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Five Graduating 'Sisters' Found a Family in One Another and Their Boys Town Parents


​​​This article is written by Erin Grace, World-Herald Columnist. It was published on on May 24, 2016 .

The girls at Boys Town cried.

Five of them, all graduating seniors, squeezed onto the couch in their aptly named “family home.” They reflected on their remarkably unbroken two years together — which is unusual here — and passed the Kleenex.

Graduations are bittersweet occasions, marking both an end and a beginning. While this was certainly true, these young women weren’t just graduating from high school. They were leaving home. For good.

This is a familiar experience at Boys Town. But what made this group unique was the rarity of being together for two whole years. Children cycle in and out of Boys Town, where some children stay years and others a few months. They live in family-style arrangements with married couples who head the households and where the ages of the children are staggered, the way they would be in a typical family.

So it was unique for this many in one household to graduate at the same time and prepare to leave. No other family home, among the 60 at Boys Town in Omaha, had as many graduates.

So their tears carried something beyond the typical poignancy of this annual May ritual. They were sad about what had brought them to Boys Town’s gate and grateful for what happened over the next months and years. They were about to do something a few hadn’t imagined — finish high school; and they had gotten something they hadn’t believed existed — a stable and happy home. So while they had entered Boys Town dreaming of the day they’d leave this place, they were also apprehensive about their coming departure and anxious about what was next.

All five reflected on what they had gained at Boys Town.

“It’s a family I never had,” said Jordan Burton, whose next home is the campus of Iowa Western Community College. She wants to be an occupational therapist.

Jordan, 17, is the neatnik of the bunch. She also is the family clown, eager to break tension by cracking a joke. But on this recent spring day, Jordan wasn’t laughing.

She was reminiscing about how nice it was to wake up with 29-year-old “mother,” Jackie Taylor, saying good morning. House “father” Andrew Taylor, 33, drives the van to school.

Jordan likes having eight other “sisters” in this house, including the couple’s 4-year-old daughter, Lydia, three other Boys Town residents and her four classmates.

The other classmates who live in the house are: blond-haired, glasses-wearing Kaileigh, the messiest and the most veteran. Kaileigh O’Donnell has been at Boys Town since 2012. She’s going straight into the workforce as a certified nursing assistant.

Then there’s animal-loving Tessa Miller, who once horrified the home’s assistant when she brought home a dying squirrel she’d found lying on the road. Tessa is thinking of a career as a veterinarian and is headed to Metropolitan Community College in Elkhorn.

Makayla Boswell had cycled through three high schools before landing at Boys Town. She is planning on going to Iowa Western.

Last is Adjanate Taliaferro, who was known for her speed on the track and her slowness getting out the door.

All five have been together under this roof with Jackie and Andrew long enough to jell as a family unit. As in any family, there have been ups and downs, which were almost always shared around the large dining room table during the daily family meetings held after dinner. Topics included what was appropriate to wear and what wasn’t, and a vexing rule about no cellphones until they leave.

Jordan, who says she’s very protective of her food, was stunned that Jackie and Andrew would dip into their own pockets to buy treats at the movies or other snacks.

Makayla, who said she’d never had friends, quickly found them on a campus where no one judged.

“Before I came here,” she said, “I was willing to drop out.”

But at Boys Town, Makayla got involved and formed friendships, and now believes that the placement saved her life. “I get to have a future,” she said.

Life wasn’t perfect. Soft-spoken Adjanate described herself as a “yeller,” something I found impossible to believe until her four “sisters” quickly chimed in with a definitive: Yes, she is!

Adjanate gave a vague explanation. Growing up, she said, she did not “get my needs met” until she got to Boys Town.

She struggled at first, racked up “a ton of noncompliances” and pushed back against Jackie and Andrew. But no matter what she did, they were steadfast, and that shocked her and won her over.

“I really adore them,” she said. “Jackie is my idol. She is my mother no matter what. I look at Lydia as a little sister to me.”

And she asks Andrew, who was in the U.S. Army, for career advice. Adjanate is thinking about joining. Or becoming a nurse.

Having little Lydia around broke the ice.

Lydia, a sprightly preschooler who drags around a teddy bear, recently told Tessa that she had something on her lip. Before Tessa knew it, the little girl had licked her finger, the way a mother would, and wiped Tessa’s lip.

“ ‘Let me get it for you, Sissy,’ ” she’d said, an act that touched Tessa.

“I found a family,” Tessa said.

“Sisters, definitely,” Kaileigh said. “My religion teacher says it’s good to have a ‘sister-friend.’ I have eight of them.”

The “sisters” showed a natural comfort with one another. They gently ribbed one another but spoke affectionately. All but Jordan were moving out right after their May 15 graduation. And Jordan blanched at the idea of newcomers taking the places of her “sisters.”

“It’s going to be hard,” she said.

So was the prospect of leaving.

“This is my home,” she said. “I don’t know the adult world. It’s really cruel out there.”

Jackie, the house mother, piped up.

Yes, graduation marks a difficult transition. But these “daughters” are ready. They have spent the past two years developing skills, strengthening relationships and becoming strong young women.

“These girls,” she said, “are going to do well.”