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Cleveland BOYSTOWNS were organized in 1939 to combat juvenile delinquency. Fr. Flanagan's Omaha, NE, Boys Town, popularized in a 1938 film of the same name, inspired the program. City recreation commissioner J. Noble Richards proposed turning 6 vacant police precinct stations into self-governing recreation centers supervised by the city's Recreation Div. The Safety Dept. paid for utilities and a watchman at each center, and the Welfare Dept. looked after the boys' physical needs. Boystowns were established at Broadway and E. 55th, E. 79th and Woodland, E. 80th and Superior, E. 185th and Nottingham, W. 53rd and Clark, and W. 83rd and Detroit. "Citizens" ages 8-18 in the vicinity of each center registered to vote, elected "town" officers and councils, and held jury trials for violation of ordinances (punishable by demerits). To encourage self-sufficiency, organizers did not furnish any equipment, but by 1940 the project was in financial trouble. The result was an outpouring of volunteers and supplies and a full-time city employee for Boystown. In 1941 the formation of the Cleveland Boystown Foundation for financing and advice strengthened the program.

Boystowns declined during World War II as city wartime services took over the centers. In 1942 officials mobilized Boystown citizens into a junior civil defense organization. Boystowns reappeared a year later, however, due to concerns about increasing juvenile delinquency. Centers for boys ages 10-16 opened at E. 55th and Perkins, E. 79th and Woodland, E. 80th and Superior, and W. 25th and Althen. In a 1947 reorganization, the program was transferred to the Joint Recreation Bd., and emphasis shifted from crime prevention to education and recreation. Including older boys and offering sports helped increase participants from 1,400 in 1947 to 2,000 in 1948.

A separate institution called Ohio Boys Town, Inc., a private not-for-profit agency operating adolescent residential facilities, was incorporated in May 1953 by businessman Mirabeau (Mickey) Kraus. Seeking to provide a stable and supportive atmosphere for the physical, emotional, social, educational, and spiritual development of each resident, Ohio Boys Town opened a home at 721 Eddy Rd. in 1958. The Variety Club of Northern Ohio and the KIWANIS CLUBS of Cleveland have served as major sponsors in subsequent years. Between 1976 and 1986, 2 more facilities were opened in BEREA. Daniel J. Brannen served as executive director in 1995.

Writers Program of the Works Projects Admn., Cleveland's Boystowns (1940).