Lauren Maunus is a 2014 Congressional Award Gold Medalist from Palm City, Florida. In addition to her achievements as a Medalist, Lauren is an accomplished TEDxYouth Speaker. Be sure to check out this clip from one of her recent talks in Miami.

Lauren’s experience with The Congressional Award:

We are taught from a young age that we are a product of our experiences and my involvement with the Congressional Award has showed me that we shape those experiences by establishing and achieving our own goals. I have expanded my passion for social justice through participation in the four program areas, while learning about my community and myself. As importantly, my participation has helped me to grown into a more passionate, engaged citizen, and has granted me a great sense of pride for having made an impact in my community and nation. Skills I derived from each program area became stepping-stones for me to accomplish my goals.

I began the Personal Development component during the 2011 primary elections by leading a voter pre-registration drive at my high school, interning for a US Congressman (I am honored to have received the Congressional Award from Congressman Murphy, who I proudly supported in 2011 and 2012), and volunteering for President Obama’s re-election campaign. I learned about the election process and met key stakeholders and legislators in my community, state and nation. Furthermore, I acquired strong organization and communication skills and my ardor for politics was intensified.

Volunteer Public Service was, and continues to be, stimulating and rewarding. When I am asked “What motivates you?” I never hesitate to reply, “my experiences.” I have managed volunteers at a community kitchen for three years, and I coordinate a team of volunteers from my temple to staff the soup kitchen at a neighboring church every month.

My greatest challenge and achievement began with the Congressional Award and has evolved into a lifelong commitment to improving student health and nutrition. What started as a labor of love, inspired by my sister who suffers from food allergies, has grown into a federal initiative to reform national school nutrition and food allergy policy. Through passion, patience, and persistence, I continue to advocate for meaningful change. I have met with local, state, and federal leaders, and was invited to the White House to share my ideas. I also delivered a TEDxYouth Talk to inspire my peers to follow their passion to effect social change.

The Congressional Award is definitely harboring a more engaged and passionate generation of youth, and I would highly recommend meeting the challenge of the Congressional Award! 400 hours of volunteer time didn’t seem like work in pursuit of my passions; in fact, my volunteer time has grown to over 1,500 hours as I continue to further my advocacy and broaden my experiences.

Kathy Christenson has been mentoring youth for nearly two decades. For fifteen years, Kathy was a dedicated teacher, educating special needs students from kindergarten through fifth grade. After moving to Jacksonville, Florida, Kathy continued her passion for service and helping youth. When she saw that Habitat for Humanity was in need of a volunteer to assist with educational programming she jumped to the challenge. Kathy worked to establish tutoring programs and recruit community volunteers. Her work with Habitat for Humanity quickly transformed into a full time position where she worked to partner with other community organizations. Through this position, she began to administer Take Stock in Children, a Florida wide program that provides mentors for secondary school students in low income range.    

With Kathy’s background in community service and providing assistance to youth being well known, Congressman Ander Crenshaw of Florida’s 4th Congressional District, reached out to Habitat to see if they could adapt The Congressional Award into their various outreach programs. Kathy ultimately decided to, “dive in and see what happens!” as she says. She quickly got a good response from students!

Kathy views The Congressional Award as, “a very personal commitment” and finds it necessary that adults “help them (participants) grow with each accomplishment”. As an advisor she sees an impact in her mentees through, “growth in self-confidence, social skills, and exposure to community organizations”. Kathy’s commitment to The Congressional Award has produced growth in the greater Jacksonville area. She has even inspired another teacher to serve as an advisor for youth pursuing the award.  When asked how she would guide a student who was considering The Congressional Award challenge Kathy wisely responded, “I would only encourage a student to begin the journey if they felt they were ready for this commitment.  If they are, it can lead to wonderful learning experiences and feeling proud knowing they are making a difference in their community.  It will lead them to a sense of gratitude for the opportunity to serve.  And, gratitude leads to happiness.”

