(LEWISTON) — Lewiston was among 10 communities that earned the All-America City award, the oldest and most prestigious civic recognition competition in the United States.

Communities from all over the country participated in the two-day event, which was held at the Anaheim Marriott in Orange County, California, in early June. Lewiston had been named a finalist last year, but narrowly missed the designation until this year. The other winning communities were:

Flowing Wells, Arizona (neighborhood)
Santa Rosa, California
Sierra Madre, California
Hollywood, Florida
Polk County, Florida
Dubuque, Iowa
Barnstable, Massachusetts
Clinton, North Carolina
Hickory, North Carolina

“These All-America cities symbolize the spirit of grassroots democracy and community problem solving,” said Gloria Rubio-Cortés, president and CEO of the Denver-based nonprofit organization that awards communities for outstanding civic accomplishments. “Their award-winning efforts addressed some of the most difficult challenges facing communities today.”

 The 2007 winners tackled tough community issues such as healthcare, environmental protection, demographic change, economic development, promotion of the arts, innovations in parks and recreation programs, cultural diversity, education, neighborhood revitalization, youth involvement in local decision-making and public safety.

After an extensive application/screening process, each finalist community sent a delegation of civic activists to present three examples of collaborative community problem solving. A “jury” of experts on local government and community affairs selected the ten winners based on their stories of positive community change. The winners were selected in part for their ability to engage a broad cross section of the community, including youth, business leaders, elected officials, city staff and nonprofit groups in civic dialogues leading to tangible results.
Now in its 58th year, the award is an honor achieved by more than 500 neighborhoods, villages, towns, cities, counties, and regions across the country. Some have won the award multiple times, and Auburn has been a previous winner.

The cornerstone of Lewiston’s submission included the following programs: 

Take the Money; You’ve Earned It
Since 2004, Lewiston has stepped outside the traditional municipal government role by leading a volunteer-based coalition targeted at enhancing eligible residents’ quality of life by advocating the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). As a result:
· 2004 - 2006: $2,274,089 refunded to area residents;
· Thus far for 2007 tax season: $1,489,624 has been claimed in refunds
Three Lewiston city councilors visited Boston in 2003 to learn about its successful EITC campaign and returned with news of a “step towards prosperity” for LMI workers. EITC provides increased financial stability by reducing the tax burden, supplementing wages, and assisting in the welfare-to-work transition. Lewiston’s leadership was recognized through a United States Conference of Mayors “Outstanding Achievement” City Livability Award in 2006. Coalition members establish FREE tax preparation sites, provide training/IRS certification for volunteer preparers, e-file returns, and provide asset-building opportunities and follow-up.

Lots to Gardens
Lots to Gardens is a youth/community-driven organization using sustainable urban gardens to improve access to fresh food for at-risk populations. Unlike most anti-hunger solutions, Lots to Gardens believes immediate needs must be coupled with long-term solutions to effectively break the cycles of poverty and hunger. Fifteen community gardens located primarily within the Lewiston’s most impoverished areas assist in improving health, developing useful skills, fostering self-reliance, and building towards positive community-wide change. Lots to Gardens provides youth and adults with hands-on experience in food systems and anti-hunger work by building urban gardens and raising awareness of healthy eating and the value of eating locally grown produce. Over 200 residents ages 3-80, nearly all who are low-income, regularly participate. Adult and senior gardeners are diverse, with 55% being Somali and 90% women, and more than half of those in children/youth programs are refugees.

Lewiston Youth Advisory Council (LYAC)
The Lewiston Youth Advisory Council (LYAC), enacted by the City Council, consists of 12 high school and 1 college student. LYAC engages youth to improve the community and enhance their own lives. Members experience municipal government/civic engagement by initiating community projects-partnering with state/local officials, city of Lewiston staff, and peers. Following LYAC’s leadership of Lewiston’s 2006 All-America City quest, in the fall of 2006, LYAC began developing its own “youth-to-youth” initiative regarding the consequences/health-related dangers of underage drinking. Entitled U BOOZE U LOOZE, Maine’s Attorney General lauded it “the first of its kind in Maine.” Seven months later, LYAC applauded the US Surgeon General’s March 6, 2007, “Call to Action” to prevent/reduce underage drinking and spoke at the state capitol to further advocate UBUL. A 2006 National Harris Woffard Award “Top 6 Finalist” for service learning/civic engagement, the Maine Department of Education Citizenship Education Task Force touts LYAC as an effective youth engagement model.