Boys Town Journeys
At Boys Town campuses all across America, kids who have fallen through the cracks of society are being given a second chance, armed with the tools and skills they need to become happy, productive members of society. But it's a journey, not an instant transformation. And every journey starts at the beginning.
Sommer: When I was younger, I think I was like five or six, my real parents, they were both real big into drugs. They would be gone for like days. My brothers were 9, 11, and 13. And it was just the four of us that would be at home. I was six years old when I first went into foster care.
Mariah: I didn't feel like I belonged to anything at all when I was at home because my family wasn't ever really there for me. I got into the gang at first when I was 12.
Tyler: I remember living in abandoned houses that had no electricity or running water. I went to go sleep on the train, the subways in New York. And I would just take the train all the way to the last stop, all the way back. And I would still go to school. And I would be beat-tired at the end of each day because I would only get about five hours of sleep.
Sommer: My mom and I were having a lot of conflicts. We couldn't really resolve them ourselves. We were having so much troubles that they had considered putting me back into foster care. So I wouldn't be with them.
Mariah: I did drugs. I did a lot of crimes. I think the first time I was arrested, I was 11. And then, just off and on, a whole bunch of times.
Tyler: We went to an abandoned drug house that had no security on it. Doors were always broken, windows were broken. You've got people come in and try to steal stuff. It was a bad environment. Because I was so angry, and I felt like I was alone, I didn't feel the need to do good because I was expected to do bad.
Sommer: I didn't really want to come somewhere new. I moved around a lot when I was younger. I was finally really settled in where I was living before I came here. So coming here was just like, "Oh well, you're moving again." So it was really hard.
Tyler: I felt unsafe there, too, just coming home to that every day. It was rats everywhere and moldy paint. There was still no food in the fridge. And I left. I didn't know where I was going. But I just knew I wanted to leave that. I figured that anywhere was better than there.
Mariah: I didn't want to come to Boys Town. I didn't care at all. I didn't think about anybody at all. I didn't even really think about myself when I did things. I just did them.
Becky: They've been in gangs. They've committed crimes. So, for all intents and purposes, they seem like grown men. And yet, when they come here, and they're at a place where they don't have to act like that, or we don't allow them to act like that, then they get to be kids.
Tony: Now, as a family teacher for nearly 16 years here at Boys Town, I try to teach my boys that life is about making decisions. Life is about the choices that we do make.
Matt: When I came here, I decided I'm going try and make this the best I can. And that was one of the ways that it helped me most is I made this place family to me.
Simone: We create memories for our kids and those memories create possibilities because sometimes our kids can't see the possibilities in their lives. They don't know they can be doing something different than selling drugs. They don't know that. They don't know the difference. To live it makes it real for them.
Sommer: I ended up realizing over time what really mattered. I ended up forgetting about all those friends I was so worried about leaving behind and then I ended up missing my family which is what I guess what's supposed to happen.
Mariah: My friends back home were not really friends. I think I've changed just in general. Almost everything about me has changed a lot. I'm a lot more committed to things like school and to my future and I'm not as impulsive as I was.
Tyler: It's because it's so diverse here. You see people, there's people from Michigan going through the same thing. There's people from California going through the same thing. There's people from Georgia, Florida who are going through the same thing, so you know you're not alone.
Chief Sing: It's going to be a little different than what you probably are normally used to because we have expectations. We expect results and, again, as I said, we're not going to tolerate anything less.
Sommer: I am the Cadet Core Commander in JROTC.
Mariah: I'm in NHS, National Honor Society.
Sommer: I'm also the Vice Mayor.
Mariah: I worked, last year and this year, I worked at the day school as a Teacher's Assistant.
Sommer: I'm in the yearbook. This is my second year in the yearbook.
Mariah: I worked for the little store here. It's called the Clothes Line.
Sommer: I been a cheerleader for four years. That's the extent of my athletic ability.
Mariah: And then I play soccer.
Coach Kush: Here at Boys Town we obviously we want sports to be an extension of those skills they're learning at school and in the home. Basically what it does is it gives us another platform to kind of hammer home those social skills of showing up on time and following instructions. Accepting feedback from your coaches. It's just another place on campus where those kids get another dose of those social skills.
Sommer: It changes your outlook on life and your life in general.
Tony: Take advantage of it and learn from it and you can move forward in life and you can become something bigger than you ever thought you could become.
Tyler: You know you're going to make mistakes, which is why we're all here. The thing is, what are you going to do after you make a mistake?
Malik: If I hadn't come to Boys, I don't know what would have happened.
Matt: I would say if I hadn't come to Boys Town, I would probably be either in jail or in a lock-down facility.
Mariah: And I would definitely have failed. I feel like there's not a doubt in my mind that I would have gone back to doing all the things that I had done. Probably gone back to gangs, I would have gone back to drugs and I would not have graduated high school.
Tony: You look at a kid that has never been a part of a community that is productive, you know. When we've seen kids up there when they're doing the swearing in start crying because they can't believe, "I am a part of Boys Town, I am a citizen of Boys Town, you know, I am a part of something now."
Mariah: Before when things weren't good, I was waiting for something terrible to happen like it's all going to fall down and crash and burn and now it's like this can keep you going, I just have to let it keep going.
Coach Kush: A lot of the adults that have been involved in our kids' lives have not been honest with them or have betrayed them in some fashion. So getting those kids to come in and trust to what we're saying as a coaching staff and saying, "Hey, what we're telling you today is going to help you tomorrow, you've got to believe me and it's going to help you out." For them to buy in to that, that's really the biggest obstacle that we overcome.
Mariah: There are a million things I could take away from Boys Town and I think one of the biggest things probably is my abilities to cope with things that don't go the way that I think they should or the way that I would hoped they would.
Sommer: The biggest thing I'll take away from Boys Town is to let things roll off my back that don't really matter instead of making a big fuss about something that's really small.
Tyler: You know you feel like family even though you're not family.
Mariah: Knowing what a family is supposed to look like, that's my favorite thing.
Tyler: Don't forget where you come from but don't forget there's a few that come from worser situations, that's what Boys Town done for me.
Mariah: My ability to trust people is one of the bigger things that's changed.
Malik: They teach you so many different social skills on how to deal with people. I like the person I am now.
Sommer: I am graduating this month, graduating this month. And in August, I'm starting at UNO, I'm on a major in Psychology and then eventually I want to become a lawyer as I'm good at arguing.
Mariah: I'm going to start some of my classes at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. Then I'm going to, right now, I'm studying photo journalism, that's the plan.
Matt: I saw this as a fresh start for me, a way that I could graduate. Also a way for me to probably coming back here, Boys Town, and being a family teacher. That's one of the things that I've wanted to do.