Life after one week of training at Boys Town

Sarah and I have completed our first week of training at Boys Town. We’ve learned a lot over the course of one week, but perhaps most of all we’ve learned that Boys Town is filled with wonderful people and that it’s simply a privilege to be a part of its legacy.

Being a Family-Teacher is not an easy job. And in fact, we’re reminded often that “it’s not a job, it’s a lifestyle.” Here at Boys Town the youth are always put first. The family home is the focal point of pretty much all they do. The administration, the psychologists, doctors, consultants, and other staff are all support systems for the family homes. Because it’s in the home that the change occurs. Whether it be the homes where trained Boys Town employees work, or it’s within the residential program here on Boys Town’s campus in Nebraska, that is where the focus is because that is where the kids experience the care, the love, the teaching, and the training that they need.

An old postcard photo of what Boys Town used to look like.

Boys Town’s Model of Care, which was developed in the 70s in collaboration with researchers from the University of Kansas, is a behavioral model approach. It’s evidenced based and it has been proven to work in all sorts of situations, cities, and cultures. And it’s the continuity of that model of care which has made Boys Town into the well-oiled machine that it is.

All staff, from janitor to executive are trained using the same model of care. It’s a model that is intentional about teaching and reinforcing desired behaviors. It’s a model filled with all sorts of praise, empathy, and encouragement as we train, teach, and empower. We empathize and love these youth, but we don’t try to change their emotions or their thoughts directly. We are focused on their behaviors. And as we focus on behaviors and life skills they will learn how to manage their emotions and thoughts along the way.

Much of this has been a bit new for me because I have taken many counseling courses which have taught me to primarily focus on emotions. So I’ve had to convert much of my counseling training into tools of empathy and praise as I now focus on changing and encouraging various behaviors of the youth we will be working with.

Boys Town has it’s own post office, police station, and fire station. This is what the original post office looked like decades ago.

We’ve heard countless stories from the various presenters and teachers over the course of the last week about how their model works. It takes a complete commitment to teaching. It takes a complete surrender of self and putting these youth first. We can’t give up. We can’t give in. It requires courage. It requires a belief that these kids need to be taught and shown social and life skills that will help them be successful and thrive in this world of ours.

It requires Sarah and me to be steadfast. We can’t lose our tempers. We can’t be manipulated. We can’t be emotionally fragile. We have to be resolute and united as a couple as we live into this new lifestyle. These kids will poke and prod and try and find our weaknesses and triggers. They’ll try to bait us with arguments. They’ll say very hurtful and hateful things to us. But we must both remember in the moment and in every moment that we are here for them. And there’s nothing they can do about that. Perhaps they’re testing whether or not we really do love and care for them. Maybe that’s hard for them to believe because though people may have said it to them, they’ve never really experienced it. We’re here to show them what that looks like. We’re here to break the cycles of abuse, self-hate, and recklessness. We’re here to show them that they are precious, they are loved, and they are capable of amazing things.

An old postcard photo of what Boys Town looked like about 70-80 years ago.

This lifestyle requires for us to dare greatly and to live boldly. We will have critics and we’ll actually be living with our greatest ones. We’ll have to teach our girls both privately and publicly. We could be in the grocery store when we need to pull a youth aside to address a certain behavior. We may be at a baseball game or at a church service or at a dinner out when we need to address a behavior with a youth. But we can’t let nerves or a sense of embarrassment affect our need to teach. Because the youth understand that when we are inconsistent or fail to teach them or hold them accountable, we are not truly caring for them in the way that they deserve.

I heard one of our presenters say during a lecture that he was “unembarrassable.” I liked that term. It at once sent shivers down my spine because I am easily embarrassed, but a moment later my spine stiffened back up as I realized that I cannot be effective in this role if I am embarrassable.

So over the course of the last week I’ve taken on the attitude that of becoming unembarrassable. We’ve had to practice various role plays with staff this week in order to prepare us for the interactions we’ll be having with our girls. These moments would typically would be great opportunities for me to be extremely vulnerable to embarrassment. But no longer. This is the time where I need to lean in and put it all out there for the sake of the girls that will be living in our home. No sense in cowering away now. This is where the rubber meets the road. This is where I get some real opportunities to live out my values.

An old postcard photo of Down Chapel, the Catholic chapel on campus. (There is also a protestant chapel on campus.)

It’s nerve-wracking, don’t get me wrong. But at the end of the day I already feel more satisfied with my life simply because of the effort I’m putting into helping love others better. And this is just the tip of the iceberg. This is just the training.

We have a little over a week left in training and then we’ll see what’s next for us. We don’t know when we’ll have girls move in with us. We don’t even know 100% if the apartment we are living in now will remain our “permanent” home.

An old postcard photo of the apartment we now live in.

Sarah and I have learned that it’s best to live into that missionary beatitude:

“Blessed are the flexible, for they shall not be bent out of shape.”

Boys Town is a community filled with all sorts of amazing people. It’s so cool to be a part of the mission here. Whenever I find a few brief moments to blog I will try and do so, but obviously my time is much more restricted these days, so we’ll see how things go. I’ve gotten an incredible amount of well wishes and encouragement from so many people. Thank you for your encouragement and interest. It means the world to me.

Published by Andrew

a ragamuffin dad planting some sequoias

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