Congressional Award

Congressional Award


The Congressional Award is an award for young Americans, established by the United States Congress in 1979 to "recognize initiative, service and achievement in young people." It is non-partisan, voluntary, and non-competitive program open to all 14 to 23-year-olds.

The Congressional Award recognizes the setting and meeting of goals in four program areas: Voluntary public service, personal development, physical fitness, and expedition/exploration. Based on time commitments to each of the areas, participants earn Bronze, Silver, or Gold Congressional Award Certificates; and Bronze, Silver, or Gold Congressional Award Medals.

The Congressional Award was realized by the passage of Public Law 96-114 The Congressional Award Act. The bill was proposed under the sponsorship of Senator Malcolm Wallop of Wyoming and Congressman James J. Howard of New Jersey.[1]

The award is issued by the Congressional Award Foundation (CAF which has been unanimously re-authorized by every Congress and president since Jimmy Carter and, most recently, on July 7, 2010 by President Barack Obama.[2] The CAF is a public-private partnership, officially classified as a 501(c) non-profit organization,[3] funded entirely by private sector donations.[1] Its existence as a public-private partnership and classification as a non-profit make it Congress’ only charity.

As of September 2011, according to the CAF, more than 50,000 youth had registered as participants.

The Congressional Award is Congress’ first and only award specifically for youth. The only other medals awarded by Congress are the Medal of Honor and the Congressional Gold Medal; and those two medals are not to be confused with the Congressional Award. Also not to be confused with the Congressional Award are those awards affiliated with the International Award Association, including the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award, which despite their similarities and shared history, are no longer affiliated with the Congressional Award.

The Congressional Award Program

After a youth has registered for the program, either online or via mail, they receive a record book to record their progress in the program’s four key program preas: Voluntary Public Service, Personal Development, Physical Fitness, and Expedition/Exploration.

All youth must register with the Congressional Award to receive their official record book, which must be completed and submitted to earn the Award. When a youth has achieved his or her goals in each Program Area, and met the necessary requirements for each, he or she then submits the completed record book to the National Office where it is reviewed. The youth will then be notified either that they have been approved, or that they need to provide additional information. The National Office works with each youth individually.

The Four Program Areas

The four key Program Areas of the Congressional Award are Voluntary Public Service, Personal Development, Physical Fitness, and Expedition/Exploration. The emphasis on four diverse Program Areas is intended to mold a well-rounded youth.

Voluntary Public Service

Sharing time and talents for the benefit of others is an important part of the Congressional Award program. This requires sensitivity, perception of need, determination, perseverance and dedication. Voluntary Public Service activities must be performed without pay, compensation or school credit. Service provided to fulfill graduation requirements may be allowed. Youth should provide a direct service, rather than focus on issues. When setting your goals, identify activities that benefit the community at large. Youth may submit a maximum of four different goals (See Goals) per Record Book for Voluntary Public Service.

Personal Development

The purpose of the Personal Development category is to expand youths’ horizons while developing individual interests, social and life skills. The Congressional Award challenges youth to pursue a new interest or advance to a higher level in an ongoing interest through Personal Development activities. Youth may submit a maximum of two different goals per Record Book for Personal Development.

Physical Fitness

Physical well-being is another important part of the Congressional Award. The purpose is for youth to improve their quality of life through participation in fitness activities. The Congressional Award challenges youth to set and achieve a measurable Physical Fitness goal. Goals can involve an activity that the youth has never attempted before or it can be a continuation of a familiar activity at a higher level. Both team sports and individual activities are acceptable so long as the activities lead to an improved performance or greater physical health. Gym class is not acceptable for Physical Fitness. Youth may submit a maximum of two different goals per Record Book for Physical Fitness.


The Congressional Award allows youth to choose between an Expedition or an Exploration. The aim of an Expedition or Exploration should be to develop a spirit of adventure and discovery. Organizing, planning, training and completing the Expedition or Exploration requires self-reliance, determination and cooperation.

The Expedition or Exploration is a one-time experience that youth plan and execute themselves. It is not an event planned by someone else that youth attend. “Sign up and go” activities such as jamborees, conferences, sport and summer camps, leadership workshops, cruises, college visits, Mission Trips, competitions, retreats and orientations are not appropriate for the Congressional Award Expedition/Exploration. Youth should learn to be responsible for themselves while learning more about our world through first-hand experience in the wilderness or in a new and different culture. Activities completed on an Expedition or Exploration may only be counted in the Expedition/Exploration category of the Award—activities completed on an Expedition or Exploration cannot be counted toward Voluntary Public Service, Personal Development or Physical Fitness.

Expeditions are typically outdoor excursions that include camping, hiking, and wilderness or outdoor activities. This activity usually compels youth to forgo the comforts of home and learn to pack and prepare equipment, set up a tent, and cook food without modern conveniences. Youth may choose to incorporate a scientific study into their Expedition like completing a wildlife survey while on a backpacking trip in a National Park or searching for signs of prehistoric life in a remote area.

