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The Congressional Award: Amber's Story

Amber Briscoe is the Founder and President of the Arts-n-STEM4Hearts Foundation. She is a 2020 Congressional Gold Medalist and STEM Star recipient. In this article, she shares the activities and goals she accomplished to receive this recognition.

My Congressional Award Story

Through my quest to earn the Congressional Award Gold Medal and STEM Star award, I have learned to set and accomplish goals, and to push myself outside of my comfort zone, not only to improve my skills and talent in different areas of life, but to also grow into an confident and compassionate person with a great sense of pride.

For Volunteer Public Service, I helped underprivileged and under-resourced Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) students through various after school and summer educational programs. I also volunteered at Shady Grove Hospital and Walter Reed National Military Medical Center (WRNMMC) through the American Red Cross. Through these experiences I have learned the importance of compassion, humility, knowledge sharing, and having an attitude of gratitude. Reflecting on my own life, I recall the importance of always having someone (my parents, teachers, mentors, counselors, and my pastor) who would provide encouragement and answer to my questions.

For the Personal Development section, I used my knowledge of arts and STEM to creatively help people with their health issues and spark young students’ interest in the field of STEM by founding my non-profit Arts-n-STEM4Hearts foundation. We all have been blessed with the gift of life and we should use this gift to live a life of significance. For Physical Fitness, I decided to improve my physical strength and stamina, lose some weight and continue to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

For my Expedition, I planned a trip to Scotland with support from my family so that I can learn about Scotland and Scottish Culture. The path to earning the Gold medal and the Congressional STEM Star was rewarding, rich in wonderful experiences and community service. I strengthened my skills in leadership, self-management, and discovered my ability to achieve my goals independently. I had an incredible time in learning, struggling, and improving myself, to become strong, independent leader for future generations.

More About the Congressional Award

The United States Congress established The Congressional Award Foundation on November 16, 1979 to recognize initiative, service, and achievement in young people. It began as a bipartisan effort in both the United States Senate and the House of Representatives. The original bill was sponsored by Senator Malcolm Wallop of Wyoming and Congressman James Howard of New Jersey. The enabling legislation, Public Law 96-114 – The Congressional Award Act, established the Foundation as a private-public partnership, which receives all funding from the private sector. The legislation was originally signed into law by President Jimmy Carter and each succeeding President of the United States has continued the legislation.

Today, The Congressional Award Foundation remains Congress’ only charity and the highest honor a member of the House or Senate may be bestow upon a youth civilian. The program is non-partisan, voluntary, and non-competitive. Young people may register when they turn 13 1/2 years old and must complete their activities by their 24th birthday.

Participants earn Bronze, Silver, and Gold Congressional Award Certificates and Bronze, Silver, and Gold Congressional Award Medals. Each level involves setting goals in four program areas: Voluntary Public Service, Personal Development, Physical Fitness, and Expedition/Exploration.

- Voluntary Public Service area includes serving others and the community (Examples: volunteer work at nursing homes , hospitals, libraries, parks, underserved communities, etc.)

- Personal Development area includes developing interests, social and/or employment skills. (Examples: music, dance, tutoring, public speaking, research and internships or part time jobs.)

- Physical Fitness includes improving quality of life through fitness activities (Examples: basketball, football, tennis, running or exercise with appropriate modifications.)

- Expedition / Exploration involves undertaking a wilderness or venture experience. (Examples: camping, hiking, biking, exploring national parks, touring or studying in a foreign country)

Earning the Congressional Award is an exciting and enriching way to get involved in local communities. This is not an award for past accomplishments. Instead, youth are honored for setting personally challenging goals and meeting needs in their community. This program aims to build character and foster citizenship. The Congressional Award is the most comprehensive and flexible of its kind. The Congressional Award has no minimum grade point average requirement, it accommodates young people with special needs or disabilities, and participants complete their activities at their own pace.

The Congress Award Foundation has also undertaken a commitment to increase science literacy, make Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) projects more accessible, and encourage young people to pursue an interest or career in a related discipline. Through programs like the STEM Stars Initiative and the Women in STEM Challenge, the Foundation is steadily building a network of STEM Ambassadors.

The Congressional Award STEM Stars Initiative, presented by corporate partners, aims to stoke passion for science and math, at an age when many young people lose interest in them. The initiative exposes students to STEM-related concepts as well as STEM in everyday life—helping to make STEM more approachable. The Foundation goal is to have every Congressional Award participant participate in at least one STEM activity in earning their award, resulting in an estimated 2.25 million hours of STEM related projects

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