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No. 5

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by Andrea Longbottom
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Homeschoolers Go for the Gold

As commuters hurried out of Washington, D.C., at another workday’s close on June 18, 2007, scores of young people and their families headed into our nation’s capital. Sharply dressed in business suits, coats, and ties, they gathered at the Ronald Reagan Building for the 2007 Congressional Gold Award kick-off dinner and reception.

“Tonight is not about certificates, not about medals,” said John Falk, chairman of the Congressional Award Foundation, in his opening address. “It’s about young Americans—who they are and who they will become.” Two hundred seventy-three young Americans were honored as gold medalists during the week-long series of ceremonies and activities.

Courtesy of the Family
Medalist Audrey Jenkins says, “Homeschooling really helped me attain this award.”

The Congressional Award is one of just two awards bestowed by Congress, the other being the Congressional Medal of Honor. Funding for the award program is provided entirely by individuals and private corporations. Open to Americans ages 14-23, the award was established in 1979 “to recognize initiative, achievement, and service in young people.”

Participants must set goals in four program areas: Volunteer Public Service, Physical Fitness, Personal Development, and Expedition/Exploration. Young people work on their goal-setting and progress with the help of an advisor, log their work hours in a record book, and have each activity validated by a person knowledgeable in that area. As participants accumulate hours, they may earn bronze, silver, or gold certificates and medals. A gold medal signifies a minimum of 800 hours of work plus a four-night expedition/exploration.

Homeschoolers across the country are discovering the benefits of the Congressional Award program—an estimated 30 homeschoolers received gold medals this year, according to the Congressional Award Foundation. The award offers them not only a tangible goal to work towards, but also proof of their hard work, a boost for any college application or résumé.

“My mom thought it was a good idea,” says Audrey Jenkins, a gold medalist from Shamong, New Jersey, “because I would have to set goals, and would have something to show for all the work I’ve done. I also did it for the experience.” The 17-year-old homeschooler aspires to study science or film at Princeton.

Audrey’s program activities included collecting eyeglasses, fencing, harp and piano, and camping. “I’d never actually gone camping before,” she says. “I was kind of nervous doing it, because I’m not an outdoorsy person.” Would she do it again? “Maybe,” says Audrey. “It’s a lot of work!”

“I think homeschooling really helped me attain this award,” she continues. “It’s not just the time factor, but you have more ability to move ahead in something.” Her favorite activity? Running a concession stand at a baseball game, where she made fast change for hungry baseball fans.

Courtesy of the Family
Developing confidence, focus and determination, Robby Lane backpacked 100 miles in the process of earning his gold medal.

“You gain self-worth when you’re helping people,” says Daniel Patchin, a gold medalist from Boise, Idaho. Daniel, 16, joined a program called Service Seekers, where he raked lawns for the elderly and made teddy bears for children in hospitals. He also volunteered at a food bank and tape-recorded the workshops at his state’s homeschool convention.

Daniel was motivated to earn the gold medal by his parents’ promise of a trip to Washington, D.C., to attend the ceremony. “I realized how big a deal the congressional award is when I saw all the people at the ceremonies,” he says. Daniel received his medal from Congressman Bill Sali (ID).

’The greatest part of the congressional award experience is that you get a little time with different activities and can decide if you would want to incorporate them into your life,” says Robby Lane, 18, of Los Alamitos, California. “I chose activities based on what seemed interesting. I was curious to see what I could do.” His gold medal stands for backpacking over 100 miles, staffing at a Boy Scout camp and leading wilderness expeditions, studying Native American lore, and working on computers as part of a business internship, among other accomplishments.

“I developed confidence. I certainly learned focus and determination,” says Robby. “The experiences on my expeditions gave me a new perspective on my relationship with God, and His wilderness.”

“Being a homeschooler gave me flexibility and early on, I had to learn time management skills,” he adds. Robby encourages other young people to “go for it. The work can be overwhelming at times, but the minute you get the award, you think, ‘Ah! I can do this again.’”

Click here to learn more about congressional awards.