Anoka County was presented two Local Government Innovation Awards during a Dec. 13 ceremony at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs.

Awards are given to counties, cities, townships, schools and native nations that are making Minnesota better and doing things differently.

The first award was for the Anoka County Library’s VolunTeen program.  Beginning in 2016, Anoka County Library staff reimagined the library’s longstanding teen volunteer program from the ground up, using best practices from the youth development and afterschool fields to infuse quality into its program.  This revamp resulted in a youth-focused volunteer program.  In 2015, prior to the program redesign, just 4 of 16 teens worked consistent hours in all three summer months at the pilot library.  After changes were implemented, 19 of 21 teens logged consistent hours all summer long, only one of whom had volunteered previously, showing that the VolunTeen program changes both attracted and better retained teen volunteers.

“Our library staff worked hard to improve the VolunTeen program, because they saw the value in having engaged teen volunteers,” Anoka County Commissioner Mike Gamache said.  “The teens certainly aid our staff during the busy summer months, and now they get more out of the experience through social and emotional learning activities, and a personal project component that was just introduced this year.  We’re excited to receive this award.”

The second award was given to Anoka County for the collaborative partnership called the Connected Kids Initiative.  Like other local government agencies, Anoka County was struggling with dwindling licensed foster care homes available to serve families while legislative mandates resulting in broader child protection reporting led to growing numbers of children entering placement.  Traditional foster care recruitment efforts had been ineffective.   Foster care homes were closing faster than new homes could be developed.  The Connected Kids Initiative created innovative and collaborative pathways to reach the target audience and engage the community, increasing awareness of the needs, interest in becoming a foster family, and supporting foster care families within their community.

“Having people in our community willing to open up their homes to foster children is so important for the positive development of those youth,” said Anoka County Commissioner Rhonda Sivarajah. “The success of the Connected Kids Initiative has resulted in more children being placed in safe, loving homes. We’re honored to be recognized with an LGIA award for this collaborative partnership.”

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Officials from Anoka County accept the LGIA award for the Anoka County Library’s VolunTeen program.  From left: Jerry Soma, Anoka County administrator; Jennifer M. Gerbig, librarian; Scott Schulte, Anoka County commissioner; Maggie Snow, Anoka County Library director; Rhonda Sivarajah, Anoka County commissioner; and Katlin J. Heidgerken-Greene, librarian.

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Officials accept the LGIA award for the Connected Kids Initiative.  From left: Jerry Soma, Anoka County administrator; Penny Isaac-Nelson, church engagement manager for Safe Families for Children; Rhonda Sivarajah, Anoka County commissioner; Suzanne Tuttle, manager of Anoka County Children & Family Services; Scott Schulte, Anoka County commissioner; Cindy Cesare, manager of Anoka County Human Services; Darcy Holter, supervisor of Anoka County Foster Care Licensing; Lisa Welter, Minnesota state director of Safe Families for Children.

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