Boys Town (organization)

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Boys Town
FormationDecember 12, 1917; 103 years ago (1917-12-12)
FounderEdward J. Flanagan
Founded atBoys Town, Nebraska
Type501(c)(3) nonprofit
HeadquartersBoys Town, Nebraska

Boys Town, formerly Girls and Boys Town and Father Flanagan's Boys' Home, is a non-profit organization dedicated to caring for its children and families based in Boys Town, Nebraska.


Boys Town, Nebraska

Boys Town was founded on December 12, 1917,[1] as an orphanage for boys. Originally known as "The City of Little Men", the organization was founded by Edward J. Flanagan, a Roman Catholic priest, while working in Omaha, Nebraska, who rented a home at 25th and Dodge Streets, in Omaha, to care for five boys, using a loan of $90.[2] From humble beginnings, the City of Little Men pioneered and developed new juvenile care methods in 20th-century America, emphasizing social preparation as a model for public boys' homes worldwide."[3]

1921-1948: Father Flanagan Creates a Mix of School, Work, Play and Family at Boys Town[edit]

In 1921, Father Flanagan purchased Overlook Farm on the outskirts of Omaha and moved his Boys' home there. In time, the Home became known as the Village of Boys Town. By the 1930s, hundreds of boys lived at the Village, which grew to include a school, dormitories and administration buildings. The boys elected their own government, including a mayor, council and commissioners. In 1936, the community became an official village in the state of Nebraska.[4] The move to Overlook Farm was a major step in Father Flanagan’s plan to create what would soon become known as the small community of “Boys Town.”

By the late 1930s, Boys Town’s resurgence and continued efforts to court public support had made it the subject of many newspaper and magazine articles. It was inevitable that this human-interest phenomenon would catch the attention of a Hollywood movie studio. In 1938, producers from MGM Studios traveled to Boys Town to discuss the prospects of a movie about the Home. A few months later, Spencer Tracy and Mickey Rooney, two of the biggest stars of the day, and a sixty-one-member crew arrived at Boys Town to begin ten days of on-location filming.

On May 15, 1948, Father Flanagan suffered a heart attack in Berlin, Germany.[5] By the time of Father Flanagan’s death in 1948, daily life for the boys in the Village was a beneficial mix of school, work, play, and family togetherness. The “City of Little Men” was thriving and so were its young citizens.

1948-1972: Monsignor Nicholas H. Wegner Named Second Executive Director[edit]

In September, the new archbishop, Gerald T. Bergan, named Monsignor Nicholas H. Wegner as Boys Town’s second executive director. Monsignor Wegner aspired to continue with his predecessor’s expansion plans, double Boys Town’s population, and attain financial security for the Home in keeping with Father Flanagan’s intentions. From a waiting list of three thousand boys, Monsignor Wegner took in about fifty boys each month. The best records available indicate the Home’s population peaked at 880 in the 1960s.[6]

The turbulent events of the 1960s—the Vietnam War, the civil rights movement, protests and marches in the streets, the assassinations of key leaders, and a greater questioning of authority (especially by young people)—led to major cultural and societal changes. This upheaval helped fuel youth problems that had not been seen, at least on a large scale, in earlier times. Father Flanagan’s tried-and-true treatment methods of providing love, shelter, and vocational training were still valuable, but often were not enough to deal with these problems. And Boys Town wasn’t alone. Across the country, childcare organizations were struggling to find answers for dealing with this new generation of at-risk and troubled children.

1973-1985: Monsignor Hupp Named Third Executive Director[edit]

The firm Booz, Allen, & Hamilton Inc. completed a multi-volume study that recommended Boys Town expand its programs and services into new areas while continuing to raise funds. The study also outlined the societal changes that made providing group care of the boys in dormitory settings outdated and ineffective and proposed several approaches that offered more individualized care for children. Another outcome of the consultants’ recommendations was the Home’s announcement in June 1972 that the board of trustees had approved the development of the Boys Town Institute for Communication Disorders in Children (eventually be renamed Boys Town National Research Hospital®) at a cost of $30 million. The approval came after a presentation to the board on the concept of an institute dedicated to human communication disorders by Patrick E. Brookhouser, MD, and John E. Bordley, MD.

