e=”text align: center;”>Whitefish, MT snowboarders

Snowboarding near Whitefish, Montana, one of the 100 Best Communities for Young People Photo: Casey Sjolund

Are all the children in your town “above average”? Well, in 15 small U.S. communities, they may be. At least, according to America’s Promise Alliance, they’re getting a whale of a good local push. The organization has announced its 100 Best Communities for Young People, and fifteen of these spots, from Keene, New Hampshire, to Orofino, Idaho, are non metro areas. All these communities, according to the organization, have made the well being of young people a top priority. Marguerite Kondracke, president of America’s Promise Alliance, wrote, “The 100 Best competition is more important than ever because it’s become harder for cities and towns to focus on the needs of their children with all the challenges facing them, and we see the impact of this in our dismal high school graduation rates.” Many of the “best” towns are working in similar directions. Several winners are striving to curb teenage smoking, drinking and drug abuse. Others have created mentoring programs that partner young and less than young citizens to strengthen the social fabric. There are efforts to lead juvenile offenders back to success and improve children’s nutrition and health care. Here are some of the more original innovations:

mercer Ciunty WEst Virginina quilt
Prize winning quilt from the Mercer County (West Virginia) Fair, 2007 Photo: Toni Ash

  Sylacauga, Alabama, has created a foundation to pay for better art and music courses in its schools. Lamoni, Iowa, teaches philanthropy; its Dekko Foundation grants students “$15,000 to use to restore their county, communities, and schools.” In Mt. Sterling, Kentucky, community leaders earmarked two taxes for programs to benefit local youth and is providing special resources for the town’s Spanish speakers. Mankato, Minnesota, has a 13 1 student/teacher ratio in its “Sober School,” created to help young people who are leaving drug treatment centers to resume their educations. One mother’s after school program evolved in a youth community center in Whitefish, Montana, now serving 250 children. “Cheshire Smiles,” in Keene, New Hampshire, guarantees dental care to all local children. In Mason County, Iowa, a Youth Task Force is now involved in all kinds of civic work and decision making. Local leaders wrote, “Mason County has moved from an environment of ‘doing for’ our kids to ‘doing with’ them.”

lamoni, Iowa people wlaking

Evening walk in Lamoni, Iowa, one of the 100 Best Communities for Young People Photo: Brandon Harvey

The 100 national winners were judged on how well they delivered on criteria America’s Promise calls the “Five Promises”: caring adults, safe places, healthy start, effective education, and opportunities to help others. Representing 105 businesses, nonprofits, communities and policymakers, America’s Promise derived its criteria from research on children’s well being by the National Academies of Science, Search Institute, Academy for Educational Development and Child Trends. Read about all the winners and learn how to nominate your own community for next year’s contest. Congratulations to the 15 rural communities named among the 100 Best Communities for Young People: keene pumpkinsPumpkin Festival in Keene, NH Photo: Aliwest44 Orofino, Idaho Lamoni, Iowa Mason, Iowa Mt. Sterling, Kentucky Murray, Kentucky Mankato, Minnesota Butler Co., Missouri Whitefish, Montana Keene, New Hampshire Los Alamos Co., New Mexico School District of Oconee Co., South Carolina Crawford Co., Wisconsin Mercer Co. West Virginia Monroe Co., West Virginia