County earns 2 youth awards

It is recognized by Sports Illustrated and the America's Promise organization


Sammi Cowan, a third-grader at Fulton Elementary School, said she likes living in Howard County because it offers so many things to do.

"You can be a country mouse or a city mouse and still live in Howard County," she recited with remarkable poise, as she stood on the stage of Ten Oaks Ballroom in Clarksville and County Executive James N. Robey held a microphone for her.

Sammi isn't the only one who has noticed that Howard County is a nice place for kids.

Yesterday's breakfast meeting of the Local Children's Board provided an opportunity to unveil two youth-related national awards for the county.

As expected at the meeting, Children's Board Chair Anne Towne announced that the county has been acknowledged as one of the nation's 100 Best Communities for Young People by America's Promise, an organization founded in 1997 and chaired by Colin Powell. Its goal is to challenge the nation to "make children and youth a national priority."

But there was another announcement at the meeting: Sports Illustrated had named Howard County one of eight SI Good Sports Communities of the Year in the magazine's first such listing.

Howard County's Department of Recreation and Parks is profiled in a fold-out promotional section of Sports Illustrated's Dec. 12 issue, along with Greendale, Ariz.; Greeley, Colo.; Sterling Park, Ill.; Brunswick, Maine; Rocky River, Ohio; St. Andrew's Parish, S.C.; and El Paso, Texas.

The recognition, resulting from a partnership between the magazine, Dodge and the National Recreation and Park Association, was announced by Kathy Spangler, national partnerships director of NRPA, who traveled from the association's headquarters in Ashburn, Va., to make the announcement.

"You are blessed with one of the best parks and recreation agencies in this county," she told the audience.

Speaking after the meeting, she said, "The thing that was impressive about Howard County was that they put athletes first and competition second."

She said the recognition took into account such factors as parental involvement, coach training, skill development for athletes and sportsmanship. Hundreds of communities entered the competition and eight were selected based on a regional breakdown, she said.

In the magazine, Howard County is praised for a sports scholarship program created by Recreation and Parks Director Gary Arthur for youngsters who can't afford to sign up for sports and for working to add new playing fields.

The Local Children's Board, formed in 1997, is an advocate for county youth by managing funding from the state, planning for future needs and providing coordination and support among county agencies.

More than 100 people attended yesterday's event, including representatives from the Board of Education, the Police Department, the school system, the library and social services. On the tables were centerpieces of small red aluminum wagons holding flowers -- an America's Promise symbol. A full-sized wagon stood on the stage, with balloons attached.

Sammi was there as one of four winners of a countywide art and essay contest. The other winners were Sanjana Kavuru, a second-grader at Hollifield Station Elementary School; Graham Welch, an eighth-grader at Dunloggin Middle School; and Judith Li, a junior at River Hill High School.

"We're very fortunate in this county," Robey said. "I think in my almost 40 years of public service, one of the things that frustrates me is, why do we highlight the negative of young people?" He urged members of the audience to spend time with the county's children and teens; he said he is constantly amazed by them.

This was the first year that the county submitted an entry in the America's Promise competition, which judges communities based on five "promises" they make to their children: caring adults, safe places, a healthy start, marketable skills and opportunities to serve. Also winning in Maryland were Baltimore City, Wicomico County and Salisbury.

According to the America's Promise Web site, Howard County was chosen "in part, because of the community's strong educational resources and collaborative programs on behalf of children and youth."

The county's application, distributed at the meeting, notes such local youth-focused programs as HC-DrugFree, which teaches young people about the dangers of alcohol and drugs, and the Parents and Teachers program, which puts Spanish-speaking parent-educators in the homes of people who need literacy help.

Towne said one advantage of the America's Promise award is that it means Howard County is now part of a network of excellent communities, making it easy for officials to share ideas. That already happened when representatives from the winning communities attended the award ceremony in Washington last month, she said.

But Towne said the award is about more than programs and services. The people who work for kids are the ones who deserve recognition, she said: the coaches, parents, teachers, police officers, library workers, social workers and others.

"And what about the kids themselves?" she asked. "The scholar-athlete that we all look up to, the SGA [student government association] president, and just that kid who works really hard."

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