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April 20, 2008

El Paso County, Colo. receives top national honor for volunteer program to help children and fathers

El Paso County, Colo. was honored April 10 when it received an Acts of Caring Award and the Legacy Award for Excellence and Innovation from the National Association of Counties (NACo) for its Center on Fathering program during a ceremony on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. The awards, presented annually by NACo and attended by Congressional dignitaries, recognize the top county volunteer programs in the country. Sallie Clark, county commissioner and liaison to the Dept. of Human Services and Ken Sanders, Center director, were present to accept the award on behalf of El Paso County. Clark and Sanders were joined at the breakfast ceremony by Katie Adams, legislative liaison to Colo. Sen. Wayne Allard. Following the award presentation, Colo. Sen. Ken Salazar offered his personal congratulations to the El Paso County representatives.

The Legacy Award is the Acts of Caring Awards most prestigious honor. It is presented to the single county program that most fully embodies the spirit of volunteerism in its community, whose work is creating a lasting impact on those it serves, and sets itself apart by providing a unique and unparalleled volunteer service. The 2008 Legacy Award includes a check for $1,500.

"This appreciation for what we have created coincides with El Paso County's recent efforts to recognize National County Government Week and 'Protecting Our Children', this year's focus. It is truly an honor to be joined by our Congressional officials at the nation's capitol and to have their support of our Center on Fathering program," said Sanders.

The Center on Fathering grew out of the county’s awareness that the engagement of fathers in their children’s lives is connected to positive outcomes. The program is administered though the Department of Human Services and is dedicated to the concept that children do best when they have two loving, involved parents. To address that concept, the Center provides a wide range of services to fathers and fathers-to-be.

Its mentoring program, “Father to Father,” is a volunteer program that matches trained mentors with fathers seeking one-on-one guidance. This relationship between mentor and father gives support and encouragement to dads who might otherwise disengage from their children’s lives. Currently there are six mentors and 75–100 fathers who have been mentored at the center. Mentors and fathers volunteer to lead the weekly support group and other volunteers do filing, answer phones and prepare class materials for other fathers. The dads also volunteer to make community presentations on their own experiences. In 2007 more than 100 presentations were given to schools, agencies and other groups to raise awareness about the importance of fathering.

Since the program’s inception in 1995, it has helped more than 8,000 fathers with direct services and 30,000 individuals have benefited from information and referrals. Each year, an average of 18-20 volunteers and two full-time staff work with the center; an active core of volunteers contributed over 500 hours of service in 2007, exceeding $10,000 in value.

"I'm proud that El Paso County has received this national recognition", said Clark. "Most importantly, this award honors those who are assisted by our Center on Fathering program. Credit for this innovative approach which improves fathering skills, goes to program director Ken Sanders and our Dept. of Human Services staff. These people work each day to strengthen families, thereby lessening dependency on government services and creating a healthy home environment for children and adults to be successful in their lives and their future."

The Acts of Caring Awards, sponsored by Freddie Mac, were presented during a breakfast ceremony April 10 in the Rayburn House Office Building as part of National County Government Week, April 6-12. The winners were selected by a distinguished, independent panel of judges. The Acts of Caring is part of Counties Serve America; a long-term project of NACo in partnership with Freddie Mac designed to raise public understanding and awareness about county government.

“As the voice of America’s counties, NACo is pleased to honor this year’s Acts of Caring Award winners for their outstanding volunteer programs,” said NACo President Eric Coleman, commissioner, Oakland County, Mich. “While counties are increasingly challenged each day to provide essential services to residents, the counties being honored today have gone above and beyond and deserve our high praise and appreciation.”

Participating in the awards ceremony were NACo Immediate Past President Colleen Landkamer, commissioner, Blue Earth County, Minn.; Janet Creighton, special assistant to President Bush and director of the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs, and several members of Congress.

The 2008 Acts of Caring Awards winners were as follows:

Pinellas County, Fla.’s Environmental Lands Division Volunteer Program; Arlington County, Va.’s Community Role Models; Georgetown County, S.C.’s Visions for the Future; Gila County, Ariz.’s Collaborative Community Fire Program; Pierce County, Wash.’s Citizen Corps Care Team Program; New Hanover County, N.C.’s RSVP Special Needs Registry Program; Union County, N.J.’s Westlake Junior Runnells Volunteer Program; Coconino County, Ariz.’s Community Services Volunteer Program; Haywood County, N.C.’s Haywood Community Connections; El Paso County, Colo.’s The Center on Fathering; Linn County, Iowa’s Sleep Out for Homelessness Awareness; Caldwell County, N.C.’s The Wig Bank; San Diego County, Calif.’s L.E.A.R.N./Laubach ESL Program; Cumberland County, Pa.’s Service to Adult Readers (STAR) Program; San Mateo County, Calif.’s San Mateo Youth Commission; Lycoming County, Pa.’s CAPPA Youth and Development Project, and Benton County, Ore.’s Benton-Linn Teen Idol.

In addition to the Legacy Award, another special award was presented. The Youth Service Award was presented to the Acts of Caring winning program that best identified a critical need in the youth community and addressed it, in part, by engaging young people in service. This award, which included a check for $1,000, was presented to San Mateo County, Calif. for its San Mateo Youth Commission.