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Great Place for Children to Grow Up

Alexandria is recognized for its commitment to children and youth.

Alexandria has been selected as one of the 100 best communities for young people by America’s Promise, an Alexandria-based nonprofit founded by former Secretary of State Gen. Colin Powell in 1997. The award recognizes the city’s efforts “to provide a healthy, safe and caring environment for young people,” according to the organization’s announcement this week.

“Nothing is more important than seeing that our children and youth have the resources and support systems they need to thrive and succeed,” said Powell in a written statement congratulating the 100 winning cities. “When a community provides all that its young people need to be healthy and secure, they deserve to be honored and showcased as an outstanding example of what it takes to successfully nurture this nation’s young people.”

Officials from America’s Promise said they selected Alexandria for the collaborative efforts of city agencies, Alexandria City Public Schools and community groups on behalf of children. The application prepared by city officials for the nationwide competition emphasized organizations such as the Youth Policy Commission and the Early Childhood Commission to institute programs combating teen pregnancy and community efforts to work against gang violence.

“There’s a great swell in the community to make sure that there are programs for every child,” said Michele Brandon, who has been a member of the city’s Youth Policy Commission since 2002. “It comes from the top down, with the Youth Policy Commission being created by former Mayor Kerry Donley and now headed by Mayor Bill Euille.”

The competition opened in September 2006, with applicants selected from a panel including leaders in the world of business and politics such as United States Chamber of Commerce President Tom Donohue, “Meet the Press” moderator Tim Russert and Denver Mayor Wellington Webb. Panel members evaluated hundreds of applications looking for cities that met the nonprofit organization’s “five promises”: resources, caring adults, safe places, effective education and a healthy start toward adulthood.

“We held this competition to appeal to America’s competitive spirit to encourage communities to become great places to grow up,” said Marguerite Kondracke, president of America’s Promise. “Our winners’ outstanding efforts to deliver the five promises are shining examples of what it means to keep America’s promise for our young people.”

THE APPLICATION included a laundry list of organizations devoted to children: the Campagna Center, the Alexandria Educational Partnership, the Youth Services Coordinating Council, Alexandria Community Trust and the Alexandria Council for Human Service Organizations. Specific programs mentioned in the application include a wide array of services: Project Discovery, a school-funded program that helps low-income students prepare for college; TeensWork, a city-funded program that helps young people find summer internships; and Grandfather’s Group, an Urban League program that links fatherless boys with male role models. It also highlighted youth-initiated projects such as the city’s skateboard park, an initiative that was the brainchild of several industrious young people who successfully lobbied City Council to create the $400,000 park.

“All children, not just those who are from economically endowed households, are provided with the support needed to prosper and thrive,” city officials wrote in the summary to their application. “This commitment continues because in Alexandria, children, youth and families come first.”

The application also highlighted recent initiatives to improve service delivery in the city. For example, the application points out, the City Council adopted a policy in 2000 of encouraging prevention of teen pregnancy rather than simply responding to it. It foreshadowed the city’s soon-to-open child advocacy center, which officials hope will consolidate service delivery for children and families, and it documented financial contributions from city coffers such as the Children’s Fund, which provide $1 million every year to improve childcare.

“This contest is designed to showcase communities that go the extra mile to deliver programs designed to help young people succeed,” said Patti Reilly, senior vice president for community relations at America’s Promise. “This is an awesome honor because it’s not every day that Alexandria gets recognized nationally as being a great place for children to grow up.”