CHICAGO -- The YMCA of the USA recently announced that five YMCAs were awarded the 2008 YMCA of the USA/Annie E. Casey Foundation Families Count: Family Strengthening Award in recognition of their family strengthening work. Three of the recipient Ys won for their fitness programming.

The selected Ys will receive $15,000 each in recognition of their accomplishments and will serve as models for Y family strengthening programs throughout the United States.

The Y of Greater Long Beach (CA) Downtown Community Development Branch received the award for its programming that serves 1,600 individuals daily. Programs include family education and support, community leadership, and health and fitness for its low-income, culturally diverse, urban community. The branch offers adult programming to strengthen parenting skills, including literacy, family math, conflict mediation and public speaking, and the Community Leadership Institute trains residents to become school and community leaders and positive role models for their children.

The Y of Greater Grand Rapids (MI) was recognized for its Healthy U program that provides low-income children and their families access to programs that strengthen and equip them to develop healthy lifestyle habits and prevent chronic disease by working together as a family to meet wellness goals. Families and children are empowered through nutrition carnivals, a family nutrition education series, access to farmers’ markets, a Kids in Action program, Camp Healthy U, and referrals to social services for housing, food and employment needs.

The Y of Lincoln (NE) received the award because of its Community Learning Center initiative model, which includes three areas of focus: improving student learning and achievement, developing stronger families and developing a healthier neighborhood. Through initiatives such as Weigh Cool to help kids combat obesity, English as Second Language classes, Safe Walk to School Day and workshops on home ownership, the Y is committed to the learning centers and outreach efforts in the communities it serves.

Other Ys recognized for their non-fitness efforts include the Y of Greater Louisville’s (KY) Safe Place Services, which provides free 24-hour help for teens and families in crisis through their 24-bed emergency teen residential shelter, 24-hour hotline, and intensive and immediate case management by skilled staff at more than 340 Safe Place sites throughout the city. Also recognized was the Y of South Hampton Roads’ Community Services Branch in Norfolk, VA, which helps underserved families in the Hampton Roads communities through parenting education, the Escape to the Arts summer day camp and afterschool tutoring.

This is the third year that the award has been given to Ys whose work supports the development of strong, capable and economically successful families. The five award recipients were chosen from submissions from local Ys across the country that serve low-income, disadvantaged families and provide intentional family services that improve outcomes for children.

“Research confirms that children and families do better when they live in supportive communities,” says Neil Nicoll, president and CEO of Y of the USA. “We are very proud of the accomplishments of the 2008 Family Strengthening Award recipients and are grateful to the Annie E. Casey Foundation for supporting their work and stimulating family strengthening discussions and activities within our organization. Each of the recognized programs this year is a wonderful example of the broad array of family services and partnerships that Ys provide in rural, urban and suburban communities alike.”

Since 1948, the Annie E. Casey Foundation has worked to build better futures for disadvantaged children and their families in the United States. The primary mission of the foundation is to foster public policies, human service reforms, and community supports that more effectively meet the needs of children and families. The Y of the USA is the national resource office for the nation's 2,686 YMCAs, which serve 21 million people each year, including nearly 10 million children under the age of 18.