Explorations are trips that provide youth with a new cultural experience. These may include living on a farm, traveling to a foreign country, visiting a historical site or exploring a new environment. Explorations involve preliminary research and preparation. Challenges may include language barriers, traveling great distances, or learning new skills.

Values-Added Partnerships

The Congressional Award is a values-added program, meaning that youth can count many of the activities they are already involved with toward portions of the Congressional Award. This option has been further enriched through the Foundation’s partnerships with various youth-related programs.

Activities that can count toward portions of the Congressional Award include:

AmeriCorps NCCC
Big Brothers Big Sisters
Boys and Girls Clubs
Boy Scouts of America
Civil Air Patrol
Girl Scouts
Habitat for Humanity
High school or college sports/clubs outside of the regular school day
People to People International
Red Cross

Although youth can apply their time in these programs toward the Congressional Award, youth cannot count hours from before their registration. The Congressional Award is not about recognizing past accomplishments, but about goal-setting and achieving those goals.


Youth complete the program through the pursuit and achievement of goals set entirely by themselves. Goals should be broad statements of what youth hope to achieve. Similar activities may be combined to achieve one goal. Youth often set “umbrella goals” —activities that have an underlying connection or similarity— that helps achieve to allow themselves the freedom to complete more than one activity in pursuit of their goal. Goals should not be too broad, however. They must meet the requirements in the Record Book— they need to be worthwhile, measureable, challenging, fulfilling and achievable. Advisors and Validators assist in the goal-setting process.

Month and Hour Requirements

The Congressional Award requires youth to complete a set amount of hours in each program area, varying on the certificate or medal level being pursued. Youth work at their own pace and may begin at any level. Youth earn all previous Awards if they earn any higher levels. All hours are cumulative; hours do not reset to zero at each level.

No partial awards are given; youth must complete each of the four program area requirements for each level (i.e.- youth cannot, for example, earn a Bronze Medal in Personal Development and a Silver Medal in Physical Fitness).

Certificate Levels:

Bronze Silver Gold
Voluntary Public Service 30 60 90
Personal Development 15 30 45
Physical Fitness 15 30 45
Expedition/Exploration (Days) One Two Three
Total Minimum Hours 60 120 180

Medal Levels:

Bronze Silver Gold
Voluntary Public Service 100 200 400
Personal Development 50 100 200
Physical Fitness 50 100 200
Expedition/Exploration (Consecutive Nights) One Two Four
Total Minimum Hours 200 400 800

In addition to hour requirements, the Congressional Award also has set minimum month requirements. The month requirements are made to foster a lifestyle of service, rather than a short time of volunteerism. The Congressional Award is a marathon, not a sprint.

Certificate Levels:

Bronze No minimum
Silver No minimum
Gold 6 Months

Medal Levels:

Bronze 7 Months
Silver 12 Months
Gold 24 Months

Congressional Award National Events

The Congressional Award is a 501(c)(3), non-profit organization that does not receive any funding from the federal government. Instead they hold several fundraising events to support the program, most notably: The Congressional Award Chiefs of Staff Annual Golf Classic[4] and The Congressional Award Chiefs of Staff Charity Poker Event.[5] The Congressional Awards' largest event is the Annual Gold Medal Ceremony,[6] held in the US Capitol. The June ceremony celebrates the accomplishments of Gold Medalists, bringing them together from across the country for a presentation of their Congressional Award Gold Medal by their Member of Congress. Due to the large number of Medalists, there are usually two ceremonies on Capitol Hill on the Gold Medal day.

Accompanying the Gold Medal Ceremony is the Gold Nation Experience, an exciting opportunity for Gold Medalists to create new relationships with other outstanding youth from across the country. The optional program provides medalists with an opportunity to come to Washington, D.C. and see the city together. The Gold Nation Experience usually runs from the week of the Gold Ceremony until the day after. The cost of the Gold Nation Experience is greatly discounted to Medalists due to the fundraising efforts of the CAF; and the majority of the cost is paid by the CAF. However, medalists must provide their own transportation to Washington. The Gold Medal Ceremony also commemorates adults and their participation in youth fund raising and volunteering (See Other Awards).

Other Awards

The Horizon Award

The Horizon Award[7] is a special recognition from the Joint Leadership Commission of the Congressional Award Foundation and its Board of Directors. The Horizon Award is presented to individuals from the private sector who have contributed to expanding opportunities for all Americans through their own personal contributions, and who have set exceptional examples for young people through their own successes in life. These recipients have truly forged ahead, establishing noble horizons to which our youth can aspire.

