Originally published Sunday, June 10, 2018 at 06:05a.m.

Diane DeLong is a woman who gets things done — with teenagers her top priority.

A one-time journalist from Iowa, the 59-year-old married mother of three adult children — daughter, Brynn, 33, Nick, 29, and Haley, 25 — moved to Arizona in 1987 from Chicago. A decade later, DeLong was part of a grass-roots effort to launch a teenage pregnancy prevention project in Prescott.

North Star Youth Partnership programs

• Peer Assistance and Leadership Program (PAL)

• Baby … Ready or Not

• Girls & Sports Day

• Girl Talk

• Health Education

• Safe Sitter

• Priceless Prom

• Teen Maze

For more information, call 928-708-7214 or visit the website: www.NorthStarYout...

At the time, parents, educators and social service providers were seeking ways to tackle the problem. They managed to procure a three-year grant from a local foundation under the auspices of Catholic Family Services, now Catholic Charities. They needed a leader “to take a vision and make it a reality.”

DeLong was that lady — the founder and senior program manager for what today is Catholic Charities’ North Star Youth Partnership Program with 15 youth development and leadership programs and 19 staff members in three counties — Yavapai, Maricopa and Coconino.

Beyond elevating community awareness and health education related to teenage pregnancy, DeLong quickly saw a need for more youth development programs. She is a believer that teens need to be connected with other peers and adult role models through leadership opportunities. She knew from her youth, and raising her children, that the best way to influence teens so they make the best choices for their future is to enable them to see themselves as leaders. She wanted to create programs that would allow adolescent boys and girls to see themselves through others’ eyes; to bolster their self-esteem through goal setting, doing for others and standing up for what they believe is right even when others might not do likewise.

DeLong takes pride in the growth she witnesses in the teens.

She shared a story of one girl who a principal hesitated to recommend for the peer leadership program.

“The rebel in me said that someone needed to believe in her,” DeLong said of the girl who ended up graduating as a top scholar/leader. “She just needed an opportunity to shine.”

“You can’t judge kids. We have to constantly believe in their success,” DeLong said of the mantra that is part of every program they offer.

She said it is important for all teens to see the difference they can make — “and they do,” DeLong said of the thousands of middle school and high school-aged teens who participate in their programs that range from peer leadership, sports events and babysitting classes to health and sex education for area districts in middle school and high school.

One of DeLong’s first programs, Teen Maze, is a life-sized board game where various groups in the community highlight the consequence of life choices. Borrowed from another community, DeLong admits she was uncertain if the program would be a success. Still, she rallied together a group of non-profit, youth-oriented partners and on opening night, 300 teens were waiting in line. Teen Maze remains one of the agency’s most popular programs, growing in numbers and impact, DeLong and other community leaders said.

“It takes a village — and we’re part of that,” DeLong said of the work they do in collaboration with other non-profit entities, including the YMCA and area school districts. “We’re positive youth development — that’s what we do.

North Star has served about 90,000 teens between ages 11 and 18 in Yavapai County; some 270,000 teens in all three counties.

DeLong’s passion for this work is compelling, according to colleagues and community partners.

“She loves to do what she can to help not only young people, but people of all ages to be successful,” said colleague Krystal Koons, who called DeLong not only a supervisor but a beloved friend. “She is trustworthy and impeccable with her word. If someone needs to talk, she’s there for them and is a great listener who offers great advice.

“She has a free and easy laugh and when she laughs her eyes sparkle … She’s someone you can always count on.”

DeLong prides North Star’s success on the partnerships it has been able to forge over the life of the program.

One of those longstanding relationships is with the YMCA in Prescott.

“She is a delight to work with. There are not enough good words to say about Diane,” said YMCA Assistant Director Laura Winniford who has worked with DeLong for some 15 years on Girls & Sports Day that offers girls from age 7 to 14 a day to try a variety of traditional and non-traditional sports.

This year’s event is scheduled for Sept. 29.

“She’s caring, she’s kind and she’s organized,” Winniford said. “And she does what she says she’s going to do. We have a mutual admiration society.”