At Home With a Boys Town Family
BROOKLYN, N.Y. — `WELCOME to our home," says a young man at the door of a Brooklyn brownstone. "May I take your coat?"
Inside this nicely furnished home, he and his five male housemates formally introduce themselves to three dinner guests. They engage in a lively discussion about movies and the guests' journalism careers. There is an air of good manners and respect.
Monty and LouAnn Miller are the "family teachers," or professionally trained parents, in this Boys Town family home. They are responsible for six boys who are considered "troubled." Much of the family teachers' day-to-day work involves teaching these boys social skills and helping heal their behavioral problems. But perhaps most important, they listen, and they love.
The table is set. Dinner is served. But first there is grace, for which everyone joins hands and bows head. Boys Town has always maintained that religion is important in the healing process, no matter what denomination.
Afterward, everyone pitches in for cleanup. Then, as happens every evening, there is a family conference where kids bring up issues and vote on such things as rules or weekend family activities.
Discipline is key in such a household. The kids share responsibilities in chores and menu planning, and learn about manners, punctuality, personal hygiene, neatness, managing an allowance, getting along with others, and more.
Evaluation is constant. Through the "point system," kids are rewarded "positives" for good behavior and given "negatives" for bad behavior. Points buy privileges such as TV time, free time, and phone use. Such a system is designed to teach them to be responsible for their behavior; that their actions, good and bad, yield appropriate consequences.
Before guests arrived at the Millers, for example, one boy started misbehaving. For that he received negative points. But during the evening he exhibited good behavior and, at the suggestion of Mr. Miller, he gave the guests an informative tour of the house. For that he was rewarded points back. When asked what he thought about being here, he replied: "It's OK. It's strict, but it helps you."
For family teachers, the point system serves as reference. "It's a lot easier to be fair and consistent," commented Mary Parker earlier in the day. She and her husband, Duane, are family teachers in the girls' home, several blocks away.
Working with the youngsters rarely yields immediate results; progress requires great patience and persistence on the part of family teachers, who are serving in a sort of youth-care Peace Corps. "You have to look at the smaller things - three steps forward, two steps back - it's a real shaping process," says Mrs. Parker. "We decide within ourselves that we're making a difference, even if it's just giving them a safe place with a roof over their heads and food." She adds: "My dream is that one of these gi rls will call in the future and say `Thank you'; that we contributed to success in their lives."