2014 Gold Medalist
Port Saint Lucie, FL
Lincoln Park Academy
During my 4 year participation in the Congressional Award Program, I have ascertained invaluable insight and experience, particularly as to the importance of volunteer service.
Initially I began by becoming a member of our local Red Cross Youth group. Once my requisite courses had been completed, this enabled me to not only partake in volunteer outreach, but allowed me free access to the many courses offered by the Organization. I am currently certified in Disaster Services, Shelter Operations, Shelter Simulations, First Aid, Psychological First Aid and CPR/AED.
Additionally, I have taken part in multiple fund raising efforts; as a collective, our Group has raised over $3000 for the Red Cross and its mission. Today, I am Vice President of the Red Cross Youth Council.
Having seen firsthand the impact of Volunteerism by working regularly at our local Soup Kitchen, I came to realize just how many people rely upon this service, as the numbers continue to grow each week. I can only imagine how difficult a challenge living with hunger may be; this inspired me to take an active role in the Hunger Initiative by creating a website that is very simple in theory: feedtheworldforadollar.org
There is no question that the program has inspired, impacted and motivated me. I believe that as a direct result of my participation in the Congressional Award program, I have obtained leadership skills that will aid and guide me throughout my life. I can say with certainty that I am a well-rounded individual, who better understands, that with commitment and initiative will you get results.
Peter James Hegland
St. Mary’s University of Minnesota
2013 Gold Medalist
The Congressional Award has had a significant impact on my life by allowing me to learn through multiple and diverse experiences.
First, through earning the Congressional Award I gained effective communication skills which have been an invaluable asset to me in my college and career aspirations. From speaking in front of large gatherings to talking to one of my swim school students, I developed communication skills that are applicable in all situations.
Next, my experience of community service for the Congressional Award instilled in me a sense of service which has given me a wonderful and profound perspective on life. This gives me, each and every day, a positive attitude and uplifting energy knowing that I can make a profound difference by helping others.
Additionally, I developed my leadership skills through my Congressional Award activities. My involvement in the Boy Scout organization and earning my rank of 3rd Gold Palm Eagle Scout gave me a strong base in leadership development. Moreover, my leadership abilities have enabled me to make a positive impact on college community and campus in a very short time.
Finally, I learned how to live in a well-rounded and wholesome way, always seeking a balance between my career, social life, and service to others.
Overall, earning the Congressional Award not only taught me how to dream big, but also enabled me to learn how to accomplish my big dreams. I have experienced how hard work, dedication, and perseverance lead to success. I found a world of opportunities with everything to gain.
Gold Medal, 2014
Saint Louis University
I completed the majority of my service by going on a mission trip to Appalachia, or more specifically Pinch, West Virginia for a week every year. I chose to do this because I like building and fixing things, and this trip seamed like a great way to make a huge difference in not much time.
I have now gone on this trip for 7 years, and it has made an enormous impact on not only my life, but also on my worldview. I have lived my whole life with food on my table, clothes on my back, and a roof over my head. If my roof leaked, we fixed it. If my clothes got torn I got new ones. If there was no food in my house, we bought more. Going on this trip has helped me to better understand just how lucky I am.
While on this trip I got to see people who, not only had a leaky roof, but who also struggled to put food on the table, and afford clothes for their children. I helped to fix roofs, insulate houses, reinforce floors, put down flooring, put up walls and ceilings, fix holes in the sides of houses, and build ramps and stairs so that you could actually enter the house. While doing these things, I got to spend some time with the people I was helping. I talked to them about everything, listened to them brag about their children and grandchildren, and helped them to know that they are not alone. I was always struck by their stories, how they had gotten into their current situation. For some it was a sudden illness, for others tragic accidents, or deaths that derailed their life, but regardless of what it was, it made me realize how fragile everything we build our life on is, and how sometimes, even though we do our best, we just need some help. I was able to provide some of that help.
I have gone back and visited the people I helped, and they are all doing much better, they are happier, more cheerful, and above all hopeful. This trip helped me realize that I want to help people, and make a difference in the world. Everyone can make a difference, and sometimes one person is all it takes.This trip helped open my eyes to the world around me.
In time, though the paint may fade, or the stairs may be knocked down, the effect of this trip on my life will always remain. Those I helped, but who helped me more than I can say, by opening my eyes to new things, and helping to shape my worldview, will always live on in my heart.
