The Congressional Award — a beacon of hope 
© Greg Nash

Many have lamented over America’s growing divide of economic disparity and racial tension. Most are deeply aware of partisan politics, and the polarization of views on education, immigration, the environment and everything in between. Sometimes, one may wonder if there is hope for the future.

Thankfully, on June 20 and 21 the Congressional Award Foundation’s Gold Medal ceremonies in Washington, D.C. will shine a beacon of hope on our future.

This year, over 500 youth representing 42 states and 181 congressional districts will receive the coveted Congressional Award Gold Medal, the highest distinction presented to America’s youth by the United States Congress.  

It is a major milestone for the organization, a bipartisan charity created by the U.S. Congress to encourage community service and support America’s youth in their personal development. The award recognizes initiative, service, and achievement by our nation’s youth. Politics aside, students aged 14 – 24 learn to set goals, participate in their community, and gain insights and tools that will enrich their lives. 

We have been privileged to present the awards to many exceptional students over the past 40 years. However, the 2019 Gold Medal Ceremony will honor the largest class ever to receive the distinction in our organization’s history. 

Part of what makes this ceremony so uplifting is what it takes to earn the Gold Medal. Each of these students completed over 800 hours of activity over two years in four program areas: Voluntary Public Service, Personal Development, Physical Fitness and Expedition/Exploration.

Many of these youth faced incredible hardships and tough times, but they persevered. In San Diego, Anthony O’Leary, was placed in the foster care system after his great-grandmother was too sick to care for him. He recognized the system was overburdened and quickly became a vocal advocate for himself and all of the other children in foster care. He was appointed to the San Diego Youth Commission by Mayor Kevin Faulconer to represent youth in his district. He made speeches for Voices for Children, and even started his own organization to help kids in foster care.

In Utah, Fatima Faizi worked with the Girl Scouts to help countless Syrian refugees settle into her community and feel welcomed. She also volunteered at a local hospital, connecting with patients and making them feel valued. 

The 538 students who will stand in the Congressional Auditorium at the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center on June 20, and the 50,000 student leaders who are enrolled in the program are an inspiration to us all. They are making a difference in their communities - one hour at a time. We can all learn something from them and from the example set by Sen. Malcolm Wallop (R -Wyo.) and Rep. James J. Howard (D -N.J.) in 1979 to cultivate bipartisanship. 

On Thursday, The Congressional Award Gold Medal will be presented by members of Congress on both sides of the aisle including Speaker of the House Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiDemocrats should rise above and unify against Trump's tweets 10 questions for Robert Mueller Ocasio-Cortez tears into Trump's immigration agenda: 'It's about ethnicity and racism' MORE (D-Calif.) and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin Owen McCarthyThe Hill's Morning Report: Trump walks back from 'send her back' chants History in the House: Congress weathers unprecedented week EU official in Canada says he feels 'at home' there because no one was shouting 'send him back' MORE, (R-Calif.). In addition, Gail Miller, chairman of the Larry H. Miller Group of Companies, and Owner of the Utah Jazz will receive the Horizon Award for her leadership and community service from Sens. Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyDemocrats should rise above and unify against Trump's tweets Trump steps up attacks on 'Squad' after post-rally furor Media cried wolf: Calling every Republican a racist lost its bite MORE (R-Utah) and Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeOvernight Health Care — Presented by PCMA — Health care moves to center stage of Democratic primary fight | Sanders, Biden trade sharps jabs on Medicare for All | Senate to vote on 9/11 bill next week | Buttigieg pushes for cheaper insulin Senate to vote on 9/11 victims bill on Tuesday Meghan McCain slams Rand Paul over blocking 9/11 compensation funding: 'This is a disgrace' MORE (R-Utah). Speakers from our nation’s top businesses, non-profits, sports and entertainment companies will join us on Friday to share their experiences with our youth and discuss public and community service and how giving back has shaped their success. 

So on the days when you feel good news is in short supply, visit www.congressionalaward.org to learn more about The Congressional Award and how our youth are contributing to their communities, the nation and the world. I think you may be surprised and proud to see how the effort, drive, and passion of the younger generation is helping to shape a positive, diverse and unified future. 

Paxton K. Baker is chairman of the Board of the Congressional Award Foundation. He was appointed by the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives to serve as a member of The Congressional Award Foundation National Board of Directors, the only official charity of the United States Congress, in 2006.