43 cities were recently recognized by the National League of Cities for implementing programs to support children, youth and families in the community. The recognition, part of a recent report on engaging young people and strengthening families in U.S. communities, lauded cities that developed open and responsive communication programs.

Highlighted were cities making efforts to improve early childhood progamming, education services, out-of-school programing, youth and community engagement, youth employment, child and youth safety and health and wellness. Cities given the kudos were:

Featured projects

  • Rapid City, S.D., (pop. 67,956) for the Task Force for Strengthening Families, a program to improve the lives of children youth and families.  Among many goals, the task force opened a round-the-clock mental health and substance abuse crisis center, a pilot program to expand access to high quality pre-kindergartens and a reentry service for formerly incarcerated residents.
  • Manchester, Conn., (pop. 58,241) for its development of Children, Youth and Families Master Plan. Town leaders have used the plan as a roadmap to reorganize town structures and services to engage residents at the neighborhood level.

Early childhood programs

  • Enfield, Conn., (pop. 44,654) for the Key Initiatives to Early Education, a local coalition to ensure residents have access to quality educational opportunities.
  • Lemoore, Calif., (pop. (24,531) for the Generations Project, a day care offering preschool services and access to affordable health care.
  • Petal, Miss., (pop. 10,454) for the Excel by 5 Coalition, a community partnership for promoting early childhood education.

Education programs

  • Trotwood, Ohio, (pop. 24,431) for implementation of joint City Council/School Board Meetings, which systematically discuss items of mutual interest.
  •  Tukwila, Wash., (pop. 19,107) for the Tukwila Community Schools Collaboration, which keeps schools open past traditional hours and provides a range of integrated services for families.
  • Delray Beach, Fla., (pop. 60,522) for the formation of an Education Advisory Board, which has led to measureable improvements in educational outcomes for local students.
  • Holyoke, Mass., (pop. 39,880) for the development of Family Literacy Centers, which has a goal of having 85 percent of third grade students reading proficiently at grade level by 2014.
  • Mountain View, Calif., (pop. 74,066) for Virtual Library Resource Cards, which make library materials more accessable to students.
  • Monticello, Iowa, (pop. 3,796) for the Jones Regional Education Center, where students take advanced high school- and college-level courses and participate in Career Academy programs.
  • Burleson, Texas, (pop. 36,690) for the Burleson Opportunity Fund, allowing recent graduates access to a scholarship, which fully covers tuition for two years at Hill College at Burleson.

Out-of-school Programs

  • Northfield, Minn., (pop. 20,007) for the PRIMETime Collaborative, a network of free afterschool programs.
  • Redlands, Calif., (pop. 68,747) for Music Changing Lives, a music and arts enrichment program offered to underprivileged and at-risk youths.
  • Spartanburg, S.C., (pop. 37,013) for the partnership between the Duncan Park Stadium and the Spartanburg School District to increase utilization of the baseball field.
  • Cortland, N.Y., (pop. 19,204)  for the Cortland Youth Center, which offers a wide variety of recreational, educational, cultural and employment services to residents who mostly live below the poverty line.
  • Danvers, Mass., (pop. 26,493) for Project Sunshine, a six-week summer camp offering activities for children ages six to 14.
  • Wentzville, Mo., (pop. 29,070) for “Park Bucks,” credits given to volunteers for discounted access to parks and recreation classes and events. 

Youth and community engagement programs

  • Durango, Colo., (pop. 16,887) for its Youth Engagement Program, which gives young people a chance to be involved in city government depending on their interests and needs.
  • Caldwell, Idaho, (pop. 46,237) for the Mayor's Youth Advisory Council and Caldwell Youth Master Plan, which helped establish the town's first YMCA, expanded afterschool programing and helped decrease gang activity.
  • St. Louis Park, Minn., (pop. 45,250) for Children First, an initiative to help youth build the “40 Developmental Assets” – defined by the Search Institute, to help them become more well-adjusted citizens.
  • Rock Hill, S.C., (pop. 66,154) for the Number 1 Question: Is It Good for the Children? Initiative, which calls on the city and partners to ask if decisions will benefit youth.

