Bigfork has long been known as a top vacation spot, but its newest designation as one of the nation’s best communities for young people shows that it’s not a bad place to grow up, either.
Today it was announced that Bigfork earned a place among the America’s Promise Alliance’s 100 Best Communities for Young People presented by ING. The national competition recognizes communities across the country that focus on reducing high school dropout rates and providing service and support to their youth.
According to a news release from America’s Promise Alliance, Bigfork’s win came as a result of all that the community is doing to improve the lives of its young people. Organizations that stood out included Bigfork’s LEAP after-school program — which provides many resources for children, including mentorship from high school students — and the Bigfork Playhouse Children’s Theatre, which offers students a unique opportunity to develop their stage performance skills.
Additionally, the organization recognized Friends of Bigfork Schools — a parent organization dedicated to raising funds for local youth — as another group contributing to the positive youth environment present in Bigfork. FOBS has raised approximately $100,000 for youth programs in the community over the last 10 years.
The Bigfork Area Chamber of Commerce, along with the Community Foundation for a Better Bigfork, also received recognition for making Bigfork a family-friendly community and working toward the establishment of a youth coalition that will allow young people the opportunity to give input regarding important community decisions and initiatives.
“We are proud of Bigfork for being named one of the 100 best,” said community member Cathy Gaiser, who worked with CFBB and the chamber to submit an application for the contest. “This award recognizes the hard work of many community members that have dedicated their time to making a difference in the lives of our young people.”
Gaiser began the lengthy application process last April when a notice about the competition showed up on her desk while she was working as the director of LEAP. The application required a good deal of research, and she had to work hard to meet the submission deadline at the end of May.
“I just know that Bigfork as a whole is such a tight-knit community, and with all the kids volunteering and all of the great things going on for youth in this town, it just seemed like a natural fit,” Gaiser said. “I saw it as a way to help out the town and give some recognition to some of the groups and organizations that don’t get a lot of exposure.”
As part of the application, Gaiser had to provide three written testimonials from local young people who felt that their hometown deserved a spot on the list.
In her written piece, 2011 Bigfork graduate Bailey Vogt described the community spirit that she witnessed as she grew up.
“The whole village turned out for the Class B state football tournament, townsfolk decorated the streets for Christmas, volunteers clean up the highways or come together and raise money for good causes,” Vogt wrote. “Some might say living in a small town is boring, but I disagree. I wouldn’t want to live in any other place.”
Bigfork’s low dropout rate — only one student failed to graduate in 2010 — helped give it an edge over other communities that entered the contest.
“In a nation where 7,000 students drop out of high school every day, we hope Bigfork’s initiatives inspire other communities across the nation to take action and solve the challenges facing their young people,” said Marguerite W. Kondracke, America’s Promise Alliance president and CEO, in a press release. “Bigfork is especially deserving of this recognition due to their efforts to ensure that their young people graduate high school and go on to lead healthy, productive lives. Bigfork refuses to let the challenges they face determine the future for their young people. Instead, they are helping their youth prosper and become contributing members of society.”
As a winner in this year’s contest, Bigfork will receive a $2,500 grant, signage identifying the community as one of the nation’s 100 Best Communities for Young People and access to America’s Promise Alliance’s community development resources. First held in 2005, the 100 Best competition is one of the Alliance’s signature initiatives and is part of its Grad Nation campaign, which is a 10-year initiative to mobilize Americans to end the high school dropout crisis and prepare young people for college and the 21st century workforce. The list honors communities large and small, rural and urban, that are making progress to help young people achieve their potential, which includes earning a high school diploma, securing a good job and playing an active, productive role in America’s economic vitality.
This year, more than 300 communities from all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico were nominated for the distinction. Winners were chosen by a distinguished panel of 20 judges that included: Marc Morial, president and CEO of National Urban League, Roxanne Spillett, president and CEO of Boys and Girls Clubs of America, and Michelle Shearer, a chemistry teacher at Urbana High School who was named the 2011 National Teacher of the Year.
The winners are a diverse group, ranging from small communities to large cities. A complete list of 2011 winners can be found at www.americaspromise.org/100best.