Nine high school students and one college student from the Kansas City area recently were recognized with Congress’s highest award for youth.
Sakshi Mahajan of Blue Valley North High School, Christie Webb of UMKC and Lauren Bernard, Kathryn Lundgren, Emily Reed, Payal Desai, Jay Gillen, Mahroosa Haideri, Jonah Elyachar and Sophia Mauro, all of The Barstow School, were among 283 students nationwide to be awarded the 2014 Congressional Award Gold Medal.
The award recognizes students who have given hundreds of hours of service to their communities. It’s open to students ages 14 to 23. To be eligible for the award, students must set and achieve goals in four areas: volunteer public service, personal development, physical fitness and expedition/exploration, where they learn about another culture. Applicants must devote a minimum of 24 months to accomplishing all of their goals.
Bernard, Lundgren, Mahajan, Reed, Desai and Webb just returned from Washington, D.C. where they were presented with the award at a ceremony on Capitol Hill.
For Reed, a junior from Overland Park, one of the highlights of the trip was the opportunity to meet the politicians who represent her.
“It was really interesting to meet Congressman Yoder and see his office where he worked,” Reed said.
Reed has spent the last two years working toward her goals. An avid tennis player, Reed set a physical fitness goal to make it to the state tennis tournament. Reed met that goal and others such as her personal development goal to learn to play the piano. She also spent the last several years working with children by developing an online math enrichment curriculum for third- and fourth-graders.
Mahajan, who recently graduated from Blue Valley North High School, tied two of her goals together by focusing on the country of India, her parents’ homeland. She met her exploration/expedition goal by traveling to the country so she could get to know her roots. She then took it a step further in her volunteer public service goal by starting a nonprofit called School to School India, which focuses on raising money so poor children in India can receive a better education.
Although pursuing so many goals may seem daunting, Mahajan welcomed the chance to work on so many different projects at once.
“It’s been phenomenal and it kept me grounded through high school,” Mahajan said. “Every time I felt like I was losing sight, I remembered these goals.”
Like the rest of the students honored with the Congressional Award Gold Medal, Gillen, of Stilwell, learned a lot about time management while working toward his four goals. He spent his weekends volunteering at St. Joseph Medical Center and Research Medical Center to meet his volunteer public service goal. During the school year, he devoted his time outside the classroom to performing in the school musical, playing on the school basketball team and running track and cross country.
Looking back, Gillen said he’s glad he stuck with the challenging goals he had set.
“By the end of it, it was a pride thing to finish it up and see all of the work I had done,” Gillen said.
Bernard, of Leawood, juggled volunteer work with the Youth Volunteer Corps of Kansas City with playing soccer and basketball as well as learning to play the piano. She was excited for the opportunity to celebrate her two years of hard work at the ceremony in Washington, D.C.
“I was really honored to be a part of it,” Bernard said. “There were so many inspirational speakers, and I felt really honored to be next to people who have done great things for their communities.”
Bernard was one of eight students from The Barstow School who earned the award. It’s the first time so many students from the Kansas City private school have achieved it at one time. She said teachers at her school like to inform students about the award as a way to encourage service to others.
“I definitely feel like I’ve grown as a person and it has made me more inclined to serve my community,” Bernard said.