On January 28, 2014, seven of Kathy’s participants were presented Congressional Awards by Congressman Crenshaw. This was a very exciting event for Kathy and her mentees! One of her participants, Destiny Bronson, reflected on a time when she was presented with a challenge and Kathy was able to offer guidance and support. Destiny recalled, “I was nervous about speaking in front of a crowd of over 300 executive women, but the support from her [Kathy] kept me clam.  Overall, the event was great and got press recognition and everyone was so pleased with the way myself and the other girls hosted the event. Kathy told everyone how great I did and how successful the ceremony and I wouldn’t have the experience if she couldn’t have referred me.”

This week is another very important time for Ms. Christenson. Kathy has been selected to present the Congressional Award program as an excellent activity for engaging older youth in after school programs at this year’s National AfterSchool Association Conference in New York City. This further exemplifies Kathy’s passion for the program and getting youth involved in their communities.

Kathy Christenson has been mentoring youth for nearly two decades. For fifteen years, Kathy was a dedicated teacher, educating special needs students from kindergarten through fifth grade. After moving to Jacksonville, Florida, Kathy continued her passion for service and helping youth. When she saw that Habitat for Humanity was in need of a volunteer to assist with educational programming she jumped to the challenge. Kathy worked to establish tutoring programs and recruit community volunteers. Her work with Habitat for Humanity quickly transformed into a full time position where she worked to partner with other community organizations. Through this position, she began to administer Take Stock in Children, a Florida wide program that provides mentors for secondary school students in low income range.

With Kathy’s background in community service and providing assistance to youth being well known, Congressman Ander Crenshaw of Florida’s 4th Congressional District, reached out to Habitat to see if they could adapt The Congressional Award into their various outreach programs. Kathy ultimately decided to, “dive in and see what happens!” as she says. She quickly got a good response from students!

Kathy views The Congressional Award as, “a very personal commitment” and finds it necessary that adults “help them (participants) grow with each accomplishment”. As an advisor she sees an impact in her mentees through, “growth in self-confidence, social skills, and exposure to community organizations”. Kathy’s commitment to The Congressional Award has produced growth in the greater Jacksonville area. She has even inspired another teacher to serve as an advisor for youth pursuing the award. When asked how she would guide a student who was considering The Congressional Award challenge Kathy wisely responded, “I would only encourage a student to begin the journey if they felt they were ready for this commitment. If they are, it can lead to wonderful learning experiences and feeling proud knowing they are making a difference in their community. It will lead them to a sense of gratitude for the opportunity to serve. And, gratitude leads to happiness.”

On January 28, 2014, seven of Kathy’s participants were presented Congressional Awards by Congressman Crenshaw. This was a very exciting event for Kathy and her mentees! One of her participants, Destiny Bronson, reflected on a time when she was presented with a challenge and Kathy was able to offer guidance and support. Destiny recalled, “I was nervous about speaking in front of a crowd of over 300 executive women, but the support from her [Kathy] kept me clam. Overall, the event was great and got press recognition and everyone was so pleased with the way myself and the other girls hosted the event. Kathy told everyone how great I did and how successful the ceremony and I wouldn’t have the experience if she couldn’t have referred me.”

This week is another very important time for Ms. Christenson. Kathy has been selected to present the Congressional Award program as an excellent activity for engaging older youth in after school programs at this year’s National AfterSchool Association Conference in New York City. This further exemplifies Kathy’s passion for the program and getting youth involved in their communities.

Celebrating National Mentoring Month: Karen Yee

For the past 11 years, Karen Yee of Pittsburgh, Penn., has advised 20 Congressional Award Medalists – with seven earning the Gold Medal. Mrs. Yee was introduced to the program by then Senator Rick Santorum in 2000. A mother of three and a retired caseworker for the Pennsylvania Department of Welfare, Mrs. Yee was disappointed she had not heard of the program sooner and began reaching out and encouraging young people to register.

With each participant she advises, Mrs. Yee finds that the most rewarding part is “witnessing the maturation of immature, idealistic teens into responsible, caring adults.” Through the Congressional Award, she has watched young people realize their abilities to set and achieve challenging goals. Throughout the process, medalists are able to broaden their horizons through meaningful interactions with people of different backgrounds. With many of her advisees active in the BLANK, Mrs. Yee has found that the Congressional Award helps young people realize the many opportunities available for them in the United States.

