Organization Pools Youth Focused Resources
By Sarah Steele Wilson
Jun 11, 2012, 16:37
PRINCE GEORGE - Prince George County is making a promise, a promise to increase awareness of the needs of young people in the county and connect the various groups and individuals who can help meet those needs.
The Prince George Promise includes five, individual promises within its overall mission: to ensure that every child has an adult mentor in his or her life, to provide safe places for children during non-school hours, to provide a healthy start for every child, to provide marketable skills through effective education, and to give children the opportunities to give back to the community through volunteering.
The local promise is modeled after the America’s Promise Program that former Secretary of State Colin Powell launched in 1997 and that first drew Prince George County Administrator Percy Ashcraft’s attention in 1999, when he attended a meeting of America’s Promise in Richmond.
“At that time, I didn’t know very much about it but I was intrigued by the five promises that America’s promise spells out for the youth of the community,” he said.
Powell spoke at that meeting and Ashcraft liked what he heard.
“I came back very impressed by the idea that you could take these five promises and apply them to any community in the country, whether it be a wealthy community, an impoverished community, urban, rural, it didn’t make any difference,” he said. “These are five, basic things that our kids really should have in their lives to prepare them for the future.”
Ashcraft helped launch the program in Caroline County, where he was County Administrator at the time, and introduced the concept in Prince George after arriving in March, 2011. The group first met on July 28, 2011 and has become a 501c3 organization, with articles of incorporation, bylaws and a board of directors.
“We want to match every child with any resource that’s available in the community,” Ashcraft said, explaining the goal of the organization.
Rather than providing a specific service for a specific group, Prince George Promise is a cooperative effort between individuals and organizations providing youth oriented services that will allow groups to combine their resources and better inform people in the community about the services and activities available to them.
“I think this program is geared towards giving all kids opportunities,” Commonwealth’s Attorney Jay Paul, who is president of the Prince George Promise board of directors.
He noted that the organization wants to help a wide spectrum of children, whether their interests lie in art, athletics, academics or other areas.
Since their first meeting in July, 2011, the group has developed a strategic plan to address the mentoring, healthy start and safe place promises, and will be developing plans for the education and volunteering points during their meeting on June 22.
As Commonwealth’s Attorney, Paul has seen first hand what can happen when children don’t have opportunities and end up entangled with the legal system. He’s also seen what happens when children have healthy outlets and activities.
“They’re not the ones who are showing up here in court on Tuesday, and they’re not the ones who people are having trouble with in the neighborhood,” he said.
He said that while the percentage of children who end up in court is small, that groups sometimes receive the majority of a community’s attention. He is hoping that focusing on the needs of young people before they develop problems will keep them out of trouble.
Paul said he is particularly excited by the volunteering promise, which he sees as a gift that can come from the strong foundation the other four promises can provide.
“We can look at our children as a resource, as someone who can provide something valuable to us,” he said.
“When you’re helping other people, I would suggest you’re helping yourself,” he said. “We’re going to be a better community.”
The organization has started a website with a youth events calendar. one of the first missing pieces identified. Now, parents looking for opportunities for their children can see everything in one place at http://pgpromise.org/home.html.
The organization also has several “non-traditional” fund raising events planned for the summer, including a “reverse raffle” on July 26 at the Disputanta Community Center. Paul said any interested community member can contact him for tickets.
Fund raising is an important part of what the organization is doing now, something Paul hopes will allow them to provide substantial grants to people doing positive things for children in the future.
“We want to help people do things that are fulfilling, sustainable, and make an impact,” he said.
Ashcraft said Prince George Promise does not plan on requesting any funds from the local government and will fund it’s efforts entirely through grants and donations.
The organization’s meetings are open to everyone, and Paul said people who are interested in helping the organization identify needs in the community are welcome to attend.
“We’re in the identifying needs and fundraising stage right now,” he said.
America’s Promise now has over 400 partners and local affiliates and has a presence in every state and thousands of communities across the country.