Students Represent Virginia’s 5th District as 2022 Congressional Award Gold Medal Recipients

Congratulations are in order for Jack D. '23 and Hudson S. '22, who have been awarded the Congressional Award Gold Medal, the highest level for this national service award. Hudson and Jack were the only two recipients of the Gold Medal in the 5th Congressional District.

The Congressional Award program is open to all youth in the United States between age 14 and 24, regardless of ability, circumstance, or socioeconomic status, and is not strictly an academic award. Rather, youth are recognized for setting a goal, creating an action plan, and achieving the goal. Students can customize their projects by setting goals of achieving a certain number of service hours in all four program categories: Voluntary Public Service, Personal Development, Physical Fitness, and Expedition/Exploration. The higher the hours, the higher the award. Earning a gold medal can easily take two years to accomplish!

Voluntary Public Service means sharing one’s time and talents with others for their benefit. Students are encouraged to conduct a needs assessment to determine the best ways to serve their community and construct their public service accordingly. Personal Development, by contrast, refers to exploring a new personal interest or honing an existing skill or hobby. Students are not permitted to count any activities that earn class credit – their hours must be achieved outside of school. Physical Fitness goals include anything that improves one’s quality of life but must be activities in addition to one’s current daily routine, Lastly, Exploration/Expedition involves immersion in an unfamiliar environment or culture. Students are expected to plan and lead a trip of one to five days and complete 6 - 8 hours of immersive activities each day of the trip. As a whole, the program helps youth explore their personal identities while fostering connections in their communities.

All those requirements sound daunting, but St. Anne’s students are used to being asked to learn and apply their learning beyond the walls of the school. It’s part of the citizenship and leadership focus that underpins the St. Anne’s experience. Janine Dozier, a board of trustee member and mom to Jack, adds, "The fact that the two winners in this region are both STAB students is a nice testament to the service culture we espouse at STAB, and the important work Dr. Graves has underway in building out the school's civic engagement efforts."

Jack and Hudson wasted no time finding ways to enrich the lives of other people, and their accomplishments are astounding. Jack’s project centered around literacy and reading: serving on the Teen Advisory Board at the local library, collecting hundreds of books to deliver to those who may have not had access to them, building and maintaining Little Free Libraries, creating an Instagram profile called @BOOKSFORVA to promote reading, and even becoming a national literacy ambassador for an organization called Reach out and Read. But Jack’s work extended even farther into the community. He spent more than 100 hours helping to keep the Virginia Discovery Museum open during the COVID-19 pandemic and  preparing and implementing a free Computer Science summer institute for children age 9 to 13 in the Charlottesville-Albemarle area. All these experiences have helped shape Jack’s vision for his future: “One especially useful and important part of The Congressional Award that I did not think about earlier was how the award helps you see how your interests fit together; for example, how my volunteering at the children’s museum and literacy work has made me realize I am interested in teaching.” For the exploration part of Jack’s project, he planned an epic 14-day trip to Yosemite National Park, Sequoia National Park and Kings Canyon, and other localities in California. He made flight, rental car, hotel, and AirBnb reservations and carefully planned an itinerary bursting with nature for his family to enjoy. He describes the learning experience of this journey as “one of the biggest in my life. I have always considered myself a conservationist, but seeing how incredible the sequoia trees are makes me want to do even better in terms of cutting down my personal environmental impact, so that the air is cleaner and we can limit global warming so the trees continue to get the water they need and thrive.”

Hudson’s project was largely about his desire to give back to his community. “My main goal was to leave an impact on the communities that gave so much to me. I realized at the beginning of high school that so many local organizations helped me become the person I am today. For that reason, I reached out to the heads of various local organizations that had impacted my life to see how I could get involved and give back to them and the local community.” Several opportunities arrived: Hudson coached youth clinics at Seminole Lacrosse, improved handicapped access to hiking trails at Trout Unlimited near Sugar Hollow, and assisted with a “Therapeutic Adventures fly fishing event which provided children with an escape from their disabilities.” This event led to another chance to give back through Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the rehabilitation of disabled active military and veterans. Hudson didn’t stop there. He created a 501c3 non-profit charitable foundation, Upward Charitable Foundation focused on the environment, wildlife, and veterans with disabilities. “With this organization, I partnered with Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing to host an event for roughly 15 veterans with disabilities in Colorado. It was so rewarding to see those who sacrificed so much for our country and our freedoms enjoy a wonderful day of fly fishing.”

What Hudson and Jack learned from their experiences is immeasurable, and they expressed gratitude for the foundation St. Anne’s-Belfield has provided. “St. Anne’s has definitely helped me develop my leadership skills and ability to take ownership--key attributes to make it through the program. I also am so grateful to the teachers for challenging and inspiring me to follow my passions and for all the help and support that they have provided throughout my time at STAB. I may have not started fly fishing in Virginia if not for Mr. Smith encouraging me to escape to the mountains during some particularly frustrating times. His encouragement helped propel me on my Gold Medal journey,” says Hudson.

Jack adds, “I am very thankful to have made the trip, as it was the definite highlight of my family’s summer, and something I won’t forget. I will never go on a trip someone else planned again without saying thank you to them as I recognize now how much work it takes to plan and execute a good Expedition! This process has helped me think about setting long term goals and creating a detailed plan for how to achieve them. The process has also pushed me to enlist the help of mentors who I might not have otherwise gotten to know.”


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