South Windsor High School is located in one of the nation’s 100 Best Communities for Young People, according to the nonprofit organization America’s Promise. South Windsor was one of four Connecticut communities named to the list, along with Bridgeport, Milford and Stamford.

Bridgeport hasn’t always been known as a family-friendly city, but Realtors have been trying to change people’s perceptions and now have a little help from a new designation.

America’s Promise, a nonprofit organization started in 1997 by retired Gen. Colin L. Powell, recently named Bridgeport and three other Connecticut communities – Milford, Stamford and South Windsor – among the 100 Best Communities for Young People.

A panel that included people like United Way of America President Brian Gallagher and Baseball Hall of Famer Cal Ripken Jr. chose the communities for the list based on information about their efforts to provide for the well-being of young people.

Bridgeport was chosen for “work to provide the resources children and youth need to become caring and productive adults,” according to a prepared statement by America’s Promise. The city offers resources such as after-school programs; recreational, cultural and academic activities; early intervention services; and several organizations that provide those services.

The designation itself might not make much of a difference to Realtors selling houses in Bridgeport, but selling there has become easier since the city started coming out of the doldrums over the past several years, according to Frank DeAngelis, sales manager at William Raveis Real Estate’s Stratford office.

The city has long been known for its parks, but the schools were not necessarily known for being good. But Bridgeport does have its good sides. It has a lot of single-family homes that make for many nice, family neighborhoods, DeAngelis said.

But homebuyers who have long heard of the problems – such as crime – that have faced Bridgeport are not always quick to buy homes there. DeAngelis said he once tricked a couple into moving there. They were adamantly opposed to living in the city, but he took them to a single-family home on the outskirts of the city. The loved the house, and were surprised when DeAngelis told them they were in Bridgeport.

Little by little, the city is becoming more marketable.

“Drive through, and it doesn’t look like the neglected place it did eight, 10 years ago,” DeAngelis said.

And while he added that he doesn’t believe the designation as one of the 100 Best Communities for Young People carries that much weight, he said the press that goes along with it might help.

“Good press for any community can only sell homes,” he noted.

‘A Great Day’

Another thing that helps sell homes is good schools, or the perception of good schools. Bridgeport now has some other factors going for it. Housing values there have doubled in the past three years, according to DeAngelis.

“That in itself makes it attractive,” he said.

The city’s housing values have, in fact, increased substantially during that time. Statistics from The Warren Group, parent company of The Commercial Record, show that Bridgeport’s single-family median price increased to $240,000 at midyear 2005 from $143,600 at midyear 2002.

In cities that were already known as good places for children, such as South Windsor, the America’s Promise designation can only help sell homes, according to Joan Richards of Sentry Real Estate’s South Windsor office.

The town was named one of the 100 Best Communities for Young People because of “collaborations between the town government, school leadership, police and recreation experts to provide a continuum of service that focus on children and youth,” according to America’s Promise. One example is the South Windsor Mentoring Program, which is a partnership of Youth and Family Services, the Chamber of Commerce and the public schools. It matches local business professionals with students during the school day.

South Windsor’s Town Council and Board of Education passed a position statement called CARE, or “Community Accepts and Respects Everyone,” six years ago.

“As a community, we will promote constructive participation and productive citizenship in the community; we will embrace diversity and accept individuality; we will each demonstrate the responsibility to respect self and others; and we will create a respectful, safe, ridicule-free environment where everyone is responsible for his or her own behavior,” the statement reads.

The concept for the CARE initiative came from a committee that Dr. Joseph Wood, superintendent of the South Windsor Public Schools, formed a week after the Columbine High School shootings in Colorado six years ago.

“As tragic as it was, it was that major incident that got me to take a look at what kind of environment our students and staff were dealing with [from] day to day. Clearly, this was not something to be taken for granted,” Wood said in a prepared statement.

The town’s school system has always been a big draw to the area for homebuyers.

“The school system is a big influence,” Richards said. “It’s definitely true.”

Many people moving into the town have come from neighboring communities and are seeking out the good school systems for their children.

Stamford’s schools also have been well rated over the years.

“We have a fine school district,” said Doug Nelson, sales manager for William Raveis Real Estate in Stamford. “Everything is rated well.”

Stamford received the designation because of its school system and collaborations between the city, the public schools and the Childcare Learning Centers, which provide early childhood education.

“This is a great day for Stamford,” said Mayor Dan Malloy in a prepared statement. “To be recognized as one of the 100 best communities in the country for youth to live is a testament to all the work we have done to put children first as we determine policy and, as they enter high school, include young people in the policy process. In fact, the city’s application was compiled by two college interns, both graduates of Stamford high schools, who worked in my office this summer and were responsible for the application’s submission.”

Milford received the honor because of the community’s emphasis on giving youth leadership opportunities. The city has programs like the Milford Youth Network, which is a venue for community youth organizations to share resources, assessment tools and expertise, and the Milford Youth Commission, an organization operated by youth that provides a central center for information on activities.