LAKE WYLIE -- Prior to the last few months, only one area resident knew exactly what it took to win a Congressional Gold Award -- given for outstanding community service and personal achievement among America's youth. Now three more within walking distance of each other can add their names to the list.
Brian Elgort and Ryan Kane of Lake Wylie, along with Charlotte Lindemanis of Steele Creek, are among 267 Gold Award recipients nationwide invited to the nation's capital Thursday to be honored by legislators and past recipients. All three students attend Gaston Day School, and completed a minimum of 400 hours of volunteer service along with physical fitness, exploration and cultural awareness goals.
"I feel like I've become more of a people person, and leadership is a big thing," said Elgort, 17, a lifelong River Hills resident. "That's made a huge difference."
A junior at Gaston Day, Elgort finished his Gold Award requirements about a month ago. He and Kane planned and pulled off a trip catamaran sailing in the Caribbean for their exploration. Elgort also plays varsity soccer, raised funds for school athletics for his community service and participated in a sister cities program traveling to Germany and hosting a student for two weeks. Elgort is an aspiring Eagle Scout with the troop out of Allison Creek Presbyterian Church.
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"I've always done community service and I've always played sports," he said. "It just ended up that I completed it pretty quickly."
Kane, the second person to receive the Gold Award in U.S. Rep. John Spratt's district, learned of the Congressional Award program when older brother Charles won the honor in 2006.
Ryan Kane, 17, is an Eagle Scout with the River Hills troop, and for the Congressional program coached two years with the Science Olympiad, worked as a YMCA international youth ambassador, restored local wetlands and helped with scout activities including coat drives, food drives, blood drives, roadside cleanups and beach sweeps.
"It's really everything that comes together," Kane said of what he takes from his experience with the Congressional program. "It's just the culmination of all the activities we did."
Of the more than 250 recipients, Kane was selected to present a speech at the alumni brunch Friday -- an unexpected honor for Kane.
"I'm actually not that sure why," he said of being chosen.
Lindemanis, 18, recently graduated from Gaston Day and plans to head to Chapel Hill, N.C. to continue her education. Her work toward the award included coaching swimming and basketball, captaining her varsity tennis team, improving her Spanish and painting skills and working on beautification and preservation in the Grenadine Islands.
"It teaches you to set a goal and strive toward achieving the goal that you've set," she said of the program. "It's also great in that while you're achieving those goals, you're giving back to your community as well."
Kane's mother, Florence, began working with students at Gaston Day School to make them aware of the Congressional Award program as her sons progressed through their requirements. Florence Kane even served as Elgort's advisor.
"We have more kids that are working on it now," Florence Kane said. "The amount of students interested in the program has increased."
As for the newest recipients, highlights of the upcoming trip include meeting legislators and past award recipients. Elgort, who's Jewish and spent time in Germany at a World War II labor camp, also has plans to visit the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. He also hopes to look at area colleges while there.
"When I have meetings with college admissions groups, they always focus on that," Elgort said of his Congressional Award.
Florence Kane, who experienced the awards program first hand with her older son, believes the three recipients will benefit from, if nothing else, simply being with other young people from throughout the country who achieve great things.
"They're all people that are very driven, and they're all people who want to give back to their communities," she said.
For more information about the program, visit congressionalaward.org.