Even with the improvements the Home was making, there was still the issue of how to provide the best and most effective care for the boys who were already at Boys Town and those who would follow. Again, these were children plagued by drug and alcohol addictions, divorce, suicide attempts, neglect, and physical and sexual abuse. The current program was neither changing the behavior of these children nor helping them (or their families) cope with these extraordinary problems. On October 11, 1973, Monsignor Hupp was named the third national executive director of Boys Town. Monsignor Hupp inherited a population of boys he called “social orphans.” These were children whose family lives had been damaged by abuse, poverty, drugs, alcoholism, divorce, and other social ills. Now they were at Boys Town, trying to deal with the severe emotional and behavioral fallout of these traumatic experiences. Helping these boys beyond providing for their daily care would require Boys Town to act boldly and confidently.

Fortunately, there was already a blueprint for the future. And Monsignor Hupp was firm in his resolve to pioneer new methods and directions of care and give programs and ideas a chance to succeed, all for the good of the children. “We must never be content to stand still when children are at risk,” he said.[7]

Family Home Programs[edit]

One of the key elements identified in the earlier Booz, Allen, & Hamilton study had been the need to provide care for children in a family-style setting. This meshed nicely with Father Flanagan’s long-term vision for Boys Town, and now the Home was poised to make his dream a reality. Eventually, the journey led Boys Town to the Teaching-Family Model developed at Achievement Place at the University of Kansas in Lawrence. The Teaching-Family Model had grown out of a research/funding collaboration between the Bureau of Child Research in Lawrence and the National Institute of Mental Health’s Center for Crime and Delinquency. The primary objectives of the Teaching-Family Model were to develop a community-based, family-style, skill-oriented group home treatment for disadvantaged and delinquent youth. The model was intended to be effective, economical, beneficial to its consumers, and replicable by other programs.

In late 1974, Boys Town hired its first “Family-Teachers®,” a married couple who would begin caring for a small group of youth in a former cottage being converted into a “Family Home®.” Three other couples were hired soon after, and that core group worked with other staff members to develop formal training materials for the Family-Teachers who were being recruited. As new couples were trained, they moved into the remaining converted cottages and sixteen newly built homes. By the end of 1975, the last of the dormitories was closed and the transition to the Boys Town Family Home Program was complete.

Monsignor Hupp was determined to transform Boys Town so it could meet the changing needs of children. As the Family Home Program became more established, the Village began to look like the community of care Father Flanagan had envisioned in the early days of Boys Town.

Under the new youth care system, each Family Home in the Village housed eight to ten boys. (Eventually, the Village would comprise seventy Family Homes.) The boys were of various ages, races, and ethnic and religious backgrounds, and they came to Boys Town from across the country. Each Family Home was headed by a Family-Teaching Couple, who lived with the boys seven days a week, twenty-four hours a day, meeting their daily needs, providing supervision and guidance, teaching them social skills, and providing a caring and loving home environment.

A unique element of Boys Town’s new residential program was its emphasis on skill teaching and relationship building. This focused care and treatment on correcting inappropriate behaviors by teaching youth alternative positive behaviors and social skills (following instructions, accepting “No” for an answer, respecting authority) and encouraging and reinforcing their positive behavior. The main responsibility for this teaching fell to the Family-Teachers, who had multiple opportunities every day to effect change as the boys’ primary caregivers. Skills also were consistently taught and reinforced by teachers in Boys Town’s schools and by coaches and instructors in other extracurricular activities. This created a consistent learning environment where youth were aware of the expectations for their behaviors. Along with their teaching, Family-Teachers and other staff were charged with developing positive, trusting relationships with the youth and modeling for the boys how they could develop healthy relationships with others.

Religious education and practice had been part of Boys Town’s youth care approach since the days of Father Flanagan. In the new Family Home Program, a boy’s spiritual development played a major role in treatment and was the responsibility of the Family Home as well as church and school. Family-Teachers were asked to respect and enhance the religious traditions of Boys Town youth without proselytizing or “forcing” religious practices on them. Family-Teachers also attended church with their youth, taught proper church behavior, and modeled and taught religious home habits such as prayer, reflection, and study.

