Youth opportunities - Wyo Congressional Award provides enrichment for youthWritten by Saige Albert
With over 35 years since its inception, the Wyoming Congressional Award for Youth continues to encourage youth to reach their highest potential both academically and physically while serving the communities in which they live.
“This program recognizes youth in the U.S. who are involved,” says Wyoming Congressional Award for Youth Executive Director Trista Ostrom. “It recognizes youth involved in a community-service activity and promotes personal development.”
The Congressional Award is the highest youth award legislated by the U.S. Congress. It is a non-competitive award open for students ages 13.5 to 23.
She continues, “We have youth across Wyoming doing community service and working on their personal development every day who aren’t being recognized for doing great things. We want to see those youth acknowledged for their efforts.”
Inside the program
“This is a distinction any young person can achieve,” says Diana Enzi, wife of Sen. Mike Enzi, who is involved in the program today. “They do not have to be the smartest, the best athlete or the most involved. What they must do is set personal goals for academic performance, for physical fitness and for community service.”
Youth are required to set goals and make progress in each of four areas – voluntary public service, personal development, physical fitness and expedition and exploration.
Enzi goes on to explain that the program requires students to work to meet those goals under the guidance of an adult mentor. At the same time, the students are asked to challenge themselves and give back to the community.
The program has three levels – bronze, silver and gold, based on the length and level of involvement. A minimum of a seven-month commitment is required to earn the Bronze Medal.
Gold medalists receive the opportunity to travel to Washington, D.C. for national recognition and to receive a scholarship.
Ostrom notes that the program allows youth to pursue the activities they are interested in – whether that is band, choir, art, ag, sports or recreation.
“A plus is that this can be done at the same time as 4-H projects, earning an Eagle Scout badge or being in the church youth group,” Enzi adds.
The versatility of the program is a major benefit that she sees.
Ostrom says that many 4-H and FFA members around the state are doing things that fit with the goals of the Wyoming Congressional Award for Youth.
“We want youth to be engaged in those activities,” she says.
At the same time, students are asked to do at least one activity that puts them out of their comfort zone through expedition and exploration.
Across the nation, Ostrom notes that many students go camping to fulfill this requirement. While that isn’t necessarily the case for Wyoming youth, she says they are involved in many other activities that force them to look outside the realm of everyday life.
A look at those involved
Since its inception, 900 students in Wyoming have received the award, representing 17 percent of the nation’s total recipients.
Students and parents alike praise the program for its positive impacts.
Samuel Streeter, a Gold Medal alumni from Encampment comments, “My involvement in the Congressional Award is the single most personally fulfilling and societally important experience of my life.”
“I experienced momentous physical and mental growth, traveled throughout the state of Wyoming, met our state leaders and enjoyed many activities such as camping, hiking and white water rafting,” he continues. “It was undoubtedly the most important aspect of my college applications.”
Parent and advisor Deb Dolph says, “This program is unmatched by any other youth organization. The program is self-driven and the goals are those students set for themselves.”
Ostrom says that she is working to increase awareness of the award throughout the state.
“A lot of students don’t know about this program, and it came from our own Senator,” she comments. “We’d like to increase awareness and get more youth involved.”
Enzi says, “Mike and I have been involved with this program since he was elected to Congress. We regret we did not know about it when our children were growing up, and we’re committed to seeing that more Wyoming students are aware of the award.”
She adds, “It gives us such pride to see the amazing Wyoming award winner each year.”
Ostrom is actively recruiting youth who might be interested in participating in the program.
“Anyone who signs up now will be eligible for our ceremony in 2017,” she says, noting that a minimum of seven months participation is required in the program. “This is a great program, and we’re really looking forward to continuing to recognize Wyoming’s young people.”
Delving into history
The Congressional Award for Youth started with the vision of Wyoming’s own Senator Malcolm Wallop, along with his colleague the late Congressman James Howard of New Jersey. The bipartisan effort passed in 1979, and the award was created to recognize initiative, achievement and service in young people across the nation.
The legislation enabling the program, Public Law 96-114, established the award as a public-private partnership that receives all funding from the private sector. Though originally signed into law by President Jimmy Carter, Presidents Ronald Reagan, George Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama have all signed continuing legislation.