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Boys Town Grows as Neighborhood Partner

This article is written by the Omaha World-Herald Editorial Board. It was published April 5, 2015 at

For generations, Boys Town has earned national recognition for its excellence in helping young people. A key part of that success is being open to new ideas and approaches, always with the goal of maximizing the benefits to children and families.

That’s the thinking behind an important new initiative Boys Town has begun in Omaha and some other U.S. cities.

The key concept: putting Boys Town staff members directly in communities with heavy social needs, and joining with schools, churches and other nonprofit groups to identify needs and work together to address them.

The idea, says Boys Town’s executive director, the Rev. Steven E. Boes: “Let’s take a little of what Boys Town knows to their towns.”

This is a significant move for Boys Town, which was founded by Father Edward Flanagan and came to be known as our country’s best-known residential center for troubled youth.

Residential services continue, of course, but in recent years Boys Town has adapted programs to focus increasingly on in-home help. The scale of this change is dramatic: These days, some 90 percent of the children helped by Boys Town receive that support in their home.

That percentage holds true for Boys Town’s services nationwide as well as in the Omaha area.

The new Boys Town initiative — locating staff members in neighborhoods of heavy need, and building strong connections with the neighborhoods — is a logical extension of that approach.

Boys Town has begun using this new strategy in north and South Omaha, and the prospects appear promising.

The two Boys Town offices (in north Omaha at 57th and Ames Avenue, and in South Omaha at 25th and L) are increasingly serving as community-focused hubs that, in cooperation with other nonprofits, connect Boys Town with families who can benefit from parent education and family support services.

Extensive research shows the effectiveness of the specific programs that Boys Town has adopted. The evidence also shows that the benefits can be substantial, both for families and for the larger community: More children staying in school and out of trouble. More parents learning to manage family challenges. More families remaining intact.

Last year, Boys Town helped a total of 769 families in the northeast quadrant of Omaha and 557 families in the southeastern quadrant. With its new, community-focused approach, Boys Town aims to strengthen its impact and broaden the benefits.

A key goal is helping younger, less-troubled children and their families, as a preventive approach. These at-risk children generally aren’t in the child welfare system.

Evidence shows that a positive ripple effect sets in for schools and neighborhoods when that group of at-risk children is helped early on, says Dan Daly, Boys Town’s executive vice president overseeing youth care.

Boys Town has begun using this new approach in various U.S. cities, with Omaha, Las Vegas and New York City the furthest along.

The types of social challenges that Boys Town addresses are by definition complex and often daunting. But through its decades of experience and research, Boys Town has identified key ways that family challenges can be addressed.

It’s encouraging to see Boys Town take those approaches to a new level through its community- focused initiative. It’s the mark of a forward- looking organization that’s doing vital work here in Omaha and nationwide.