By Joel Hall
Kenny Ruffin, a Riverdale city councilman with a passion for youth and family issues, has been selected by the National League of Cities (NLC) to serve on its 2009 Council On Youth, Education and Families.
Clifford M. Johnson, executive director of the Institute for Youth, Education, and Families, an arm of the NLC, said the council serves as "an inner circle" of city leaders around the country dedicated to creating initiatives to help improve the strength of families and create educational opportunities for youths.
He said the council plays an advisory role to the Washington, D.C.-based institute, and in turn, council members take information about effective programs back to the cities they represent.
"The YEF [Youth, Education and Families] council is the first group of people to hear about things being worked on at the institute, so they are the first people to be able to jump on things and try out ideas," said Johnson. "It's been in place for ten years, and it's been a great two-way street. The cities, who are involved in the YEF council, get a lot out of it, and we certainly get a lot out of it.
"The staff is sitting here in Washington, D.C.," he said. "The most important thing we get [from the council] is the guidance and advice. In that sense, they can be at the forefront of some of the things going on."
Ruffin, who has served on the Riverdale City Council since 2004, said he has attended the meetings for the YEF council since he was first elected.
"I think my role as a public servant is to improve my community," he said. "I wanted to become more involved."
Ruffin said he received the official notice of his appointment last week. "They [the council] understand that all over America, there is a need to support the family structure in this day and age," he said. "The focus is trying to bring different programs together.
"If somebody in Utah has a program for gang prevention that works there, they introduce it to the council to benefit everybody," he said. "It offers a way to share that expertise with everyone else. This is a resource I can tap into to better the community."
Riverdale has seen some of the benefits of being involved with the YEF council, according to Ruffin. He said the Riverdale City Youth Council - a mentoring program used to teach the importance of local government to young people - was created in 2008, based on recommendations of the YEF council. He said the city was also able to receive Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds for a new community center through information received at council meetings.
"Since the war [in Irag] and Hurricane Katrina, a lot of these grants have become more competitive," said Ruffin. "This program puts us in a better position. The community center that we are building [as a part of the Riverdale Town Center] ... that is something tangible that has come out of going to these meetings."
Riverdale Mayor Evelyn Wynn-Dixon said she believes Ruffin's appointment will help bring more resources to the city. "Nationally, there are a lot of things that we don't have exposure to," she said. "That is an avenue that will open up for us.
"Even before me becoming the mayor, he [Ruffin] has always been an advocate for youth," she added. "To be recognized by his peers nationally says something about his character and his demeanor. It says that his commitment is sincere."