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Saving Children, Healing Families’ — Blue Water Bash around the corner

This article was posted on July 15, 2018.

Every summer, Boys Town youth and families are given the opportunity to enjoy their summer vacations on the sandy shores of the Boys Town Okoboji Camp on the waters of West Okoboji. This summer, Jeff and Misty Sweezy, their two biological sons, Lynux, 14, and Zander, 12 — and their six Boys Town sons, had the opportunity to enjoy the camp. For five of the six boys, in the Boys Town program, it was the first time at the lakeside recreation center.

"This is the first vacation some of these kids have ever been on," Misty Sweezy said. "We want them to learn how to enjoy themselves. The kids start getting excited and talking about this trip in April. June each year the kids start coming."

The Seventh Annual Blue Water Bash, scheduled for Saturday, July 28, helps provide funding to support the campers visits as well as the infrastructure and maintenance of the Boys Town Okoboji Camp. The event will feature a cocktail reception beginning at 6:30 p.m. on-site, with an evening including a silent and live auction and music by Jonah and the Whales.

"They needed to raise money for the camp so they started the Blue Water Bash," said Jeff Sweezy, calling the event "extremely important" for the future of the Boys Town summer visits.

"The generous community of Okoboji has stepped up, year after year, to support the Blue Water Bash which has enabled Boys Town to renovate and preserve our camp for future generations of Boys Town youth and family-teachers to enjoy." said Melissa Steffes, Boys Town development officer. "We are so grateful to our sponsors and guests for their support of Boys Town and our Okoboji Camp."

Eva Shine, a neighbor to the Boys Town Camp, is co-chairing this year's Blue Water Bash with Suzie Wilmot.

"We are very excited for this year's event which benefits the camp, allowing many children in need of a chance at a once in a life time vacation in Okoboji," Shine said

She continued, "The Boys Town children have endured many struggles and crises beyond what most of us can imagine — abuse, abandonment, addiction, violence. Boys Town sees the potential in these children and believes every child deserves a future. The children have the opportunity to earn the reward of attending the Okoboji camp. Some of these children have never had a vacation, let alone owned a swimsuit. We are all so lucky to live in and enjoy the Iowa Great Lakes region. I think it is important to help those who aren't as lucky to have a chance at a break from their everyday struggles."

According to Steffes, the last two years Blue Water Bash have grossed $110,000 and netted approximately $72,000.

"This year our goal is to raise $150,000 and net $100,000," she added.

"We continue to make improvements in order to update the facility to make it more appealing to the neighbors in this beautiful neighborhood and to make it a more enjoyable place for the children in our care," said Rev. Steven Boes, Boys Town national executive director. "Many Boys Town kids have never been camping or on family vacations and this is a wonderful, fun and memorable experience for them. Many of our Boys Town alumni have expressed to me that this was some of the most fun they had, besides Christmas holidays, at Boys Town."

The Sweezys aren't strangers to the Okoboji site, the two met in the 1990s at Boys Town before marrying in 2002. They are the first married couple serving as family teachers who are both products of the program.

Young people come to Boys Town through three different avenues in most cases, privately placed, foster care or court placed.

Jeff Sweezy came to Boys Town in 1995 as a sixth-grade student when his mother struggled after his father passed away. Misty Sweezy joined Boys Town in her eighth-grade year in 1997, along with three siblings, after her parents passed away. They didn't know each other until their senior year of high school when they became friends. The two married in 2002, following graduation and prior to Jeff Sweezy's deployment with the U.S. Army.

After completing his military career, the two returned to Omaha hoping to become involved with Boys Town once again. Misty Sweezy went to work at Boys Town in staff positions. They had hoped to serve as family teachers but their application was rejected.

"It's tough to get hired," Misty Sweezy said. "Initially they said it was too soon, we had just graduated. We were hurt."

In hindsight, they both agreed Boys Town knew what it was doing.

"We matured," Jeff Sweezy said. "We got our marriage strong."

The family moved to Florida in 2009 before returning to Omaha in 2015 and getting hired as family teachers.

"It's difficult to do what we do — live together, work together," Jeff Sweezy said. "If your marriage is not strong, it can tear you apart."

Boys Town, which celebrated its 100-year anniversary in 2017, includes 75 homes, an elementary and middle school, high school and public services. In the late 1970s, Boys Town was opened up to girls and in the 1980s satellite sites opened.

"We provide a family home environment," Misty Sweezy said. "They have chores and rules. We teach social skills, accepting decisions, how to express feelings.

She continued, "We get the kid and figure out what area they are struggling with. We set goals for them. There are always goals they are trying to reach. And there are a lot of goals they achieve."

"We treat everyone of these kids as if they are our own," Jeff Sweezy said.

The Sweezys recently had three boys graduate high school and currently maintain their home in Boys Town with the six boys ranging in age from 14 to 18. The couple receives help from an assistant family teacher who works five days a week, logging 45 hours and allows them two days off each week.

A bill of $90, in the winter of 1917, was enough for Rev. Edward Flanagan to rent out a boarding house in Omaha after working with the area's homeless population. Flanagan's Home for Boys became what is now known as Boys Town, a nonprofit which helps to foster better lives for at-risk youth.

Jeff Sweezy said Flannagan was assisting those with life challenges when one of those men in his care suggested to him things might have been different "if you had got me when I was younger."

He said it was that train of thought which prompted the priest to begin working with five boys in 1917.

The Catholic priest introduced the children to rules and responsibility while allowing them to keep their personal religion. Unlike many reform schools at the time, Flannagan believed there was more to dealing with the children than just making them work, according to Jeff Sweezy.

"The president sent him to Europe to teach how to care for children differently," Jeff Sweezy said. "He became a pioneer in how to care for children. ... He taught them how to become productive members of society after Boys Town."

It's those principles, 100 years later, which lead Boys Town today — fulfilling its motto, "Saving Children, Healing Families." Still based in Omaha, Nebraska, the camp, which was once located on the outskirts of the city, is now at the center of the community.

The Boys Town Okoboji Camp, situated in the Terrace Park neighborhood of Okoboji, was gifted to Boys Town in 1952 with the hope of serving countless youth to come. It has since provided Boys Town youth and families with a fun filled summer at the lake. Originally a casino and night club built in 1923, it became a famous landmark because of its location in upscale Terrace Park. A 1936 tornado practically destroyed the surrounding subdivision and the rebuilding process was very slow. In 1939 Dr. H.O. Green and his wife gave the facility to the Catholic congregation of the Missionaries of Our Lady of LaSalette. The ballroom and open porches were renovated to make the building a seminary and became classrooms, dormitories and a chapel. The seminary became a boys camp in 1941, but was soon vacated by the LaSalettes and left empty. In 1952 the property was given to Boys Town in conjunction with the Green's wish that it serve the needs of youth.

Corporate and company sponsorships for the Blue Water Bash are available and tickets are $100 and can be purchased online at or by calling Melissa Steffes at 402-498-1795.