The number of kids who get free or reduced school lunches in Tempe has skyrocketed in the last 15 years — just the kind of statistic that makes a community seem like a bad place for kids.
But at the same time as poverty rates rose, Tempe undertook measures to help at-risk kids and is now being honored for the effort with a new national award. It’s being deemed one of the 100 Best Communities for Young People.
Chandler and Scottsdale were the only other Arizona cities to get the award, which is a new program from America’s Promise — Alliance for Youth, an organization that works to improve the lives of children.
The recognition stems from Tempe looking at youth problems a decade ago and creating programs for kids run by the city, schools and nonprofit organizations.
The need for these programs has risen dramatically, said Lynette Stonefeld, project director of Communities in School. She points to Tempe Elementary School District, which 15 years ago had about 23 percent of its kids on free or reduced lunch. That’s now at 60 percent.
Because the lunch program is a strong indicator of poverty levels, it shows the need for more health care, after-school programs, tutoring and leadership programs.
Chandler’s award recognized programs such as its Youth Enhancement Funding, which has distributed nearly $6.7 million to youth-oriented organizations since it began in 1994. Also, the organization noted the city’s successful youth and high school sports programs, and a library program that helps promote good reading habits.
About 700 communities across the nation competed for the unranked recognition from America’s Promise. The organization was founded in 1997 by former U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman and Secretary of State Colin Powell.