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Boys Town marks a century of service

Father Edward J. Flanagan

This is a World-Herald editorial. It was posted on Oma​ha.com on December 24, 2017.

This year, Boys Town's ​services helped more than 2 million people across the nation. That's an inspiring achievement for an institution that started from such humble beginnings under a young Irish immigrant priest searching for a way to meet the needs of disadvantaged children.

A century ago this month, Father Edward J. Flanagan borrowed $90 from a friend, Omaha lawyer and businessman Henry Monsky, to rent a Victorian-style boardinghouse at 25th and Dodge Streets.

It was Omaha's first Home for Boys.

From that small beginning, this Omaha institution has grown into national recognition, helping generations of young people move into productive adulthood.

This year, Boys Town's services helped more than 2 million people across the nation. That's an inspiring achievement for an institution that started from such humble beginnings under a young Irish immigrant priest searching for a way to meet the needs of disadvantaged children.

Flanagan's concept for Boys Town centered on a innovative approach. In contrast to many institutions at the time, Flanagan's focus wasn't on negatives and penalties. It was on positives — encouragement of each boy and enrichment through education and activities.

Farm activities were added to the mix once the home relocated in 1921 to Overlook Farm, 10 miles to the west, and took on the formal name Boys Town. Boys raised some of their own food in a vegetable garden and enjoyed new opportunities for outdoor sports — baseball, football and track.

The 1938 movie "Boys Town," for which actor Spencer Tracy won an Oscar for his portrayal of Flanagan, brought the Boys Town story to a national audience.

At the conclusion of World War II, President Harry Truman fittingly asked Flanagan to advise overseas governments about the care of children orphaned by the conflict. Flanagan died on that mission during a trip to Berlin in 1948.

In the decades since, each subsequent director has helped Boys Town, which began admitting girls to its residential program in 1979, reach new achievements.

In 2017, Boys Town staff, researchers and administrators, backed by generous philanthropic support, are making major contributions to our country's well-being. Among the examples:

» The toll-free Boys Town National Hotline, (800) 448-3000, helps by putting young people into contact with trained mental health counselors. The call volume from 2012 to 2016 increased by 12 percent to more than 179,000 — an indicator, mental health expert say, of the country's increased need to address issues relating to teenage suicide.

» Boys Town National Research Hospital specializes in childhood deafness, visual impairment and related communication disorders. The hospital, with locations near Creighton University and on the Boys Town campus, and its clinics serve more than 45,000 child patients each year.

» The Boys Town Center for Neurobehavioral Research conducts advanced research to improve intervention methods for children with behavioral and mental health problems. Researchers work at Boys Town National Research Hospital-West, on the Boys Town campus.

» Boys Town in recent years has focused much of its work on in-home care, building strong connections with neighborhoods and looking to the needs of families as a whole. More than 90 percent of children served by Boys Town now receive support in the home. Boys Town has locations in six states and the District of Columbia. During 2016, its youth care, health and other child and family support programs served more than 508,000 children nationwide.

A century after Father Flanagan took his first humble steps to create a Home for Boys, his vision continues to inspire. Generations of young people have achieved a better future thanks to the foundation he laid.​