By: 
Sep 13, 2012

America’s Promise Alliance has announced the 2012 winners of the 100 Best Communities for Young People presented by ING. The competition spotlights communities that demonstrate a lasting commitment to, and cross sector support for, youth development through innovative programs and services in schools and throughout the community. An interactive list of all 2012 winners can be found at AmericasPromise.org/100Best.

“The 100 Best winners showcase a wide range of successful multi-sector approaches to improving the lives of youth,” said John Gomperts, America’s Promise Alliance president and CEO. “Reading the applications, we saw powerful themes emerge from winning communities, such as youth leadership opportunities, career readying initiatives, safe and productive venues for out-of-school time, anti-bullying campaigns and mentoring programs to help increase high school graduation rates. Collectively, the winning communities surpassed the national graduation rate and have set an example for other communities to follow.”

In its sixth year, the competition experienced its greatest interest to-date, with nominations from more than 320 communities representing all 50 states, Washington, D.C., the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. Nineteen communities are now six-time winners and 18 communities won for their first time. Winning communities came from 42 states. California and Florida had the most winners with eight and seven communities respectively, while Massachusetts and Virginia had six and Washington had four. The 100 Best winners represent a broad spectrum of this nation’s communities from large cities such as New York City, Tampa, and Honolulu, to small towns such as Pinedale, Wyo., Prosser, Wash., and Lamoni, Iowa.

“The increase we have seen in graduation rates is due in large part to the hard work communities such as this year’s 100 Best have done to make sure their youth have access to outstanding education and support services,” said Rhonda Mims, president of the ING Foundation and head of the ING U.S. Office of Corporate Responsibility. “It is important for ING to partner with organizations such as America’s Promise Alliance so we can share these best practices and play a role in improving student achievement and the nation’s economy.”

America’s Promise and ING U.S. will recognize this year’s 100 Best winners at an event at Washington, D.C.’s Newseum. During this program, they will also recognize two special award winners: 

  • Outstanding Local Dropout Prevention Program:
    St. Petersburg, Fla., Doorways Scholarships
    The Doorways Scholarships program is a partnership between Pinellas County Schools and the Pinellas Education Foundation and focuses on improving area graduation rates by providing academic support and life-enrichment programs, along with college scholarships for low-income students. Since its inception, the program has awarded more than 1,200 scholarships. For the last four years, scholarship recipients achieved a 93 percent graduation rate.  
  • Youth Testimonial Award Winner: 
    Kyle Harris , Battleground, Wash.
    Inspired to prevent youth suicides after losing several classmates, 16-year-old Kyle Harris launched “A Walk to Stop” in her community to raise awareness of this growing tragedy. Through her efforts and a successful February event, more than 200 people participated and $2,000 were raised for community suicide prevention programs.

The 100 Best competition is part of the Grad Nation campaign, a large and growing movement of dedicated individuals, organizations and communities working together to end the dropout crisis. The goal of Grad Nation is to raise the national high school graduation rate to 90 percent by 2020, with no school graduating fewer than 80 percent of its students on time. This year’s 100 winners have a collective average high school graduation rate of nearly 80 percent, compared to the national rate of 75.5 percent. Notably, 21 communities achieved greater than 90 percent graduation rates including Braintree, Mass.; Bellevue, Wash.; Chino, Calif.; Edina, Minn.; and Boys Town, Neb.

All communities completed a rigorous application, in which they provided details on everything from how they are collaborating across sectors to support youth, to details about existing programs and initiatives that are keeping students in school and helping deliver America’s Promise’s Five Promises: caring adults; safe places; a healthy start; an effective education; and opportunities to help others.

Winners were chosen by a distinguished panel of judges including 2012 National Teacher of the Year Rebecca Mieliwocki; 2012 National Superintendent of the Year Heath Morrison; National Urban League President Marc Morial; and GLSEN Executive Director Eliza Byard. Two youth representatives were also selection panelists: Austin Bargmann, 15, from Brighton, Colo., a two-time 100 Best winning community; and Ashley Levanduski, 17, who has been involved with The First Tee, an America's Promise partner organization, for more than nine years and currently serves as a volunteer coach for her local chapter in Paso Robles, Calif.

First held in 2005, the 100 Best competition is open to all communities that make children and youth a priority, including small towns, large cities, counties and school districts. In addition to enhancing local educational opportunities, winning communities help facilitate greater access to quality health care for young people, encourage youth civic engagement, and supply developmental resources that create better places for young people to live, learn and grow.