Ellie Jean Bakkedahl
Palm City, FL
Martin County High School
Gold Medal, 2014
The Congressional Award was not an easy goal to obtain, but I am proud of my achievements. The many hours I spent volunteering at the Boys and Girls Club, helping to improve the Belle Glade area, and the time spent at Citrus Grove Elementary School have all left lasting impressions on my life. These hours taught me the importance of reaching out to others for the sole purpose of improving the lives of those around me. The hours devoted to personal development which I spent practicing guitar and exercising to maintain a healthy body taught me how to set and accomplish a desired goal. In addition, the hours spent to achieve my physical goal which were accomplished on the volleyball courts showed me that through dedication and hard work, goals can be obtained. And let’s not forget the grueling hours I spent under the hot Florida sun, testing the little patience I had just to complete the Expeditions. I tackled the wilds of Jonathan Dickinson State Park being flipped over in my canoe by a manatee for the Bronze Expedition; took a hunters safety class to help towards my Silver Expedition in which I set the goal to hunt, clean and prepare wild duck for sustaining meals while being immersed in the Lake Okeechobee area, and for the Gold Award I hiked and biked the numerous trails in Wekiwa Springs State Park in Central Florida. The Awards ceremony made me feel noticed for what I achieved and most of all it showed me that with a little perseverance I can achieve anything. I highly recommend others take the Congressional Award Challenge to feel the same sense of pride, accomplishment, and self-satisfaction.
John Charles Peruzzi
Bronze Medal, 2013
I registered for the Congressional Award as soon as I turned 14, but, at that time, I didn’t realize how much it would positively impact my life. I was already interested in community service, for example, volunteering at my local Boys and Girls Club. The Congressional Award inspired me to take that interest to another level. I became a founding member of a volunteer group called Teen-Works. Over the last few years, Teen-Works has grown to 26 middle and high school students located four states and representing eight different schools. Our community service projects help children with needs, provide emergency relief, and support on recycling/sustainability. For example, we have donated 7,000 books for disadvantaged kids, provided over 2,000 emergency kits for victims of disasters like Hurricane Sandy, and made 750 tie-dyed pillow cases for kids with cancer. The Congressional Award process challenged me to get more involved in community service. Through this, I learned that a small group of teenagers can make a big difference when we work together. I even got to learn about web development when I helped create the website for our group.
The Congressional Award has positively impacted my participation not just in community service but in other areas as well. I’ve gained an appreciation for setting goals and working to achieve them in sports, music and exploration/expedition. I’ve played the piano for personal enjoyment since I was four, and the Congressional Award has challenged me to perform for my grandmother’s nursing home and to make a CD of my music. In athletics, I really enjoy basketball, and I set a goal of improving certain skills and spending extra hours training with a coach and playing in an evaluation league. These steps have made me a much stronger contributor to my school’s JV team. In terms of exploration, I planned and executed the biggest trip of my life – an expedition to Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands. There, I began to grasp the meaning of our global community and how we must preserve our natural resources. Though far from home, this trip reinforced some of the same concepts I’d learned from Teen-Works, and it convinced me that I want to keep working to make a difference and contribute to my community.
Alexandra Joy Gritta
Lincoln High School, Class of 2014
Gold Medal, 2013
I believe that all young people (age 13-1/2 to 24) can benefit greatly from participating in the Congressional Award program. During the process of completing the different program requirements in the four categories of Voluntary Public Service, Physical Fitness, Personal Development and Expedition/Exploration, participants become well rounded individuals and gain valuable experiences. The program inspires American youth to set goals and journey to places they might never have imagined or experienced otherwise; challenging America’s youth to learn more about themselves, about others, and to become active participants in their communities. Speaking from personal experience, I can honestly say that I probably would not have cycled over 1,600 miles or spent 4 nights in the wilderness in a shelter I helped to build myself, had I not been working to earn a Congressional gold medal award. The practice hours that I spent with my viola, working toward my personal development goals, helped me achieve first chair in two different orchestras. I was inspired to push past the limits which I thought I had and, in that process, achieve goals that affected my life in positive ways.
My recommendation to 8th grade students across America is to sign up for the Congressional Award program the day after they turn 13-1/2, just like I did. The process of setting different program goals for yourself will help you clearly identify what your interests and passions in life really are. The many different certificate and medal options of the Congressional Award program make it a manageable program for any youth in just about any circumstance.
The Congressional Award program provides a truly unique opportunity for youth across America to develop themselves personally and professionally in ways that no other program can boast. Specifically, the Congressional Award, through the completion of the four program areas, impels participants to develop superior critical thinking abilities as they are required to design, organize, implement, and successfully manage the goals therein. The service project area in particular offers participants the opportunity to understand and embrace a new level of servant hood and professionalism as they learn to organize and implement their plans. All of these skills contribute to one’s progress towards adulthood and for me personally the Congressional Award experience has made it much easier to mobilize events and people while in college.
The project development feature of the Congressional Award program also teach participants to “roll with the punches” in that participants must anticipate and control the setbacks and extenuating circumstances that arise throughout the length of their projects. This flexibility lesson extends beyond just the Voluntary Public Service project—candidates must develop endurance to accomplish their physical fitness goal, a determination to evolve and mature personally, and finally the desire for a real sensitivity to different cultures and environments in order to ensure the success of their Expedition/Exploration.
