Have you noticed the large “Welcome to Bluefield” banner placed on the side of the Princeton Avenue parking garage in downtown Bluefield?

The giant banner was placed on the side of the parking garage last Friday to coincide with the arrival of Dr. Phil McGraw, and the national kick-off celebration for the 60th anniversary of the Toys for Tots campaign. It also was a friendly reminder of Mercer County’s designation in both 2006 and 2007 as one of America’s Top 100 Communities for Youth through America’s Promise.

With cameras rolling for Dr. Phil’s Christmas special, area officials are hopeful that Bluefield and the region will be portrayed positively by Dr. Phil. They also hope the cameras filming Dr. Phil’s visit caught the large banner — as it would be hard to miss it if the cameras were ever placed in the direction of the crowd of about a thousand that filled Princeton Avenue waiting patiently for McGraw and his wife Robin’s arrival despite an extremely cold morning. Due to fog at the Mercer County Airport, Dr. Phil’s arrival was delayed after his plane wasn’t able to land.

With the possibility of national exposure, including a segment on the Wade Center in Bluefield, area officials — including representatives of Community Connections, the Creating Opportunities for Youth Coalition, and the city of Bluefield — saw an opportunity to promote the region’s unique distinction courtesy of America’s Promise. Hopefully, the America’s Promise banner will make it on Dr. Phil’s show.

Although there hasn’t been a lot of media attention recently concerning Mercer County’s designation as one of America’s Top 100 Communities for Youth through America’s Promise, the designation and national honor is still in effect, and could now be extended for a third year and a possible lifetime designation.

Greg Puckett, executive director of Community Connections, submitted an application last Friday that seeks to renew the region’s designation as a Top 100 Communities through America’s Promise for a third consecutive year. If the region were to receive the honor for a third year, it would also represent a lifetime designation for Mercer County through America’s Promise, according to Puckett. The deadline to submit the application to America’s Promise was last Friday — the same day Dr. Phil and Robin McGraw arrived in Bluefield to celebrate the national launch, and the 60th anniversary, of the Toys for Tots campaign. It was a nice coincidence.

The Wade Center, which will be highlighted on Dr. Phil’s Christmas show, is a perfect example of how the region is working to fulfill the five promises of America’s Promise, which includes providing safe places, a healthy start and caring adults for youth. The Planet Xtreme Teen Center in Princeton is another great example of how the region is working to provide good, clean and drug-and-alcohol free opportunities to area youths.

We won’t know if Mercer County was chosen by America’s Promise as a Top 100 Communities for Youth for a third consecutive year until sometime in early 2008. However, we can remain optimistic and hopeful we will win the award.

To be recognized by America’s Promise for three consecutive years would be a tremendous accomplishment. The region has enjoyed a nice relationship with America’s Promise since 1996, when an original committee of local officials traveled to Philadelphia to represent the area at the national America’s Promise convention.

That original group included my boss, Daily Telegraph Executive Editor Tom Colley, Concord University President Dr. Jerry Beasley, then-state Sen. Homer Ball, and several other local officials and youth representatives.

In recent years, the region has continued its successful partnership with America’s Promise thanks in part to the hard work of the various partners of the COFY Coalition, Community Connections and through the dedicated work of dozens of other volunteers and civic groups and leaders. These civic groups, social organizations, and dedicated volunteers are working tirelessly to ensure safe, clean and drug-and-alcohol free opportunities for the region’s youth while also providing new educational and recreational opportunities.

Another good example that comes to mind is the Drug Free All-Stars, who continue to travel and play at schools across the region. Not only do the all-star members provide a fun day for area youth, but they also bring a positive message to the schools, and a warning to area youth about the dangers of drugs and alcohol.

Having Dr. Phil in Bluefield to help kick-off the national Toys for Tots campaign was certainly another nice and welcomed bonus. McGraw, Norfolk Southern and Toys for Tots could have chosen any city in any state for the launch of the national campaign, and the celebration of the 60th anniversary of Toys for Tots. However, they chose Bluefield — one of the nation’s Top 100 Communities for Youth — for the national kick-off, as well as neighboring Tazewell, Va.

Hopefully, the national exposure will help.

If Dr. Phil is willing to travel to Bluefield to celebrate such a worthy national campaign as Toys for Tots, then we as a region must be doing something right when it comes to fulfilling the five promises of America’s Promise for area youth.

Charles Owens is the Daily Telegraph’s city editor. Contact him at cowens@bdtonline.com