They draw smiles, empower fatigued spirits and propel New Canaan's youth to become their better selves. They are neighbors who remember birthdays, teachers who connect all 300 of their students' faces to a name and friends who are giving of time, an open ear and an unending supply of hugs. This year, a Boy Scout troop leader, a music teacher and a young scientist are among them. Together, they are 16 strong: the winners of the 2010 Community Asset Builder Awards.

A luncheon sponsored by New Canaan Human Services and the local YMCA branch recognized these exemplary youth and adults last Wednesday at the New Canaan Country Club. A dining room of nearly 100 community advocates honored them as champions of the Developmental Assets -- 40 characteristics and conditions promoted by New Canaan community members and groups to foster a positive climate for youths to grow into adulthood.

"This is to recognize that we see youth as an asset, not a problem," said Craig Panzano, executive director of the YMCA New Canaan branch. He described adult support of youth in town as a "responsibility."

New Canaanites nominated more than 80 youth advocates for recognition at the fourth annual event, according to Tony Phillips, Director of Youth Services for the Town of New Canaan.

During the luncheon, Panzano described what it means to support the 40 assets: "It's making a deep connection with kids, and it starts with your own, the known and the unknown. You start with your own. Obviously you want to connect with them and make an impact. And then from there, you go to the known: the kids that are friends with your kids. And finally, which is the hardest, you go to the unknown: kids that your kids don't know."