Giving back to the community has always been a value of mine. Growing up in Arizona, my family was fortunate enough to have support from the community during some tough times. This community support and the hard work of my mom to raise my siblings and me is what inspires me to help others in need and to give back to the community. For me, pursuing the Congressional Award aligned with my core values and I hope that my work will inspire others to engage with their community.
I volunteered throughout high school, but it wasn’t until I started attending a community college that I really learned the power of volunteering and civic engagement. Scottsdale Community College offered me the opportunity to join the Student Leadership Forum where I found a mentor who encouraged me to be proactive and taught me how to thoughtfully serve my community. It was this insight and encouragement that acted as the foundation for my commitment to volunteerism, and I am so thankful to my mentor Becky Bradley who continues to inspire students to this day.
It was throughout community college that I completed over 250 hours of community service, which granted me the President’s Volunteer Service Award in 2013. To share my excitement, I posted about the achievement on social media. After seeing the post, a friend of mine reached out and said that if I was going to continue to volunteer, I should look into the Congressional Award program. After reviewing the Congressional Award website, I was slightly intimidated by the requirements, so I decided to take some time to think it through before making the commitment.
The Congressional Award is the highest honor the U.S. Congress bestows upon American youth. The Congressional Award was established in 1979 by Public Law 96-114, The Congressional Award Act as a non-partisan platform to recognize youth achievement. There are four components of the award: voluntary public service, personal development, physical fitness, and exploration (travel).
After talking it over with some friends and family, I decided to go for it! I registered for the program in September 2013 and was required to select an official Congressional Award Advisor. Kathy Ryan, a colleague of mine whom I had always looked up to, seemed like the perfect fit. I had worked with Kathy for many years, and I was always inspired by her commitment to helping others and making a difference in the lives around her. Kathy serves as the Director of Curriculum and Training at DrivingMBA, a driving school in Arizona. Kathy specializes in working with exceptional learners and has truly made a difference in the lives of so many of her students. To my excitement, Kathy agreed to be my Congressional Award Advisor and worked with me to set my Congressional Award goals in voluntary service, personal development, physical fitness, and exploration.
To earn the Congressional Award Gold Medal, I served over 400 hours assisting the non-profit Red Means Stop Traffic Safety Alliance, which aims to prevent motor vehicle crashes by educating drivers about safe driving. Maria Wojtczak, a fearless leader, small business owner, and a person whom I have always admired, introduced to Red Means Stop Traffic Safety Alliance. Maria is the former president of the Red Means Stop Traffic Safety Alliance Board, and she continues to work tirelessly to better our community and to make the roads a safer place for everyone.
Red Means Stop Traffic Safety Alliance was founded by two families who lost loved ones due to red light runners. With more distractions on the road now than ever before, the need to educate drivers is of critical importance. Eventually serving as the president of the board myself, I helped with outreach at events, coordinated social media, and provided victim support and resources. Volunteering with Red Means Stop Traffic Safety Alliance has shown me the power a small group can have to bring about meaningful change. I am so thankful to have had the opportunity to work with this organization, and I hope to be able to continue to share the stories of the many dedicated people who have been impacted by red light running, distracted driving, and other dangerous driving decisions.
For my personal development goal, I worked an administrative job while attending school full-time. I was responsible for answering phones, scheduling appointments, and training administrative staff. I got my first job after turning 17, and I worked throughout my undergraduate and graduate studies. I learned the importance of time-management while balancing work, school, and other activities. At times it was tough, but looking back it was definitely worth it since the experience provided me with valuable skills which have helped me to this day. Through this work, I learned the importance of empathy, communication, and leadership.
For my physical fitness goal, I worked to improve my running skills. I started at a 14-minute mile and alternated between running and walking. Through consistent endurance and strength training, I reached my goal and can now run a 9-minute mile without needing to take a break or walk. It was incredibly helpful to have my boyfriend, John Hanes, serve as my running-mate. John’s experience in the Army Reserves provided me with valuable training advice and served as a source of motivation. Since completing the Congressional Award program, I have set new fitness goals and have started a more rigorous workout routine. I have learned that maintaining a healthy lifestyle can be critical to personal development.
For my exploration, I visited historical sites, monuments, and museums while participating in an international fellowship in the Republic of China (Taiwan).
It was my undergraduate thesis advisor, Dr. Mary Jane Parmentier, who inspired me to get outside my comfort zone and to travel internationally. I was thrilled to be selected as 1 of 25 “Emerging U.S./Canadian Leaders” chosen for a fellowship in the Republic of China (Taiwan) which would allow me to do just that. While in the fellowship, I participated in high-level meetings with government officials to discuss U.S.-R.O.C. relations and other economic and security issues.
During my exploration, I learned the challenges of navigating an unfamiliar country with limited communication ability. I also had the privilege of learning from the other emerging U.S./Canadian leaders whose diverse backgrounds provided unique insights into the impressive ways young people are improving their communities across the U.S. and Canada. This exploration also allowed me to be fully immersed in the culture of Taiwan and allowed me to learn the values and traditions of the Taiwanese people.
SERVICE BEYOND THE CONGRESSIONAL AWARD PROGRAM
My Congressional Award journey has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. Participating in the Congressional Award program had demonstrated the importance of public service and revealed my true potential to understand the needs of my community. The Congressional Award has also provided me the opportunity to learn more about my strengths and weaknesses, the process of setting short- and long-term goals, and following through on the necessary steps to meet my goals.
Since completing the Congressional Award program last Fall, I moved from Scottsdale, Arizona to Alexandria, Virginia. I now serve as a Presidential Management Fellow with the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy in the Building Technologies Office.
With a passion for sustainable development and energy policy, I have started volunteering with various organizations in Washington, DC. I serve on the United Nations Association’s Sustainable Development Committee where I help raise awareness of issues covering economic, environmental, and social justice sustainability and the role of the UN Sustainable Development Goals in responding to these issues. I also serve as the Vice-Chair of Membership for the Women’s Council on Energy and Environment where we work to foster the personal and professional growth and leadership abilities of women.
I’m also staying close to my roots at Arizona State University, where I completed my undergraduate and graduate degrees. As a founding member of the School for the Future of Innovation in Society’s Alumni/ae Board, I hope to be a resource to other students and alumni by sharing my knowledge and experience. I am also continuing my education and improving my leadership capabilities through American University’s Key Executive Leadership Certificate Program. This program includes over 260 hours of executive coursework, two 360-degree assessments, and executive coaching aligned with OPM’s Executive Core Qualifications. With the skills I have gained through this program in emotional intelligence, team building, facilitation, strategic communication, and public policy implementation, I am certain I will be able to be a better leader in my professional life and my community.
As for the Congressional Award, I have already received the Bronze, Silver, and Gold Certificates and the Bronze and Silver Medals, but I on June 21st, I will attend the Congressional Gold Medal Ceremony at the U.S. Capitol along with 372 youth from across the United States where Members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives will present the Congressional Award Gold Medals. Since I moved to Alexandria, Virginia last August, I have not yet met my Member of Congress, so I am particularly excited to meet Congressman Don Beyer at the ceremony in June. Stay tuned for photos and updates from the ceremony!
Are you or someone you know between the ages of 13 and 23 and are interested in the Congressional Award program? Young people play such a pivotal role in solving the world’s toughest problems, and I hope to encourage youth to continue getting involved and serving their communities to bring about meaningful change. To learn more about the Congressional Award, visit their website at http://congressionalaward.org. If you have any specific questions, leave them in the comment box below or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.