assistant Family-Teacher. Boys Town kept opening doors for me. I knew this is the place I was meant to be and am proud to continue the legacy of both my mother and Chief Sing.”

Gilpin took what she thought would be a one-year summer job at Boys Town in 1998. Little did she realize at that time, she would not want to leave.

“The summer of 1998, I found my purpose,” Gilpin said. “I worked at Boys Town for what I thought would be one summer to serve as a practicum for one of my college courses. That summer, the teaching model became a part of me forever. It made so much sense to catch kids being good, teach skills and address behaviors in a safe and supportive way.”

She said her role working with the youth who held summer jobs in the Boys Town Fire Department, guided by Chief Sing, left its mark.

“I remember at first being intimidated by this man who held such an important role,” she said. “However, it didn’t take long to recognize he was humble, hilarious and dedicated to this mission that he served for almost 50 years. He guided us to provide the youth with opportunities for learning skills, and much more importantly, building confidence. I feel honored to have known Chief Sing.”

Twenty-five years later, Gilpin said she has worked in several different programs and positions, and now gets to train Boys Town employees how to use the model she has appreciated all these years.

“This means I get to train the folks who come to work for the Summer Enrichment Program, which is just as essential today as it was then,” Gilpin said. “Boys Town has changed my life, as it has so many others. I am grateful every day.”

Thoreen had an interest in being a firefighter from the very start, so his path was a little different than the others. But the one consistent influence was that of Chief Sing on his life.

During his college years, he started as a volunteer firefighter at Boys Town.

“This is where I met Chief Sing 28 years ago,” Thoreen said. “He taught me more than just how to be a firefighter; he showed me the value in working hard to be a good, compassionate and generous individual. He taught me the value of consistently challenging myself to work hard, educate myself and make a difference in the community.”

Chief Sing asked Thoreen to help with Boys Town’s Youth Cadet Program. After that, he recruited him to be a Summer Supervisor.

“Working in the summer work program was very rewarding, while extremely challenging,” Thoreen said. “I had some success with the summer work program and then had the opportunity to become an Assistant Family-Teacher here at Boys Town.”

Eventually, Thoreen decided he wanted to pursue being a firefighter for his career. He worked for the Council Bluffs Fire Department before joining the Omaha Fire Department in 1999. He continued to help train Boys Town Summer Supervisors during this time.

When Chief Sing died, Thoreen was promoted to Deputy Chief and served in that position until he retired from the Omaha Fire Department and was hired as the Boys Town Fire Chief in December of 2022.

“Boys Town has been a part of my entire adult life,” Thoreen said. “When I came to Boys Town as a young man, I did not have any real direction. I had been going to college for several years and had changed my major several times. Chief Sing’s influence and the summer program changed all that.”

More than 25 years ago, Priest, Gilpin and Thoreen’s journeys at Boys Town began as young adults seeking summer work at a time when they were discerning what to do in their work lives. Little did they know, this step would profoundly impact the direction of their careers and personal lives. At Boys Town, they found passion, purpose and belonging in Boys Town’s mission. Today, their evolution from summer workers to Boys Town leaders is a testament to their dedication of service to others and highlights the transformative power of mentorship and the lifelong bonds formed at Boys Town.