Former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell is the founding chairman of a non-profit organization called America's Promise. As part of this program, Powell has announced a national campaign to identify the 100 best communities for young people in the United States. This initiative encourages all communities to raise their standard of services and programs for at-risk youth.
An estimated 15 million young people in America are currently considered at risk -- that is, they don't have adequate adult supervision, education or health care. Marguerite Sallee, America's Promise president and CEO says the campaign to identify the 100 Best Communities for Young People is part of a larger effort to raise community awareness of the urgency to protect and nurture America's young.
"One of the things we're finding is that families, by necessity are working harder than ever. And so we're looking for more caring adults in a young person's life -- really encouraging more involvement by neighbors, by relatives, by mentors, a coach, teacher, or religious leader." She says that could be anyone who is "thoughtful about being loving, caring adults in the lives of the young people they know or touch."
America's Promise makes 5 promises to young people: the guarantee of caring adults in their lives; a safe place to grow up; a healthy start; marketable skills through effective education; and the opportunity to give back to their community. The 100 Best Communities campaign will identify those communities which have best demonstrated their commitment to all young people, but especially those most in need -- by providing plenty of venues for structured activities, including parks and playgrounds; mentors for children who lack the guidance of a responsible adult; and enriching after-school programs.
Former Secretary of State Colin Powell announced the new 100 Best Cities for Young People in America initiative at a press conference in May, stating, "It is time to reach up to all communities to gather in the best lessons that are out there, to gather in the energy that is out there."
Mr. Powell recalled the first America's Promise summit in 1997 where all living U.S. presidents convened in Philadelphia with corporate and community leaders to discuss the future of America's youth, and ". . to take a look in the mirror and say to ourselves, 'This is the wealthiest country on the face of the earth. We have the greatest pool of talent, of money, of resources. So why should there be young people in our nation who are in need, who don't have the basic things that they need to be successful in life?'"
Statistics show American children lagging behind many of their foreign counterparts in the areas of math and science. This does not bode well, says Mr. Powell, for American competition in the global marketplace. "They need a skill to compete in the kind of economic 21st century workplace," he says, noting "those nations that we thought might be competing with us in a more dangerous way years ago, now they're competing with us economically. And China is producing all these engineers, India is, also, other nations are. And we have to make sure that our youngsters are getting the skills they need."
Since its inception in 1997, America's Promise president Marguerite Sallee says relationships cultivated with public and private groups have led to an increase in services for at-risk youth nationwide. "Through our alliance partners, we now have 2 million more people who have mentors," she says. "Three million more children have after school programs and safe places they can go. Four million more have health insurance and about 1½ million young people are now volunteering on a regular basis." She says those are exciting numbers, but notes, "we still have a long way to go."
Thousands of communities are expected to apply before the August 1st deadline to win a place on the 100 Best Communities for Young People list. To win, community leaders will be asked to demonstrate the scope and creativity of the services they provide children and teenagers. And they will be required to provide written testimonials from three young people stating why they think their hometown has made a difference in their lives.
The purpose of the competition, Colin Powell says is not "to identify champions" -- but rather give inspiration to communities in the U.S. and around the world that helping a young person get the best start in life is a good investment in everyone's future.