This Family Home Program turned out to be exactly what Boys Town needed to address the challenging needs of a new generation of children. Over time, Boys Town would continue to improve on the Teaching-Family Model and enhance its ability to provide the best care possible for troubled youth.

Boys Town Begins to Include Girls[edit]

Monsignor Hupp had experience working with girls and was aware of their problems. He served as chaplain, teacher, and athletic coach for a girls’ home run by the Sisters of the Good Shepherd Convent in Omaha from 1946 to 1950. In 1978, he accepted five girls into the Boys Town residential program in what was to be a small, short-term test. These first girls lived off-campus in a downtown Omaha home Boys Town owned. Then, in 1979, a few girls began living in a Family Home on campus. More followed and by 1985, twenty-six girls were citizens of Boys Town. “I saw it as an experimental program,” Monsignor Hupp said. “I also had trouble convincing the Board of Trustees that accepting girls wasn’t a mistake. But when the girls arrived, it actually improved the behavior of the boys.”

Again, Boys Town weathered the storm of controversy that came with another major change in its approach to helping children. The “experiment” was a success, and in the coming years, more and more girls would call Boys Town home and experience the life-changing benefits of effective, compassionate, family-style care.

1985-Present: Father Valentine Peter Becomes Fourth National Executive Director[edit]

In February 1985, Boys Town was named a National Historic Landmark. Every year, thousands of visitors would drive through the shady, tree-lined streets of the Village, making a stop at Dowd Chapel to visit Father Flanagan’s tomb and experience the spirit of giving that makes the community unique and inspiring. Today, Boys Town is the only National Historic Landmark District in Nebraska.

In 1985, Father Valentine Peter became Boys Town’s fourth national executive director. Father Peter wanted to ensure the continued effectiveness of Boys Town’s residential program. He also knew the Home had to be prepared for what childcare would look like ten, twenty, or thirty years down the road. He believed Boys Town had to further develop a “continuum of care” using proven childcare technologies so no matter what troubles children experienced, Boys Town would be prepared and able to provide healing and hope in the best way possible.[8] In 1988, Father Peter spearheaded an effort to transfer Boys Town’s experience and technology to four new services—Parent Training, Home-Based Services (in- home crisis intervention), Treatment Foster Care, and Shelter Care. Grouped under an umbrella called Family-Based Programs, these services would ultimately become the core of Boys Town’s new continuum of care.

The basic question about whether Boys Town’s youth care model was replicable had already begun to be answered at the first Boys Town USA site in Tallahassee, Florida. Encouraged by that success and motivated by the clamor for similar services for youth in many other cities, Father Peter planned for a major and rapid expansion. “We’re taking our healing out from the Heartland to the whole nation,” he said, announcing Boys Town’s goal to establish programs in seventeen major metropolitan areas.

Cities where new Boys Town USA affiliate (or national) sites would spring up included Orlando and West Palm Beach in Florida; San Antonio, Texas; New Orleans, Louisiana; Las Vegas, Nevada; Brooklyn, New York; Newark, New Jersey; Portsmouth, Rhode Island; Orange County, California; Washington, D.C.; Atlanta, Georgia; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; and Chicago, Illinois.

In its expansion, Boys Town was not just thinking outside the box; it was creating a new box by offering more effective ways to help troubled children and families on a larger scale. Since 1917, Boys Town had specialized in providing residential care—first in dormitories, then in Family Homes—to kids who could no longer live with their families. But it was clear not all youngsters with problems needed to be removed and treated away from their families and homes for long periods of time. Indeed, in many situations, it was more beneficial to provide family-based services to both parents and children, providing effective guidance while keeping families together. These kinds of services were used only when it was clear children could safely stay at home and receive adequate care.

In 1989, the National Group Home Program established in 1975 was expanded and renamed the Boys Town National Training Center. Prior to this, Boys Town had provided technical assistance and training to other residential care facilities for youth so they could fully replicate Boys Town’s childcare technologies. Now Father Peter wanted to influence more and more childcare providers, including those who only wanted to use some of Boys Town’s technology and those who worked with youth in schools and psychiatric care programs rather than residential settings. With the well-researched, outcomes-oriented technologies Boys Town had developed— technologies that actually changed the behavior of troubled children—it was the ideal time to start sharing this new knowledge and experience with caregivers who were helping children in different settings.

