“Recently, we applied for a ‘100 Best Communities for Youth’ award and were honored that Flagstaff was chosen as one of the 100 recipients,” said Ruth Ellen Suding. “This award, bestowed in October, was offered by the ING Foundation and is a national award which increases awareness for our entire community.”
One of the reasons the community is so kid-friendly is because of the Coconino Coalition for Children and Youth, an umbrella organization that brings together businesses and agencies to provide the very best circumstances to allow children to thrive.
“It means we are a community that values youth, has supportive schools, caring neighborhoods, adult role models, creative activities, cultural diversity and that we are accepting of other cultures,” said Suding, the executive director of the coalition.
Some of the agencies involved are Coconino County juvenile courts, North County Healthcare, Northern Arizona Interfaith Council, Victim Services, along with many others.
It also receives help from the City of Flagstaff, Coconino County, the Department of Economic Security, the Flagstaff Community Foundation, and the Flagstaff Cultural foundation.
“Our mission is to provide leadership and development and a community-wide strategy that enhances the well-being of children and youth in Coconino County,” she said.
She says the coalition focuses on several primary issues: advocacy, child abuse prevention, community partnership building, collaboration and community asset building.
Right now, coalition officials are educating the public on state and local issues that affect youth. An upcoming bill in Congress that focuses on rural areas, proposes funds for after-school programs, teachers and aides, staff for special education and reading programs throughout the state is something they want to support and want the community to support as well.
Each spring at a large convention, the coalition concentrates on a particular issue such as childhood abuse prevention. Last year, the subject was fetal alcohol syndrome. Other subjects have been about homeless youth and cyber safety for families.
Businesses in the community get involved as well. On the third Saturday of the month, Sundara Cafe opens its doors for local young people free of charge. During these events, youth share information about their clubs, work, projects or interests with other young people, providing a valuable exchange, she said.
“I think it is important for the community to have a space to hold events that is safe, comfortable, and available for diverse functions,” said Alexis Holle, owner of Sundara. “Because my space is open to the public, it also allows others to witness the eclectic creativity of our rich community.”
And, of course, it helps keep kids off the streets and out of trouble.
“When children, or any one of us for that matter, do not have the opportunity to explore curiosities and interests in constructive ways, the likelihood of getting involved in unhealthy activities is increased,” Holle said.
The coalition recognizes Sundara and all the other businesses and agencies involved with special awards.
“We do the Caring For Children award, recognizing people in the community who are directly influencing children and youth on a daily basis,” Suding said. ”They are recognized by their peers or colleagues as an outstanding supporter of children and youth.
Last year, Vivien Mann, a therapist at Northland Family Health Center, was recognized. Other past winners were William Sutton, a juvenile judge from Williams, Margaret McCullough, also a judge and Katherine Barrett of the Flagstaff Medical Center.
Overseeing the coalition is a 14-member board and more than 80 volunteers who make the organization run.
“I am very fortunate to have an amazing board that shows their support and care for children and youth,” Suding said. FBN