There’s a gold rush going on among area youth.
Six of South Carolina’s eight young people receiving a Congressional Gold Award in 2014 come from Lake Wylie, York and Tega Cay. Each student put in more than 400 hours of community service while working on physical fitness, personal growth and exploration.
Students typically begin the program about the time they start high school. It usually takes until they graduate to complete, as students log their experiences in various required categories.
“It’s such a neat program because it doesn’t have anything to do with grades,” said Elizabeth Hartley with Scholarship Gold Consulting, who introduced the recent winners to the program. “It has everything to do with choices they make in how to spend their time outside the classroom.”
Students brought varying goals into the program. Jon Brownfield, 17, and his sister Morgan, 18, were educated in a none traditional school in York.
“We went to a small, sort of co-op school, not very well known,” Jon Brownfield said. “We needed some sort of validation for college.”
The pair came up with transcripts and other documentation needed for applications. The Gold Award program showed how they could excel among peers. Now Jon is heading to Clemson Honors College and Morgan to Hillsdale College in the fall.
Tega Cay resident Reagan Smith, 17, won’t graduate until next year from the South Carolina Governor’s School of the Arts and Humanities. She studied through an online charter school in the sixth through 10th grade, allowing more focus on the subjects she enjoyed most and time for the types of activities included in the Gold Award program.
“I had absolutely no idea,” she said of the program. “I didn’t even know it was a thing.”
Smith volunteered with the Fort Mill Public Library and oversaw a nonprofit program for children.
“I’ve always been a really big reader,” she said. “I’ve often wanted to volunteer.”
Hannah Summer and Madeleine Burrell are 2014 Clover High School graduates. Summer will attend College of Charleston and Burrell the University of Tennessee. Summer taught children to swim volunteering with the River Hills swim team, and organized community July 4 food drives. Burrell volunteered with Clover Area Assistance Center and the Civil Air Patrol.
Jackson Hartley, set to graduate in 2015 from Gaston Day School, spent his volunteer time with the River Hills/Lake Wylie EMS. He volunteered his summers at a camp for adults with special needs and working on environmental projects.
“My viewpoint of the award was that it was far from an end mark and that the overall procress has inspired me to become service-oriented in my everyday life,” Jackson Hartley said. “The opportunity to meet my congressmen encouraged me to continue service in my community.”
Other recipients share the sentiment.
“I’ve never really spent 400 hours of my time on something like that before,” Jon Brownfield said. “It taught me perseverance, to stick with something.”
The recent rush of Gold Award winners isn’t the first for Lake Wylie. Charles Kane became the first in then U.S. Rep. John Spratt’s district to receive the honor in 2006. When Kane’s brother Ryan duplicated the feat in 2009, River Hills resident Brian Elgort and Steele Creek resident Charlotte Lindemanis joined him. Rachel Park of Lake Wylie won the award last year.
“I’m very proud of the outstanding work these young men and women have done to receive the Congressional Award,” said U.S. Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-Indian Land). “It’s always encouraging to see young people volunteering their time to help our communities.”
Mulvaney, serving his second term representing House District 5 and running for a third, said he was proud his district was so well represented this year by Gold Medal winners.
“If the health of a community is measured in part by the civic-mindedness of our youth, then these young people give us all reason to be optimistic,” he said.