This weekend Caleb Smith (16) was one of only three Minnesota young adults who received the Gold Congressional Award. The national online presentation included keynote presentations from the Speaker of the House and many high profile business people including interviews with Wolf Blitzer and Emmitt Smith.
The annual award ceremony culminates with the medals being presented by the United States Congress in Washington DC for youth who have completed the non-partisan, voluntary, and non-competitive program. Due to COVID, the Gold Award class of 2020 ceremony was delayed and then reformatted in a virtual presentation for 9/26/2020. The young adult recipients are planning to meet with their respective Congressional Representatives as arranged on a district by district level but each of them received their medals this week. Caleb also received the STEM Stars Initiative pin which recognized that his projects included a Science/Technology/Engineering/Math focus.
In the program, youth advance from certificate through Bronze, Silver and ultimately Gold levels, needing to complete requirement by the age of 24. Participants set goals in four program areas with minimum hour requirements. For the top level, the Gold Congressional Award, youth must complete a minimum 400 hours of Voluntary Public Service, 200 hours of Personal Development, 200 hours of Physical Fitness, and 5 day Expedition/Exploration with validation documentation that is vetted by the national committee.
For voluntary service, Caleb tallied his hours taking the comfort rabbits to events with seniors and veterans. For personal fitness, he trained for swimming to prepare for lifeguard training which is also required to finish Quartermaster rank in Sea Scouts, "and if I'm going to be out out on the river and trekking on boats during summer months, it's just a great life skill." For personal development, he spent time with a documentary crew while learning about the art and science of creating documentaries / video journals while filming portions of the Peacebunny Journal 2018-2020 which the crew is editing to submit to a 2021 film festival. He documented his preparation for and participation in his 5 day expedition, a 100 mile houseboat journey up the Mississippi River to Peacebunny Island in 2018. That of course led to a summer on the island testing the model while leasing the 22 acre private island he eventually purchased. Sections of his field notes, color photos, and journal entries are included in the upcoming book Peacebunny Island: The Remarkable Journey of Rescue Rabbits, the Boy Who Saves Them, and What They Can Teach Us about Hope and Kindness (release 3/16/2021)
"Since 7th grade when I enrolled in the program I have been super excited, looking forward to the trip to visit Washington DC to participate with other youth from across the country and to visit the Smithsonian and government centers. I've kept that goal in front of me, knowing that once I earned Gold, my family would take the trip for the ceremony and a ten day educational immersion. Although the trip's delayed, I'm sure a trip to the Capital will again be in the works once its safe to travel again. (My Grandpa worked on the Gemini Project and I really want to visit the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum).
Of course we all wished for the in person multi-date event, but the online format was very special and I really liked meeting the facilitators and other medal recipients during our break out sessions. Emitt Smith's words were especially inspirational and challenging, and I participated in two sessions -- one on nonprofit management and one on entrepreneurship. Lots of great wisdom nuggets. The biggest surprise however came later in the evening, when a national leader of a company, one of the facilitators I'd met in a session, took the time and looked up Peacebunny Island, and he reached out, sharing a really encouraging email. And on top of that he chose to financially support the Peacebunny Island mission... How cool to have that level of engagement! Although the award requirements are completed, our goals aren't so I'm excited for the next step in the journey. "