Beaufort County has been named one of the country's 100 best communities for youth by an organization founded by former Secretary of State Colin Powell.
The award recognizes communities that provide service and support for children while working to reduce high-school dropout rates.
It is presented by America's Promise Alliance, a partnership of corporations, nonprofit agencies, faith-based organizations and advocacy groups that was founded by Powell and his wife, Alma, in 1997. The competition has been held annually since 2005.
Elected officials, teachers and other community members gathered for the surprise announcement at noon Wednesday at Bluffton High School. After a introductions from several speakers, the group watched and participated in the live webcast announcement.
America's Promise considers five "promises" in making its evaluations, including work to reduce dropout rates, health initiatives and opportunities for students to help others.
The county's application was submitted by the Beaufort County School District and highlighted the work of Together for Beaufort County, a group of about 110 human-service professionals formed to better coordinate services for children and families.
Several other programs were also featured, including after-school programs run by the school district, the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Lowcountry and the YMCA, and free recreational programs by Beaufort County Parks and Leisure Services.
The award includes $2,500, a conference to share best practices among community leaders and access to grants, school district Superintendent Valerie Truesdale said.
The award is both a recognition of community accomplishments and a call for more action, some said Wednesday.
Trish Heichel, chairwoman of Together for Beaufort County, said she would likemore internships for students and teachers. She also said she hoped the award would encourage more involvement by businesses and faith organizations in Together for Beaufort County's work.
Truesdale said the application process pointed out areas for improvement, including the need to add more volunteer opportunities for students.
"This is a stake in the ground," said Denise Spencer, vice chairwoman of Together for Beaufort County. "It spotlights the many things we still need to do and sheds light on where we are. We're serious about improving and moving ahead."
Follow reporter Rachel Heaton at twitter.com/HomeroomBft.