Ames, Iowa

A flourishing circle of university, community and opportunity, Ames, IA is a two time 100 Best winner that is known for its healthy, stable economy and cultural environment. Located in the heart of the Midwest, Ames has a charming small town atmosphere with the resources of a big city, making it a great place for young people to live, learn and play. Affordability, safety, high student test scores and a vast array of cultural opportunities earned Ames a ranking on Business Week’s "Best Places to Raise your Kids" in November 2009. Ames is a unique, exciting, and flourishing community for youth to grow and be supported.

Youth & Shelter Services, Inc. (YSS), headquartered in Ames, has reached more than 7,000 youth, providing prevention, education, treatment and residential services to children, youth and families, as well as helping youth be self-sufficient, responsible, and contributing members of society. YSS provides foster care and adoption services for 12 counties in Iowa and is the lead agency for the statewide Iowa Aftercare Services Network, which provides counseling, support and links to community resources for youth aging-out of family foster care. ACCESS provides specialized services for youth and teens, including counseling, advocacy, outings, and play groups.

The Ames Chamber of Commerce facilitates the Education Connections Committee, which serves to strengthen the relationship between the business community and schools. In 2008, the Committee launched a new initiative called Partners in Education to bring businesses into the classrooms and connect directly with students.

Youth & Shelter Services offers a mentoring program called GRIP (Great Relationships in Pairs) in which elementary and middle school students are referred by a teacher or counselor, a family member or themselves for a variety of reasons which may include academic difficulty, social challenges or issues affecting life at home. The mentoring relationship is a mutual commitment to a long-term friendship that develops through weekly meetings as well as through additional learning opportunities, such as game nights and athletic events. Mentees benefit significantly from having a fun and special one-on-one relationship with a caring adult. Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Iowa pairs vulnerable youth with a caring adult to provide guidance, support and most importantly friendship. Recently, a BBBS satellite office opened in Ames, and there are already over 40 mentoring pairs in Story County.

Story County Youth Philanthropists is a group of high school students in Ames involved in meaningful ways to learn and be philanthropic, and to encourage other youth to give and serve in the community. The group meets twice a month. AmeZone, created in 2009, is a youth leadership program centered on service learning. Youth ages 11-18 are invited to be part of this group. AmeZone is a program facilitated by the Volunteer Center of Story County and United Ames to raise awareness of the homeless and impoverished. AmeZone’s biggest project is the Service Patch Community Garden, which is a garden to produce foods to be donated to local food pantries and shelters.