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Short Takes

February 21, 1988| Compiled by the View Staff

The Legendary Boys Town Grows Up

When Father Val J. Peter, executive director of Boys Town since 1985, arrives here this weekend for a reunion of the famed orphanage's alumni, he will bring a rather untraditional message: There are such things as bad boys.

"The kids who came to Father Flanagan 50 years ago were basically good kids who happened to be orphans," he says. "Today, we receive victims of physical and sexual abuse, many of whom are addicted to drugs or alcohol. They are the victims of our modern society."

Peter, 53, and his $60-million organization, now entering its 71st year, are trying to meet the needs of the 11,000 youths (girls, too, have been living at Boys Town since 1979) they encounter each year by offering a variety of programs. In addition to the residential campus depicted in two films and a television movie, Boys Town operates an inner-city high school in Omaha, Neb., for problem teens, 90% of whom are in detoxification programs.

No longer do hardscrabble orphans, like the type portrayed by Mickey Rooney in the 1938 film "Boys Town," live in dormitories supervised by priests resembling Spencer Tracy. Residential units are smaller now with eight to 10 children living in a home with a married team of counselors who act as role models. Each couple is trained in drug rehabilitation, recertified every year and evaluated by the children under their care.

"If our family teachers don't receive passing marks they're fired," Peter explains. "After all, the kids are the ultimate consumers."

Peter's goal is to make Boys Town "the McDonalds of child care." Toward that end he has established regional campuses using the Nebraska residential model in Tallahassee and Orlando and soon will open a third facility in Las Vegas.

Boys Town hopes to open three new campuses a year for the next 10 years. One is targeted for Orange County. "Boys Town has developed some excellent child-care techniques that we'd like to see implemented elsewhere in the country," Peter says. "We can't afford to build more high schools, but we can help disturbed kids in Southern California with a small regional campus."

Time to Roll Out the Laugh Wagon

On Ward 5-East at Childrens Hospital of Los Angeles, medicine doesn't always have to taste bad. Patients here sometimes swallow 30 tasty minutes of Laurel and Hardy movies or a dose of "Candid Camera" along with their daily assortment of pills and syrups.

This cinematic medicine comes to them on a plastic cart equipped with a TV and VCR. The films are intended to generate laughter, a healing agent that UCLA professor Norman Cousins has popularized as being more potent than chicken soup.

The laughs on 5-East are courtesy of a Brentwood woman, Bea Miller Ammidown, who heads a nonprofit corporation called HumoRx. Ammidown, a journalist, met Cousins at the home of her neighbor 10 years ago and says his ideas about laughter and healing "just felt right" to her. Three years ago Ammidown put aside her other projects to devote full time to her Laugh Wagon concept.

Divorced and the mother of three daughters, Ammidown said the idea seemed to "open people's hearts, minds and doors." Money came rolling in, she said, and Childrens Hospital agreed to introduce the Laugh Wagon to their inpatient adolescent unit.

Patients are not the only ones who have benefited from the Laugh Wagon, she said.

One day she wheeled the wagon into a room where a man sat glumly by his 16-year-old son's bedside. When Ammidown returned after a "Laverne and Shirley" episode, the father looked cheerier.

"It was so great for my father," the boy later told her. "He was really getting me down."

Charity Begins at Home in San Pedro

Bush, shmush--you want a real political donnybrook, check out the 1988 campaign for the honorary mayoralty of San Pedro.

In San Pedro, they do it different. Whoever raises the most money for charity gets the office, and Jess Robinson, Al Hoagland and Joe Marino are already out on the hustings drumming up bucks.

The charity of Robinson, a retired businessman, is the Seaman's Center, and events will include a "casino night," a champagne brunch aboard a yacht, a "chowder night" at Cannetti's restaurant and an athletic contest the candidate calls a "waddle-thon."

Hoagland, a psychotherapist/

minister whose charity is the YWCA's delinquency-prevention program, is concentrating on lectures ("The Good Life in San Pedro" by the candidate, "Fat Is a Family Affair" by Judy Hollis, etc.) plus a puppet show and an ice-cream social.

Marino's ace in the hole is a spoof movie premiere at the Warner Grand Theater on Tuesday. The retired school principal (charity: bleachers for the high school gym) will arrive in a 1930 Ford, accompanied by a "mystery celebrity." (We know, but we're sworn to secrecy.) An announcer will interview the traditional man-on-the-street, high-powered flashlights will sub for kliegs, and old films will be shown at the last of San Pedro's palace-style theaters.

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