Keeping Score on Best Messaging in 100 Best Communities for Young People

Harvey Chipkin and Hershel Sarbin
January 10, 2011

America's Promise 100 Best Communities for 2010 demonstrate creativity and passion, and many gained added impact from creative communication. Child Advocacy 360 takes a look. 

It's been four years since America's Promise Alliance, with support from the ING Foundation, began to select its 100 Best Communities for Young People, and the program seems to be emerging as a catalyst for towns and cities becoming more creative and resourceful in seeking recognition—and, more importantly, in serving their youth.

Not surprisingly, there are familiar themes and patterns among the 100 Best—reflecting America's Promise's "Five Promises," the developmental supports that young people need for success in life. The winning locations all included:

  • Youth voice and participation
  • Integrated after-school programs
  • Filling gaps when government is not doing it
  • Enabling groups to coordinate and work together
  • Health initiatives
  • Mentoring

CommunitiesMany of the communities get extra impact from memorable messaging on their results, and keeping the kind of continuing scorecard that Child Advocacy 360 advocates. Following is a closer look at 10 of the 100 Best and how they incorporate communication and results monitoring in their efforts.

Long-Time Advocate For Communication

  • Huntsville/Madison County, Alabama: This community has long been ahead of the game when it comes to communications initiatives. Teen Think Tanks, Inc., organized in 1998, gives teens a voice to speak and to be heard on issues like youth violence. The Council on Services to Children and Youth is an inter-agency organizations comprised of 20 local organizations that work with youth ages birth to 18; its monthly meetings for public and private agencies allow them to share information on events, activities, and issues involving youth and families. The organization has existed for over 19 years, improving communication among the agencies.

Communicating With a Special Constituency

  • Solano County, California: In a community where parent Incarceration is an issue, a "Families Making connections" resource summit in 2009 featured Project WHAT (We're Here and Talking), a group of young people who have experienced parental incarceration or experience with the judicial system and seek to raise awareness about the impact of those experiences.

Youth Speak Regularly

  • Milford, Connecticut: Milford has a unique organization called the Youth Commission which consists of local middle and high school students who meet monthly to discuss current youth related issues and their goals and ideas for the potential solutions and programs in the community. The city pays a stipend for an adult advisor to facilitate this group, but they remain entirely youth driven.

A Collective Voice For Youth

  • Murray/Calloway County, Kentucky: Community leaders met and developed plans for a Council of Youth Leaders. The mission of the Council for Youth Leaders is to be a collective voice for youth to promote the successful development of themselves, their peers, families, and community. The goals include establishing and developing a link between adults and youth in Murray/Calloway County; creating, advising and promoting activities that benefit youth; advising the city and county on present and future projects involving youth; and striving to be a united voice for the youth in the community

Keeping Everybody Connected

  • Columbia, Missouri: First-time 100 Best winner Columbia adopted a resolution to promote the community as a "youth and family friendly city." The resolution calls for the establishment of a youth commission to advise the City Council on civic matters like planning and development. Columbia will develop and promote a central resource, which will cultivate responsible citizenship among young people. Connections between families, neighborhoods, and the community at large will be actively promoted through events, through broad, effective and all-inclusive communication, and through interactive and fun community challenges.

Using The Media

  • Pascagoula, Mississippi: Despite a poverty rate of 74 percent, this community went all out in a Destination Graduation dropout prevention program. The first step in this successful campaign was to ensure that community members were aware of the effects of high school dropout rates, including increases in crime, poverty and teen pregnancy. The school superintendent spoke on local radio and television and worked with local newspapers to spread the word about the dropout crisis; local churches and businesses posted Destination Graduation! banners and distributed information about how community members can get involved; and schools held pep rallies open to the public. 

A Centralized Communications Database

  • Missoula, Montana: 2-1-1 First Call for Help houses youth programming information on its data base and website so there is one location that parents know to access for information about youth programs. The Forum email tree distributes weekly information on new community programs that provide access to adults who can meet the needs of targeted youth. The list goes out to over 200 individuals and organizations that refer youth or notify parents of availability. The Forum offers monthly trainings on building positive relationships with youth.

Outreach to One Community

  • Orange County, New York: Representatives from the Departments of Social Services and Health, as well as private managed care providers have translated many outreach and enrollment materials to reach the increasing Latino population, and have made an increasing effort to participate in grassroots community outreach events.

Connecting Multiple Agencies

  • Grand Forks, North Dakota: A prime example of collaboration in Grand Forks is the Mayor's Cabinet on Young People that is made up of the heads of organizations of nearly two dozen community entities ranging from city and county government to the schools, parks and Police to Health, non-profits and private businesses. This Cabinet provides a vehicle for various community entities to learn what others are doing, partner on joint efforts and work collaboratively on common community solutions.

Monitoring What Works

Cincinnati, Ohio: During the last four years, multiple organizations have been collaborating with support from the Strive Partnership to develop a "data-driven action plan" leveraging their collective resources to more efficiently and effectively recruit and retain mentors. This plan requires establishing baseline evidence on the impact of mentoring, coordinating resources based on what gets results, and developing a process for continuously improving the work together over time. This Mentoring Works collaboration involves youth volunteers, faith-based organizations, in-and-out -of school mentoring programs, juvenile delinquency, foster care and children of incarcerated parents.

Child Advocacy 360 is a nonprofit organization working to bridge the gap between "good works and good communication" in child advocacy. In 2010, CA360 commissioned Douglas Gould & Co. to conduct powerful, comprehensive research into effective communication strategies on child and youth issues. 
You'll find a video on the research results, along with other great tools, tips and guides from Child Advocacy 360 and many others in SparkAction's Communications section.