One of the best things about my job is meeting young people committed to improving themselves and their communities. We recently presented Congressional Award medals to six North Idaho students at a ceremony in my Coeur d’Alene office.

To earn the award, students meet rigorous requirements in four areas: voluntary public service, personal development, physical fitness and expedition/exploration.

Gold medal winner Sam Cuentas volunteered at a hospital in Coeur d’Alene and completed the famous 1-3/4 mile “Long Bridge” swim in Sandpoint. His younger sister, Annie, is a bronze medalist who helped disabled students get outdoors and worked at Christian Youth Theater North Idaho, on stage and behind the curtain.

Gold medalist Josh Heisey and his cousin, bronze medalist Ellie Heisey, both volunteered in a recreation program for special needs kids. Josh learned guitar and jujitsu. Ellie taught children at church and spent over 700 hours learning and competing in dance.

Bronze medalist Silas Kidd worked at the Salvation Army and played piano in nursing homes. Bronze medalist Joseph Broder helped fellow Boy Scouts become Eagle Scouts and took first place at the regional Invent Idaho competition for building a hydrogen gasifier.

Their range of interests illustrates something I learned from my mom. She set high standards, but left it to me to find my passion and pursue it. As I told these six fine young people, everyone has a calling in life, a way to contribute. What’s most important is finding what you love to do and doing your very best. That’s the American Dream.

The six students are among 18 Idahoans who received medals this year, five gold, three silver and 10 bronze. Sens. Mike Crapo and Jim Risch recently presided over a ceremony in Boise for medalists from southern Idaho. About 40,000 youths participate in the program, which begins with certificate level awards.

The Congressional Award was established in 1979 by Congress as a non-partisan, public-private partnership. Since then, participants have contributed more than 7 million hours of public service. Earning a gold medal requires 400 hours of volunteer work, 200 hours of personal development, 200 hours of fitness and at least four overnights on an expedition/exploration activity.

The program is funded by the private sector. Among the prominent Idaho contributors have been Hecla Mining, Hewlett-Packard, Holland & Hart, the J.R. Simplot Co., Micron and Potlatch.

Of course, the support these young people get from parents, family and mentors is critical. I congratulate everyone who helped them achieve their goals. To learn more about the award and how to get involved, visit the Congressional Award online.

20160821 Labrador Column

(Pictured, from left, Silas Kidd, Josh Heisey, Ellie Heisey, Raul Labrador, Annie Cuentas, Sam Cuentas, Joseph Broder)