Mrs. Yee’s advise for success? Thoroughly read the Program Book, think about and confer with your advisor about what you would like to do and explore. Then Go For It!

Not one full year into the program, Seth Alicea of Clifton, N.J. began making waves in his community. To earn his Bronze Medal, Seth completed over 100 hours of volunteer work, practiced an instrument native to his Puerto Rican culture and bettered his soccer game by increasing his speed and endurance. But it was his Expedition that turned heads in his hometown.

He made himself homeless.

Knowing that more than 12,000 people in the state of New Jersey are without homes, Seth decided to raise awareness for the growing problem by living in a box for 24 hours. Het set up his makeshift shelter in front of a well-traveled road, held a cardboard sign, ate meals provided by Hope Ministries, a local food pantry, and even went so far as to wear donated clothes.
“When I had to take off my normal clothes and put on clothes from the pantry, it sparked a love for the homeless,” Seth said. “This experience has really changed me in knowing that I did something for someone else rather than me.”
Before his Expedition, Seth said he saw homeless people as individuals “who put themselves on the streets.” Now he knows that’s often not the case.In the future, Seth would like to give more of his time to helping people in his community and possibly run a program that assists the homeless get back on their feet. In the meantime, he continues to feed the less fortunate at Hope Ministries and his father’s, Abel Alicea, restaurant, and he also strives for his Silver Medal.

“[The Congressional Award] took me away from being self-centered to people-centered,” Seth said. “It’s not easy to give of your own free time to help people in need, but you feel good when you make a difference.”

And making a difference is exactly what Seth is doing.

Sydney A. Peavy
Mount Airy, North Carolina
School Attending:  Mount Airy High School 
Level Earned:      Silver Medal – 2012


What I love about the Congressional Award program is that within the program parameters you have the freedom to design your own experience.  There are no meetings to attend or recurring program fees which restricts those with busy schedules and limited funds.  Working with your program advisor you go at your own pace with complete autonomy! 
The Congressional Award program is also the perfect complement to scouting.  I’ve been a Girl Scout for thirteen years and would encourage every Girl Scout to join. Over the last 3 years, I’ve learned to set goals, keep records and challenge myself to try new activities.   The challenge to volunteer 400 hours seemed daunting at first. However, I found myself seeking out ways to volunteer in my spare time and during the summers.  Subsequently, I have met adults who have inspired me with their dedication to serving those in the community.  Through volunteering, a pattern of service has been established that will continue even though I have completed the Congressional Award requirements.   
I once read that “well-rounded means a person without edges”.  However, it is the edges in our personality and experiences that make us unique and interesting.  Completing the requirements in the areas of Public Service, Personal Development, Expedition and Physical Fitness has definitely given me an edge!
I would challenge every middle school student to sign up! Despite your background, interests and talents, participating in this program will help you maintain focus and develop your strengths. The Congressional Award may be our country’s best kept secret!

Sydney A. Peavy
Mount Airy, North Carolina
School Attending: Mount Airy High School
Level Earned: Silver Medal – 2012


What I love about the Congressional Award program is that within the program parameters you have the freedom to design your own experience. There are no meetings to attend or recurring program fees which restricts those with busy schedules and limited funds. Working with your program advisor you go at your own pace with complete autonomy!
The Congressional Award program is also the perfect complement to scouting. I’ve been a Girl Scout for thirteen years and would encourage every Girl Scout to join. Over the last 3 years, I’ve learned to set goals, keep records and challenge myself to try new activities. The challenge to volunteer 400 hours seemed daunting at first. However, I found myself seeking out ways to volunteer in my spare time and during the summers. Subsequently, I have met adults who have inspired me with their dedication to serving those in the community. Through volunteering, a pattern of service has been established that will continue even though I have completed the Congressional Award requirements.
I once read that “well-rounded means a person without edges”. However, it is the edges in our personality and experiences that make us unique and interesting. Completing the requirements in the areas of Public Service, Personal Development, Expedition and Physical Fitness has definitely given me an edge!
I would challenge every middle school student to sign up! Despite your background, interests and talents, participating in this program will help you maintain focus and develop your strengths. The Congressional Award may be our country’s best kept secret!