Over the next decade or so, the National Training Center would present Boys Town’s expertise through workshops, on-site training and consultation, and specialized materials.

In May 1989, Boys Town established a lifeline for those troubled children and their parents. The Boys Town National Hotline® was a toll-free crisis number (800-448-3000) that was available twenty-four/seven to callers across the country. Trained professional counselors handled calls on any problem, from drug abuse, sexual abuse, and suicide to depression and parent-child conflicts.

By 1989, when the Boys Town Institute’s name was changed to Boys Town National Research Hospital, the hospital had gained international recognition as a leader in applied medical research and clinical care for children with communication disorders. Under the leadership of Dr. Patrick Brookhouser, the hospital had provided care for nearly 70,000 patients from 2,500 cities in all fifty states and more than a dozen foreign countries. No child was turned away because his or her family was unable to pay for care.

In response to the special needs of these children, the hospital developed new models of care that would become standard practices across the country. For example, the hospital’s pioneering work included the development of software that is vital to universal newborn hearing screening. This technology detects hearing loss within hours of birth. Such early detection, combined with early intervention, can significantly reduce communication delays that commonly accompany hearing loss.

By 2005, Boys Town was being recognized as one of the largest and most effective child and family care organizations in the United States.

In 2005, the board chose Father Steven Boes, another priest with Nebraska ties and experience working with children, as Boys Town’s fifth national executive director.

Developing a strategic plan was a major goal for Boys Town in the first few years Father Boes was on the job. Boys Town wanted to double the number of children and families it served by providing a wider spectrum of connected, consistent services and resources.

In 2008, Father Boes launched Boys Town’s first five-year strategic plan, which introduced a refined version of what was now called the Integrated Continuum of Care and established a road map for implementing the continuum’s multiple services and programs at Boys Town sites nationwide. The continuum, a tightly connected spectrum of service levels based on the research-proven Boys Town Model of care, would serve as the centerpiece as Boys Town moved forward and outward.

At the same time, Boys Town National Research Hospital, under the direction of Dr. Patrick Brookhouser, was expanding its services through its new hospital in the Village of Boys Town and its new pediatric care clinics across the city of Omaha. This partnership, which combined life-changing youth care and health care services, would further differentiate Boys Town from other providers and ensure that children and families received the right care, at the right time, in the right way.

n 2007, Boys Town provided direct youth care services to 13,033 boys and girls nationwide. In 2011, that number had skyrocketed to 28,065. Also, Boys Town health care programs served more than 38,000 children. What had been a five-year goal of the strategic plan—to double the number of kids being helped—was accomplished in four years. Also during this period, the number of people nationally whose lives were being touched by Boys Town youth, health, family, and community programs every year grew to 1.6 million.

Boys Town knew there would always be children who need the intensive, skills- focused intervention provided through its Family Home Program. These children have been removed from their homes and families due to serious problems and challenges and could get the most benefits from successfully completing a service plan in a Boys Town Family Home.

But Boys Town also understood the value of keeping troubled families together whenever possible and providing care and assistance to the whole family in their home. That is why, starting in 2008, Boys Town initiated a major internal culture shift, redirecting its focus to serving more children while they remained with their own families. Not only was this a more cost-efficient approach than depending heavily or solely on out-of-home placements, but it also could produce many of the same positive outcomes as residential services because all services were based on the same model of care.

By 2011, of the nearly 29,000 children Boys Town served across the nation, 75 percent of them safely and effectively received care while living with their own families. This was significantly higher than the 30 percent of children who received services through Boys Town in-home programs in 2007. In 2013, of the 35,500 children and families directly served by Boys Town, 92 percent received services while children lived in their homes. And this focus on preventive in-home care would continue into the future.

