It almost felt like a dream when the congressional gold medal was placed around Britli Fuller’s neck.
After more than 1,000 hours of community service and three years of setting goals, the 18-year-old had received the highest honor the U.S. Congress awards to youth.
Watching cameras flash and the smiling audience applaud at the elaborate ceremony in front of the Capitol, Fuller realized how far she had come.
“Now that I’ve done this I believe in setting goals,” said Fuller of Overland Park. “I now know that I can achieve anything I put my mind to. This experience has given me confidence in the person I am.”
Fuller is one of seven Johnson County students who earned the Congressional Award gold medal distinction this year. Others are Lauren Estes of Leawood; Farwa Haideri of Leawood; Nora Lloyd of Leawood; Bryan Lundgren of Leawood; David Thompson of Overland Park; and Judson Woods of Leawood.
The requirements for the medal are demanding. Participating students must complete at least 200 hours of both personal development and physical fitness and four consecutive overnights of exploration/expedition. They also must complete at least 400 hours of community service.
Most of the Johnson County winners said fulfilling each category was not only fun, but rewarding.
The community service aspect was a breeze for Fuller, who already held a passion for helping others. Her volunteer work ranged from cleaning shelters for the homeless to acting as the Kansas student mentor at the 2010 National Special Olympics conference.
For part of her personal development, Fuller, now a Kansas State freshman, studied sign language.
Fuller’s mother is very proud.
“She truly wants to help the world and I just tell her to try and do it one step at a time,” said Diane Fuller. “She has huge aspirations and will make a lifetime of contributions to helping people. I am excited now to go along for the ride and see where she lands.”
Haideri, Lloyd and Woods, who are all seniors at Barstow School in Kansas City, used school sports to fulfill their athletic requirements for the Congressional Award.
For the expedition/exploration category, Woods, along with several other Barstow students, helped organize and raise money for a two-week trip to Vietnam and Cambodia a couple summers ago. Through bake sales and a schoolwide lock-in, they raised money to buy books for two small schools in Vietnam and oversaw the construction of fresh water wells in several Cambodian villages.
“When my group brought the books to the schools in Vietnam, the children immediately exploded with excitement when they saw us, swarming our group with hugs and shouts of joy,” Woods said. “It showed on their faces how the books would have a direct impact on their lives and it was an experience that may never be duplicated in my life.”
Despite the personal rewards taken from each journey, completing each goal was not easy, the students all said.
“The major challenge was excelling at school while completing the hours for the award,” said Lloyd, who juggled varsity basketball and debate along with her volunteer work. “I learned very valuable time- management skills.”
Haideri, who dreams of being a doctor, said the extra time and effort spent toward achieving the Congressional Award was worth it.
“It taught me so many valuable life lessons that I think are essential, such as perseverance, commitment, dedication and working towards a goal,” she said. “Not only does it stimulate physical fitness, but it requires you to step outside your comfort zone to work towards an expedition.”
Woods agrees. He thinks more kids should strive to achieve a Congressional Award.
“While I could have been sitting at home, I was instead out changing the world and making a difference not only in my own life, but in the lives of others,” he said. “However, the award also gave me the feeling that I still had more to accomplish and that this was only a small stage in my life. I have much more still to do with my talents and if I can work as hard as I have over the past three years, I can do a lot more.”