PROSSER -- Once a year, families gather in Depot Square in downtown Prosser to greet Santa, sing carols and toast marshmallows during the city's Family Holiday Celebration.
This year, they have another reason to celebrate Sunday. Last month, Prosser was chosen as one of the America Promise Alliance 100 Best Communities for Young People for 2011.
It's a national competition to recognize communities with programs and initiatives aimed at supporting youth and reducing the number of high school dropouts.
"We're pretty excited. This is the first time we've been nominated and to be in the top 100, wow," said Jim Milne, director of the Prosser Chamber of Commerce.
America's Promise gave the city two signs to advertise its status and $2,500. The signs have been posted at two entrances to the city off Interstate 82. And the city is throwing a party Sunday with part of the money.
People are invited to gather from 4 to 6 p.m. to sing carols, pose for photos with Santa and put their names in a drawing for 10 stockings filled with items and services donated by Prosser merchants.
Open fire pits around the square will help keep everyone warm and provide places to roast hot dogs and marshmallows. There also will be hot chocolate and chili.
"With the 100 Best Communities award the city decided to expand the celebration and add a dance and movie," Milne said.
There will be a free dance for middle school youths from 2 to 4 p.m. in the Green Room of the Princess Theatre. At the same time the Christmas movie Polar Express will be shown on the theater's movie screen.
The city was nominated for the communities award by Lisa Schmitt of Prosser.
"She heard about this program, researched it and put the grant application together. We had no idea it was out there," Milne said.
Ray Tolcacher, superintendent of the Prosser School District, said the district's high graduation rate was one of the reasons for the award.
"School districts everywhere are working to get their graduation rates up; Prosser is no different. It's a sign of the times that it takes more and more effort to keep kids in school. Academic requirements have increased, kids get frustrated, discouraged, it's really challenging," Tolcacher said. "We're lucky to have a great alternative school. That's a real plus to get kids graduated. We have graduates coming out of that school getting scholarships."
Prosser's youth programs also caught the attention of the selection committee at America's Promise, Tolcacher said. One is the Boys & Girls Club, an after-school program offering games and tutoring to 84 students a day. Another is the 21st Century Community Learning Program, which provides academic and enrichment activities to help students meet local and state academic standards.
"We also have a brand-new grant from Washington State University called Gear Up. The program offers activities for youths in the sixth grade up to two years after high school. The idea is to help kids graduate high school and go beyond," Tolcacher said.
Parents, teachers, the police department, everyone in the community work hard to support the city's youth, he said.
"That's the strength of this community. The whole mindset of the community is to do everything we can for the kids," Tolcacher said.