The Gold Medal Congressional Award is Congress’ highest achievement-based honor for young Americans. It’s a goal-oriented program that can begin as young as 13 1/2 years of age and must be completed by age 24, with participants demonstrating their ability to successfully apply concentrated effort toward criteria-based achievements in four specific areas: Voluntary Public Service; Personal Development; Physical Fitness; and Expedition/Exploration. Registrants can earn Bronze, Silver, and Gold Congressional Award Certificates and Bronze, Silver, and Gold Congressional Award Medals.
In going for the gold, St. Augustine native Lauren Eavenson has earned all of them. “My mother discovered the program through a homeschooling conference,” explains Lauren. “I am academically-inclined, but you can lose direction in your high school years. The Congressional Award provided me with a way to organize all of my goals and extra curricular activities.”
Lauren began the program when she was just 14 and completed it four years later. Among many other achievements, she logged in 1,000 volunteer hours at Anastasia Catholic Church, completed 400 hours of swimming, became a lead catechist, and planned and successfully executed a four-night, five-day camping trip down the Suwannee River. Did the challenges ever get the best of her? “Well, I learned that I don’t handle things very well when they go wrong!” she laughs. “But I also learned how to be more adaptable. And because I did over 400 hours of physical fitness and set various swim goals, it was difficult to log every practice and every hour. I had spreadsheet upon spreadsheet!”
It takes a village, though, to keep the motivation. “My parents, Genesa and Tyson, my advisor, Janet Koehler, and different people who knew about it would check in on me and offer support.” Lauren also gives props to her mother for turning her 7th-grade request to be homeschooled into a reality. “I can’t thank her enough. Being homeschooled was one of the biggest blessings for me.”
Lauren does have some advice for young people considering taking on the challenge of earning a Congressional Award. “Keep fidelity to what you’re doing. See that goal through to fruition because all the challenges you face will help you grow into who you’re meant to be – a better version of yourself.”
After years spent setting and reaching such challenging aspirations, Lauren says she’s not thinking about any more major goals just yet. “I want to help my family out this summer and get my head around college. I’ll be attending Benedictine College in Kansas to study theology and education – and I’m also considering religious life as a sister.” Prepare yourselves, people – this young woman can do anything she sets her mind to!
Written by Susan Johnson. Photography by Kate Gardiner.