Youth employment programs

  • Romeoville, Ill., (pop. 39,680) for the High School Job Initiative, which provides youth with paid summer jobs in local government.
  • Petersburg, Va., (pop. 32,420) for the Summer Work and Health Guidance Expo, which connected youth and parents with summer job opportunities.
  • Ocala, Fla., (pop. 56,315) for Phoenix Rising, a 16- week community development initiative that gives out-of-work students opportunities to work towards GEDs.
  • Oregon City, Ore., (pop. 31,859) for the Oregon City High School Construction Program, an advanced- construction high school class that works on projects throughout the city. 

Child and youth safety programs  

  • Germantown, Tenn., (pop. 38,844) for the Child Sexual Abuse Prevention Initiative, which equips residents to deal with and curtail abuse.
  • Tualatin, Ore., (pop. 26,054) for Project F.R.I.E.N.D.S., a bullying prevention workshop.
  • Highland Village, Texas, (pop. 15,056) for Police Involving Parents, which allows for less strict options for addressing minor youth legal infractions.
  • Winchester, Va., (pop. 26,203)  for the Timbrook House Youth Reporting Center, which provides alternatives to youth detention.

Family economic success programs

  • Bryan, Texas, (pop. 76,201) for the Money Week Brazos Valley and Financial Fitness Center, which helps local families archive financial stability.
  • Gaithersburg, Md., (pop. 59,933) for the Bank On Gaithersburg program and VITA Sites, which provide low- income residents access to affordable checking accounts and banking options.
  • West Bend, Wis., (pop. 31,078) for the Summer Picnic and Playground Program, which provides children who receive free meals through school districts access to the same resources during the summer. 

Health and wellness programs

  • Tupelo, Miss., (pop. 34,546) for the Health on a Shelf initiative, which encourages local grocers to group and display healthy foods in a prominent section of the store.
  • Decatur, Ga., (pop. 19,335) for the Safe Routes to School Program, which helps develop safe walking and biking routes to schools.
  • La Mesa, Calif., (pop. 57,065) for the Ready...Set...Live Well Initiative, which helps families obtain affordable health insurance.
  • Greenbelt, Md., (pop. 23,068) for the CARES Youth and Family Services Bureau, which partnered with schools, police and social services to address mental health needs.
  • Petersburg, Va., (pop. 32,420) for the Family Stabilization Initiative , which helps at-risk families achieve financial stability, improve education and health outcomes and promote independent living skills for young people.
  • Westwood, Mass., (pop. 14,618) for the Youth and Family Services Department, which supports healthy development through counseling and community engagement. 

Strong neighborhoods programs

  • Charlottesville, Va., (pop. 43,475) for City of Promise, which establishes “cradle-to-career” services for children in the city's most disadvantaged schools.
  • Dedham, Mass. (pop. 24,729) for the Neighbors Helping Neighbors program, which helps homeowners avoid foreclosure.
  • Aiken, S.C., (pop. 29,524) for Crosland Park, part of the “North Side Plan,” which will assuage inequalities in economic growth patterns.
  • Walla Walla, Wash., (pop. 31,731) for the Commitment to Community program, which allows residents to take ownership of important local issues and achieve common goals.


Noting that small cities often have less division across departments and are less likely to be impacted by political differences, the NLC says these communities can effectively rally to achieve common goals.

However, the NLC concedes that small cities also have their share of challenges. Usually these concerns involve inadequate resources and staff capacities to carry out family-building programs. Small cities are also at a disadvantage when competing with larger counterparts for federal, state and private grants due to the smaller scope of initiatives or populations served.

The 142-page NLC report offers case studies of family-strengthening efforts being used in cities with populations of less than 75,000, including examples of early childhood education programs, out-of-school programs, youth and community engagement efforts, youth employment efforts, family economic success programs, health and wellness programs and community building initiatives.

To view the full report, download the .PDF