Today, we mourn the death of a true humanitarian. Nelson Mandela, your influence on humanity is immeasurable

Today, we mourn the death of a true humanitarian. Nelson Mandela, your influence on humanity is immeasurable

Bronze Medalist, Trevor Jackson, shares with Congressman Steny Hoyer what he did to earn the Congressional Award!

Name: Zachary Lee Wong
2012 Gold Medalist 
Venice, CA

My name is Zachary Wong, and I was a 2012 Congressional Gold Medal Award recipient. Currently I am a sophomore attending Harvard University, and I am honored to have been a part of the Congressional Award Program and grateful for what it has taught me.

The Congressional Award Program provided an excellent framework and structure to guide and explore diverse interests in Personal Development, Volunteer Public Service, Physical Fitness and Expedition/Exploration. I learned that the knowledge and experiences gained were not the end goal but that the process of learning was just as important. After receiving the Congressional Award Gold Medal, I continued my interest as a filmmaker, and I was honored to receive the Best Student Film Award from Hollywood Reel Independent Film Festival in 2012. A year later I co-founded a media company, which promotes diversity and cultivates social issues and awareness through film.

There are enormous beneficial aspects of the Congressional Award Program. My research exploration trip to the Canadian Rockies was one of my most enjoyable and memorable endeavors. It gave me the opportunity to research natural flora and fauna of the national park and to consider the logistics of conducting the field observations. It was a challenging experience with the gratification of goals being accomplished. Public service is another highlight of the Program, which was interwoven throughout all of the various activities, projects and platforms. I learned that the value and significance of public service could not be overstated, as we need to take part to serve one another in our daily lives. Lessons acquired from such activities will remain with me forever- working with a local homeless shelter, raising funds for hunger and earthquake relief and now interning in the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau to help residents facing foreclosures to be able to keep their homes.

The Congressional Awards Program is instrumental in fostering young men and women to realize their potential by setting their goals. Experiences gained from these valuable opportunities have helped with my personal development and my role within local and global communities. Every student can benefit significantly by participating in the Congressional Award program; it teaches you to be accountable and encourages you to take risks and to be responsible to yourself and your communities.

I truly appreciate the dedication of everyone involved in administering the Congressional Award Program and how the program has positively impacted the American youth of today and tomorrow.

Name: Zachary Lee Wong
2012 Gold Medalist
Venice, CA

My name is Zachary Wong, and I was a 2012 Congressional Gold Medal Award recipient. Currently I am a sophomore attending Harvard University, and I am honored to have been a part of the Congressional Award Program and grateful for what it has taught me.

The Congressional Award Program provided an excellent framework and structure to guide and explore diverse interests in Personal Development, Volunteer Public Service, Physical Fitness and Expedition/Exploration. I learned that the knowledge and experiences gained were not the end goal but that the process of learning was just as important. After receiving the Congressional Award Gold Medal, I continued my interest as a filmmaker, and I was honored to receive the Best Student Film Award from Hollywood Reel Independent Film Festival in 2012. A year later I co-founded a media company, which promotes diversity and cultivates social issues and awareness through film.

There are enormous beneficial aspects of the Congressional Award Program. My research exploration trip to the Canadian Rockies was one of my most enjoyable and memorable endeavors. It gave me the opportunity to research natural flora and fauna of the national park and to consider the logistics of conducting the field observations. It was a challenging experience with the gratification of goals being accomplished. Public service is another highlight of the Program, which was interwoven throughout all of the various activities, projects and platforms. I learned that the value and significance of public service could not be overstated, as we need to take part to serve one another in our daily lives. Lessons acquired from such activities will remain with me forever- working with a local homeless shelter, raising funds for hunger and earthquake relief and now interning in the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau to help residents facing foreclosures to be able to keep their homes.

The Congressional Awards Program is instrumental in fostering young men and women to realize their potential by setting their goals. Experiences gained from these valuable opportunities have helped with my personal development and my role within local and global communities. Every student can benefit significantly by participating in the Congressional Award program; it teaches you to be accountable and encourages you to take risks and to be responsible to yourself and your communities.

I truly appreciate the dedication of everyone involved in administering the Congressional Award Program and how the program has positively impacted the American youth of today and tomorrow.