AIKEN --- Aiken County's efforts to improve the lives of area children have not gone unnoticed outside the county.
On Jan. 24, Aiken County was named one of the country's 100 Best Communities for Young People by America's Promise Alliance, an organization founded by Colin Powell that is committed to helping at-risk kids succeed.
A community receives this award not "because you've achieved paradise for children," said Diane Mangianti, the executive director of Public Education Partners in Aiken. "This is an award because you're aware of the issues facing young people, and you are working to address them, and that's where Aiken County excels."
Aiken County was among 300 communities across the nation that sent in applications to be considered for the award. In South Carolina, four communities -- Aiken County, Charleston, Rock Hill and the Oconee County School District -- were ranked among the 100 best communities.
"Everybody should have a certain amount of pride in this recognition because it says that on top of everything we're doing for education ... we're making sure that all their needs are taken care of," said David Jameson, the president of the Aiken Chamber of Commerce.
America's Promise Alliance said several initiatives already in place made Aiken County stand out. Among them were the Aiken County Community Partnership, an incorporated alliance of about 40 organizations that works to improve the lives of Aiken County citizens; Summer Institute, a weeklong training program offered by the community partnership to the educators of Aiken County to help them understand at-risk students; and the 211 system, a help line that provides callers with information on a variety of resources to help them solve problems.
Mr. Jameson said Aiken County didn't have to create initiatives in order to be considered for the award.
"There was already a collaborative process under way where on a daily basis these agencies were working together on behalf of the young people of Aiken County," he said.
America's Promise Alliance agreed.
"The county's work has resulted in more resources for its children and many 'firsts' for the state, including the state's first therapeutic child care center, the first mental health center in the state to receive the Health Center of the Year Award and the first South Carolina iAm laptop project for ninth graders," America's Promise Alliance said in a statement.
Ms. Mangianti said the two-year award allows the county to look ahead and set some goals.
"We will have the opportunity to apply for other grants through the America's Promise Alliance and elsewhere," she said. "We will be able to go out to a foundation and say this is a community that cares about youth."
"I think people are ready to tackle the hard issues and realize that no one community, no one group can solve these problems. We all have to do our best to work together."
Reach Michelle Guffey at (803) 648-1395, ext. 110, or firstname.lastname@example.org.