The most important result of participating in the Congressional Award program is that it opens the road to a lifelong desire and appreciation for serving others in need. It instills an attitude of volunteerism and servant hood that can only be obtained by getting involved in a way that puts to good use one’s own special gifts and abilities. The Congressional Award experience has prepared me to visualize my future in terms of specific goals to be accomplished and also to be fully aware of the detailed hard work it will take to cross the each finish line.
Robert Rowlett is a 2011 Gold Medalist
Lauren Jessen of Seattle, Washington, will be receiving her Gold Medal next week at The Congressional Award’s Gold Medal Ceremony in Washington, D.C. Lauren has taken a moment to reflect on her experience with the program and has gratefully shared it with us:
I first learned about the Congressional Award in 2007. As a junior in high school, I thought that I was already over occupied with activities and volunteering. However, while I was involved in academic and extracurricular activities, I was not setting goals or measuring my achievements in ways that would help me grow and learn more about myself or my community. After learning more about the Congressional Award and realizing what new opportunities and growth I could experience from the program, I recognized that it was never too late to set goals and try new experiences.
The Congressional Award positively impacted my life from day one. From the moment I knew I could be a part of this program, I had no doubt that my life was going to change in a great way. While I have learned many lessons, there are three in particular that stand out the most. The first way the Congressional Award has played a positive role in my life is by allowing me to experience things I never would have otherwise.
For example, for my Gold Medal Exploration, I planned a road trip following the Mormon Trail and the destinations that my great-great-great-great grandfather documented in his journal as he led a wagon train to Salt Lake City, Utah. Through this journey, I learned a great deal about my family history, the difficulties my ancestors faced, and saw parts of the United States I may never have seen without the Congressional Award giving me the motivation and reason to do so.
The second way the Congressional Award has positively influenced my life is that it presented me with the chance to learn more about myself through the process of evaluating my strengths and weaknesses, setting goals, determining steps to make my goals a reality, and to improve upon my previous achievements. As I earned my medals and set new goals for each new level, I had to push myself further than I did before, and being able to self-analyze and learn what I was capable of achieving was eye-opening and critical in my self-growth.
The Congressional Award is an organized journey with the freedom to choose your own paths. It is because of the structure of the program married with the individual choice to decide what activities to be involved in that brings me to the third way my life has been positively influenced. Although participants earn Bronze, Silver, and Gold Medals as an amazing honor for accomplishing goals and hours, for me the program was never about the material achievements, but the personal non-tangible rewards I attained along the way, such as perseverance, dedication, self-motivation, and confidence. There is no question that the Congressional Award has positively influenced me, and it is an experience that has provided endless lessons and will remain a positive force in my life.
Insight from a Silver Medalist:
Josiah Ray Bierle
North County Christian School
Silver Medal, 2013
The Congressional Award program is an outstanding opportunity for young people to learn about dedication, interpersonal relationships, networking, goal setting, and real-life work experience. It offers a challenge that will prepare one for an exciting future. The program allows the participant to tailor the required categories to their interests, allowing them to gain experience in activities that will facilitate their future career plans. Additionally, prospective colleges and employers recognize and respect the amount of work and dedication that the program requires. On a personal level, the Congressional Award gives the satisfaction of attaining a long-term goal. Aside from the external benefits, the internal gratification of reaching a tough goal makes all the required effort worth it.
In my personal experience, the Congressional Award has motivated me to higher objectives. I have become a more dedicated and experienced person; my goals and the people that I have met through the program keep me accountable and give me the motivation to keep going. One of my most ambitious goals in the program was to fly an airplane by myself on my sixteenth birthday. I completed this goal, and after performing two touch-and-goes, I landed and taxied back to the parking area. The flight was uneventful, but certainly the most memorable twenty minutes of my life. The experience of flying by myself was both frightening and incredible. I had many emotions during the flight; knowing that there was no one in the right seat for the first time was a strange feeling. It was really a milestone, since I have dreamed of the day I would solo since I was seven years old. The Congressional Award provided extra motivation to achieve this goal. This is just one example of how the program has pushed me to excel and do things that challenged me in all aspects of my life. Learning to fly is a tangible example of how the program can help you reach goals for your future career. Since I am planning to be a pilot, I chose to incorporate my interest in flying into the program. This is one of the best aspects of the Congressional Award.
The four categories within the program encourage participants to strive for excellence in many different areas. One of my greatest lessons from the program was learning the importance of volunteerism. With well over 400 hours of service, I have found that I really enjoy volunteer work; and of course, there is the added benefit of being able to reach out to the community. The challenges, friendships, goals, motivation, and service are all a part of what makes this program an exciting preparation for the future.