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Congress rewards young adults’ initiative, achievement

Air Force Space Command -- The whole-person concept is reaching younger audiences these days thanks to the Congressional Award program.

The program targets young people 14-23 years of age and rewards their efforts in four areas: volunteer/public service, personal development, physical fitness and exploration.

“This noncompetitive program teaches young adults how to set goals, plan steps to achieve them, become involved in areas they have not yet discovered and much more,” said Susan C. Larsen, Air Force Space Command Services Community and Family Programs specialist.

The U.S. Congress created this program through Public Law 96-114 in 1979 that set forth the importance of providing the Nation’s young people an avenue to create a positive destiny for themselves, Ms. Larsen added.

Patrick Wier, a high-school senior whose parents are stationed at Offut Air Force Base, Neb., received both silver and gold medals for his efforts.

“I’d like to thank my validators, advisers, my parents (and others in the community) for helping me set goals and adhere to them,” said Patrick at the award ceremony earlier this year.

A pamphlet for the Congressional Award program touts it as being a “fun and interesting way to get more involved in something you already enjoy or something you would like to try for the first time.”

To earn the Congressional Award, participants have to select an adult advisor to help plan challenging but achievable goals in the four areas listed above and plan activities to reach those goals. 

There are six levels of the Congressional Award program similar to Olympic style awards. There are three certificates and three medals, ranging from bronze to gold in both types. 

“Participants work at their own pace and are guaranteed a Congressional Award as long as they complete the activities, required hours and goals which were approved upon registration,” said Ms. Larsen. “Many participants find that their extra duties with the Honor Guard and other base support programs, as well as volunteer work that teens do through the schools or churches, give them a substantial start toward this high level recognition. This provides an opportunity, as well, for those family members in this age group that may have some disabilities to succeed.” 

The only “deadline” to speak of for the program is that the participants achieve all goals by their 24th birthday. 

Upon direction from the chief of staff in 1997, the Air Force has directed each of its commands to support this program. The Air Force offers this program through base community centers for young adults and the youth programs for teenagers. 

For more information about the program, go to www.congressionalaward.org.