Celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, Boys Town Central Florida in Oviedo has a rich history of building bright futures
Mention “Boys Town,” and people of a certain generation think of the classic 1938 movie starring Academy Award winner Spencer Tracy as Father Edward Flanagan, the man who dedicated his life to helping children and families in need. However, when many people think about the Boys Town organization, which has its second oldest and largest location right here in Oviedo, they envision a sort of juvenile detention center for bad kids.
That couldn’t be further from the truth.
In fact, Boys Town Central Florida – located on 56 acres in the Black Hammock area – can best be described as a safe haven where at-risk children can overcome difficult circumstances and realize their potential with the support of Boys Town’s caring staff.
“We believe that kids deserve a second chance,” says Greg Zbylut, Boys Town’s chief executive officer for the past 10 years. “We work with a lot of kids who have made some bad choices in their lives, and they‘re young enough to turn it around. If given the right opportunities and surrounded by the right role models, we can get them back on track in time to be successful adults.”
Boys Town Central Florida has been doing that since 1986 and has served more than 35,000 children and families during that time. The Oviedo campus celebrated its 30th anniversary of saving children and healing families this year with several events. In August, Boys Town had a carnival-style campus picnic, complete with dunk tank, pie-eating contests, and balloon tosses. In October, it hosted a Business After Hours event with the Oviedo-Winter Springs Regional Chamber of Commerce at Oviedo on the Park, followed by a free screening of the 1938 movie.
The celebrations will continue next year when the original Boys Town campus in Nebraska marks its 100th anniversary. The idea for Boys Town came about when Father Flanagan, an Irish priest who had been working with men in prison, realized that if he started working with younger kids, he would have a better shot at changing their future. A blown-up photo of Boys Town’s first five residents in Nebraska is on display at the administration building on the Oviedo campus.
“What Father Flanagan did was he provided shelter and education,” Greg says, “and by engaging the business community and donors, he was able to build on his mission to prepare these kids to be successful adults.”
That same philosophy lives on at Boys Town’s 11 locations throughout the country. According to its website, Boys Town programs touch more than two million lives each year. Although the organization was first aimed only at young boys, it now includes boys and girls (since the late 1970s), mostly ages 10 to 18, and their families. And despite being started by a Catholic priest, Boys Town welcomes children of all religious denominations.
Boys Town Central Florida’s Integrated Continuum of Care offers preventative programs that include Parent Training Classes, In-Home Family Services, and a Behavioral Health Clinic. The Oviedo campus has four homes – staffed by married Family Teaching couples – that can house up to six children. The Central Florida complex looks much like a small housing development, complete with picnic area, swimming pool, volleyball and basketball courts, and an activity center. Residents attend local schools and are encouraged to participate in extracurricular activities, just like any other kids.
“We’re teaching children how to be productive members of society,” says Jackie Nitti, Boys Town’s community engagement coordinator. “We help children from all socioeconomic levels, of all colors, creeds, and religions, and that really speaks to me. I’m glad we’re here for the community.”
Boys Town Central Florida currently has 36 children living at its Oviedo campus, and more than 3,000 children and families will be served by its programs this year. About half of Boys Town’s budget is paid for by the state, but the other funds come from donors, both big and small. Among the biggest donors in Central Florida are Walt Disney World, the Orlando Magic Youth Foundation, and the Orlando Sentinel.
Another big fundraiser is coming up on Saturday, December 10: The 10th annual Candy Cane 5K Run at Central Winds Park in Winter Springs.
“Every dollar truly does matter,” Greg says, “and every one of those dollars goes directly towards helping kids.”
For more information about Boys Town Central Florida, call 407-588-2170.
A staff member will gladly give you a campus tour and let you know how you can help this worthy organization.
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