Houston County again named top 100 community for youth

PERRY -- As executive director of a Houston County nonprofit collaboration, Kimberly Welch watches the reports roll in from the county’s organizations that support and develop youth.

“I see their numbers, and the numbers are showing improvement,” said Welch, of Kids’ Journey. “We really have love of the children, the families and the communities at large.”

Welch said that compelled her to again enter Houston County in the 100 Best Communities for Young People competition.

It was no surprise to her or the dozens of officials gathered at the Houston County Board of Education building Wednesday that the county was recognized for a second year in a row.

When Houston County was named, those watching the webcast from Washington, D.C., erupted in applause and cheers. Welch then presented Robin Hines, Houston County schools superintendent, with a trophy.

“It’s great to receive this reward for the second time,” Hines said. “It just shows the way our community comes together for” its youth.

America’s Promise Alliance has issued the list for the past six years to identify communities throughout the nation that have tackled dropout rates and provided support services for youth. ING Inc. sponsors the list.

According to the profile on the Alliance website, Houston County’s youth poverty rate is 22.8 percent and its graduation rate is 66.9 percent. However, according to the state Department of Education, Houston’s graduation rate was 73.2 percent for the 2010-11 school year. The state graduation rate was 67.5 percent.

“As young people across the country go back to school, it is especially timely to recognize communities like Houston County that have come together to make supporting young people a top priority and that are committed to helping young Americans reach their full potential,” John Gomperts, America’s Promise Alliance president and chief executive officer, said in a news release.

According to the release, Houston County organizations are part of the Houston County Commission on Children and Youth: Kids’ Journey to develop “a youth strategy team to identify and reach at-risk youth.” The partners include the Houston County school board, Warner Robins Parks and Recreation Department and faith-based organizations.

Additionally, Houston County has a Court Appointed Special Advocates program, which trains volunteers to evaluate children’s conditions and support at-risk youth in the court system; Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Heart of Georgia; and an active STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) initiative.

“So many dedicated people and programs contributed to this win, and it further reinforces our belief that a focus on youth pays dividends to the entire community,” Welch said.

The recognition comes with a $2,500 grant and road sign announcing the community’s designation.

Jacqueline McGhee, Kids’ Journey chairwoman and Northside Middle School counselor, said last year’s grant was given to Houston County 4-H to grow its program. Kids’ Journey, as the grant applicants, will meet and decide what to do with this year’s funds, McGhee said.

Hines and the mayors of Centerville, Perry and Warner Robins said at the watch party that the recognition is due to the collaborations among government and group leaders.

According to America’s Promise Alliance, 320 communities across the United States and its territories applied for the recognition. After a research process, the top 100 were selected.

Troup County and Cumming/Forsyth were the other Georgia communities on the 2012 list.

No rankings are given to the top 100, but Hines had an idea of where Houston County would be.

“We’re better than 100 Best,” Hines said to the audience. “We’re probably right up there at the top.”

To contact writer Christina M. Wright, call 256-9685.