awarded Congressional Gold Medal
Rachel Spencer, currently a high school senior, spent the first three of her high school years, among other things, working towards the Congressional Award Gold Medal. This medal, as well as the silver and bronze medals, is the only medal awarded to civilians by the United States Congress. Any student, from the age of fourteen to twenty-four, is eligible to work towards this worthy goal, which can take a minimum of seven months for the Bronze Medal, and a minimum of twenty-four months for the Gold Medal. It is a cumulative process, such that all hours acquired in each category at each level are carried on to the next level. Most students work towards each goal individually, and then decide whether or not to work towards the next level. Rachel, however, along with her advisor Suzi Hiebert, opted to "go for the gold." She reached her deadline, after many starts and stops along the way, in June 2010, which enabled her to receive the award on August 27th, 2010 in Boise. Her other option, as a gold medalist, was to receive the award in February 2011, in Washington D.C. However, she chose to receive it in Boise, being the only gold medalist in attendance, along with several bronze and silver medalists from all over Idaho.
Senators Mike Crapo and Jim Risch were in attendance at the Idaho State Capitol Building to award the students. These awards recognize the hard work and many hours these students devoted to Personal Development, Physical Fitness, Community Service, and the organization and execution of one to four night Expeditions. Personal Development and Physical Fitness require a maximum of two designated goals, with at least fifty hours needed at the Bronze Medal level and two hundred needed at the Gold Medal level. Probably the greatest challenge in working towards the award is the immense number of hours required for Community Service: a minimum of one hundred hours for the Bronze Medal and four hundred hours for the Gold Medal. Rachel devoted her time to the libraries in both Cottonwood and Grangeville, the local hospital, the Idaho County Food Bank, and programs benefiting local senior citizens. Though is was daunting to find the time to devote that amount of time, Rachel readily admits that it was a great learning experience. It gave her the opportunity to meet new people and become familiar with the local communities in a way which she might not have otherwise experienced. The final category of planning and coordinating Expeditions, with a one night requirement for the Bronze medal and a four night requirement for the Gold Medal, again requires a stated goal for each expedition and an overarching theme. Rachel, with the help of her advisor, chose one that was apropos to her local area: Lewis and Clark. The expeditions encompassed camping in primitive shelters, open fire cooking, hiking parts of the Lewis and Clark trail, floating the Clearwater river and finally, following the Lewis and Clark route to the Pacific Ocean. By the end of her final expedition, she remarked that she has probably learned all she ever wanted to learn about Lewis and Clark.
Rachel admits that the greatest lesson she learned during this process was to persevere no matter what obstacles and discouragements she met along the way. Many people in this area know little about the award, but since Rachel has received it, two of her friends have started the process of working towards the Congressional Award. Rachel would highly recommend participation in this program because it helped her develop initiative and perseverance, as well as leadership and organizational skills.