The foundation is a partnership of more than 400 corporations, nonprofits, faith-based organizations and advocacy groups “that are passionate about improving lives and changing outcomes for children,” according to a news release.
The excitement and anticipation were evident at the Montrose County boardroom when the announcement was made via streaming video, as local and state officials learned the outcome. Screams of joy filled the packed room when the announcement was made that Montrose had indeed won.
More than 300 communities in all 50 states and Puerto Rico entered the competition, said Colleen Wilber, America’s Promise spokeswoman, and Montrose made the cut of the top 125 to go into the final round of 100.
“We brought the finalists to the selection panel – 20 judges involved in youth development,” she said. Judges included representatives of the national Boys and Girls Clubs; a representative of the National Teacher of the Year organization; former New Orleans Mayor Marc Morial; the CEO of America’s Promise; and the president of the ING Corporation, which sponsored the competition.
“We are recognizing the 100 communities that we think are doing outstanding things to support young people in their community,” Wilber said. “They are diverse communities, from big cities as well as small, rural areas, but the common thread is that these are communities working across sectors.
“It’s not just a good school district, it’s way more than that,” she said. “We asked about how Montrose County is as a community, engaging all different sectors: businesses, school, young people and parents.”
Wilber said it was “especially poignant” to look at communities that are all struggling with tough economic times and still are able to make young people a priority.
Many different groups are working to improve the lives of young people in Montrose County, said Erica Weeks, County Grant Writer, who completed the application for the award. When you add them all up, the list is impressive, and shows across-the-board collaboration, she said.
“One of the first (things) we discussed was the regional Naturita Library, which was named nationally as the best library,” she said. “We also have the [Montrose Library District] bookmobile, and they spend a lot of time working to give children an outlet for learning and leadership, as well as their summer reading program.”
A relatively new program will also bring young people closer to city government with the establishment of City Youth Leadership Council, comprised solely of young people who, under the guidance of city staff, will give advice and make specific recommendations for opportunities for young people, Weeks said.
And then there’s the County Homeless Youth Leadership Team, a statewide program made up of kids who have been homeless in the past and who mentor other kids who may not have a real home.
“They have gone to the state capitol and come to the commissioners on what youth in their position are in need of,” Weeks said. “And it’s coming from kids who have been there themselves.”
The Homeless Youth Leadership team also mans a crisis line for runaways, coordinates efforts to help homeless kids, plans fundraisers and even supplies “starter kits” of household items for young people starting out on their own.
Also included in the application was the work of the Montrose Recreation District, which is the biggest employer of young people in the county, Weeks said.
“They employ (young people) at the pool and allow them to coach younger children through sports teams,” she said. “It’s a great opportunity for children involved in their programs to learn leadership and professionalism, and be able to build quality relationships with younger children.”
The applications also highlighted the work of Voices for Children, a program of Court Appointed Special Advocates, whose trained volunteers follow the case of an abuse or neglected child through the court system, becoming the children’s advocates and ensuring they are living in a safe environment. Dolphin House, a nonprofit that provides a non-threatening environment for initial interviews of physically and sexually abused children, was another example.
The work of the Montrose School District was also highlighted, and Weeks said the county and the school district worked together to provide a much-needed resource officer in Olathe schools. The school district was also included for creating school-based community health clinics at Olathe and Northside elementary schools.
“You do not need to have a student at the school to be able to receive services, and kids who may have mental health needs can go directly to receive care in that area,” Weeks said. The clinics are proven to decrease absenteeism and tardiness, she said, and also provide wellness checks, sports physicals, lab tests, chronic disease management, fluoride applications and more.
“More than 800 children are enrolled [at the clinics] who previously did not have a medical home,” she said.
Another facet of the school district is that the graduation rate for Hispanic kids in Montrose County is 20 percent higher than the state average, Weeks said; one reason is the 21st Century Learning Centers and district after-school programs.
21st Century Learning Centers, located in Montrose and Olathe, supports community learning for schools with a high rate of students who are living below the poverty line and struggling in school, Weeks said.
“They do a lot of group activities that complement regular academic programs, hold summer sessions and help students meet standards in core subjects [and offer] enrichment and educational support services for families as well.”
The Montrose Community Foundation was also cited for its philanthropy outreach to students, she said, by playing “the giving game” this year in four area schools.
“Students were given a trading card which directed them to give their time or talent to another group,” she said. “Then the cards are passed on, and can be tracked online, so students can see the line of giving they initiated – that as a result of one thing they did, another 20 people benefited from additional steps other people did, as well.”
The actual award is made of crystal; it comes with a cash prize of $2,500, as well as “bragging rights” and signs to place at the entrances to town, Wilber said, which the city and county can use to promote real estate and economic development, particularly for people looking for a great place to raise their children.
City and county leaders were ecstatic about winning the award, which Weeks said wouldn’t have happened without a lot of hard work and cooperation across-the-board.
“When you consider this area and the organizations that collaborated, a lot of time and effort is behind all of these, and we are extremely proud to step out into the light to show what is available in our community.”