2015 abuse case[edit]

In 2015, a former supervisor at a Boys Town group treatment home was convicted of having sex with a minor, aged 17.[9] The offender, a 32-year-old woman, was sentenced to five years’ probation, subject to various terms and conditions, and the conviction was affirmed by the Supreme Court of Nebraska.[10]


Father Flanagan's Boys' Home
Boys Town NFS.JPG
Boys Town (organization) is located in Nebraska
Boys Town (organization)
Boys Town (organization) is located in the United States
Boys Town (organization)
LocationBoys Town, Nebraska
Coordinates41°15′52″N 96°7′58″W / 41.26444°N 96.13278°W / 41.26444; -96.13278
Area1,310 acres (5.3 km2)
ArchitectLeo A. Daly Construction
Architectural styleTudor Revival
NRHP reference No.85002439
Significant dates
Added to NRHPFebruary 4, 1985[11]
Designated NHLDFebruary 4, 1985[12]

The national headquarters of Boys Town is in the village of Boys Town, Nebraska, which was listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and was designated as a National Historic Landmark, on February 4, 1985.

Facilities include the Hall of History, dedicated to the history of Boys Town; the restored home of Father Flanagan; the Dowd Memorial Chapel and the Chambers Protestant Chapel; and the Leon Myers Stamp Center. The latter provides historical stamp-collecting exhibits and sells donated stamps to provide support for Boys Town programs.[13]

It has a summer camp on West Lake Okoboji, located near West Okoboji, Iowa.

Boys Town Medical Center

Hospitals and clinics[edit]

In 1977, Boys Town founded and continues to operate the Boys Town National Research Hospital, located at 555 N. 30th Street, in Omaha. Its sister hospital, Boys Town National Research Hospital – West, is operated on the Boys Town campus. The NPO also operates several medical clinics in Nebraska, and one in Iowa.[14]


In 1943, Boys Town adopted as its image and logo a picture of a boy carrying a younger boy on his back, captioned "He ain't heavy, Father, he's my brother," a phrase originating with the United Free Church of Scotland. They felt it epitomized the importance of their residents caring for each other and having someone care about them.[15] The saying inspired a song and album by The Hollies.

National locations[edit]

Boys Town has grown over the years, providing care to children and families across the country. There are nine sites across the United States, in Central Florida, North Florida, South Florida, Louisiana, Nebraska, Iowa, New England, Nevada, and Washington, D.C.[16]

In popular culture[edit]


  1. ^ "Boys Town Centennial Commemorative Coin Program". Retrieved 8 January 2020.
  2. ^ Timeline
  3. ^ Colverd, Sue; Hodgkin, Bernard (2011). Developing Emotional Intelligence in the Primary School. Routledge. p. 153. ISBN 9781136841347. Retrieved 4 July 2016.
  4. ^ "History". Boys Town. Retrieved 2021-04-26.
  5. ^ "Msgr. Flanagan dies suddenly in Berlin". Stars and Stripes. Retrieved 2021-04-26.
  6. ^ Wegner, Nicholas H. (2005). The mission continues : Monsignor Nicholas Wegner of Boys Town. Barbara Lonnborg, Thomas J. Lynch. Boys Town, Neb.: Boys Town Press. ISBN 1-889322-63-6. OCLC 63178368.
  7. ^ Lynch, Thomas J. (2016). A century of service, a history of healing : the Boys Town story. Terry Hyland. Virginia Beach, VA. ISBN 978-1-68184-053-6. OCLC 950901737.
  8. ^ Town, Compiled by Boys. "A brief history of Boys Town". Retrieved 2021-04-26.
  9. ^ "Former Boys Town supervisor convicted after having sex with 17-year-old ward of state".
  10. ^ State v. Wood, 296 Neb. 738, 895 N.W.2d 701 (2017).
  11. ^ "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. January 23, 2007.
  12. ^ "Father Flanagan's Boys' Home". National Historic Landmark summary listing. National Park Service. Archived from the original on 2009-03-11. Retrieved 2008-06-27.
  13. ^ "Visit the Village". Retrieved 4 July 2016.
  14. ^
  15. ^ Williams, Andy (13 July 2015). "He Ain't Heavy Boys Town's Chris and Lori Mathsen". Archived from the original on 2016-08-29. Retrieved 4 July 2016.
  16. ^ "Boys Town National Locations". Retrieved 8 May 2019.

External links[edit]