Past recipients include:

1997 Jimmy Smits, Tom Selleck
1998 Leeza Gibbons, David Frost, Grant Hill
1999 Mariah Carey, Judith Hale
2000 Bob Lanier
2001 Esai Morales
2002 Arnold Schwarzenegger, Wynton Marsalis, Jerry Blavat
2003 Art Monk, Charles Mann
2007 Lauren Nelson
2008 Drew Brees, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson
2009 Nick Cannon, Jimmie Lee Solomon
2010 Michael Oher

The Leadership Award

The Leadership Award[8] is presented annually to individuals in the public sector who have displayed outstanding commitment to improving the lives of our nation’s young people and providing critical support in the Congressional Award Foundation’s efforts to make the Congressional Award a national opportunity. The Leadership Award is presented by the Congressional Award Joint Leadership Commission, composed of The Speaker and Minority Leader of the House and Majority and Minority Leaders of the Senate.

Past recipients include:

1994 President and Mrs. Jimmy Carter, Senator Malcolm Wallop, Congressman James Howard
1995 The Honorable John Glenn, Congressman Tom Bliley
1996 His Royal Highness Prince Phillip, Senator Mark Hatfield
1997 Senator Bob Dole, Congressman Esteban Torres
1998 Senator Robert Byrd, Congressman Dan Schaefer
1999 Secretary of State Colin Powell, Judith McHale
2000 First Lady Nancy Reagan, Congressman Charles Rangel
2001 Congressman Donald Payne
2002 Congressman Major Owens
2003 Congressional Award Chairman Thomas Campbell
2006 Congressman Ed Pastor
2007 Senator Mike Enzi, Congressman Rush Holt
2008 Senator and Mrs. Trent Lott, First Lady Laura Bush
2009 Congressman Chris Shays
2010 Senator John Culver

The Inspiration Award

The Inspiration Award is given to a Congressional Award Advisor who motivates, inspires and leads America’s youth to greatness.

Adult Volunteers

Adult volunteers are an integral component of the Congressional Award. More than 10,000 adult volunteers dedicate thousands of hours to promoting a lifestyle of service.

The Congressional Award is designed to bridge the gap between adolescence and adulthood. Working with adults is one way by which participants can achieve this. Most participants will work with five or more adults throughout the program: one Advisor and four Validators.


Each youth selects one adult to serve as their Advisor. Teachers, neighbors, clergy, and coaches are examples of possible Advisors. The youth may select any adult to be their Advisor, so long as the Advisor is not a relative or a peer. The Advisor meets regularly with the youth to assist him or her in goal-setting and completing the record book. The Advisor must sign the youth’s record book prior to submission to the CAF for review.


Validators assist the participant with individual activities within a particular program area. Validators should be knowledgeable and/or experienced in the activity being pursued. For example, if a youth’s goal and activities involved basketball, a basketball coach would make a suitable Validator. Similarly, if a youth volunteers at an animal shelter, an senior employee or the volunteer coordinator would be an appropriate Validator. An Advisor can also serve as a Validator. While not particularly common, this is appropriate if a suitable Validator cannot be found.

In addition to Advisors and Validators, countless adult volunteers promote the Congressional Award Program throughout the country.

The Congressional Award Foundation

The Congressional Award Foundation is the non-profit entity that oversees the distribution of the Congressional Award on behalf of Congress.

Board of Directors

The Congressional Award Foundation’s 48-member Board of Directors is partially appointed by the joint leadership of both parties in the House of Representatives and the Senate. In addition to actively promoting the Congressional Award Program across the country, the Board meets quarterly to assess the program’s growth and provide direction to the National Staff.[9]

Paxton Baker, Chairman
Executive Officers
Chairman of the Board – Paxton Baker, Centric
Vice Chairwoman – Linda Mitchell, MSU Extension Service
Vice Chairman – Ambassador Roger F. Noriega, Vision Americas LLC
Vice Chairman – The Honorable Rodney E. Slater, Patton Boggs, LLP
Secretary – Mary Rodgers, Pennsylvania
Treasurer – Lee Klumpp, CPA, BDO Seldman, LLP
Chairman Emeritus – John Falk, Firecreek Ltd.
Board Members
Cliff Akiyama – Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine
The Honorable Max Baucus – United States Senate
The Honorable Gus Bilirakis – United States Congress
Ed Blansitt, CPA – Washington, DC
The Honorable Kwame Brown – DC Council Chairman
Laurel Call – Ohio
Nick Cannon – California
Michael Carozza – Washington, DC
Edward Cohen – Lerner Enterprises
Kathy Didawick – Blue Cross Blue Shield Association
Dr. Wiley Dobbs – Idaho
Mike Esser – Edward Jones
David Falk – FAME
Jeffrey S. Fried – Washington, DC
Ron Gillyard – Los Angeles, CA
George B. Gould – Washington, DC
Dr. Larry Green – Maryland
J. Steven Hart, Esq. – Williams & Jensen, P.C.
Erica Wheelan Heyse – National Director
David W. Hunt, Esq. – Counsel
The Honorable Johnny Isakson – United States Senate
The Honorable Sheila Jackson Lee – United States Congress
Paul Kelly – National Association of Chain Drug Stores
Conrad Lass – American Petroleum Institute
Lynn Lyons – Florida
Patrick McLain – Sanofi
Marc Monyek – McDonald's Corporation
Patrick Murphy – 3 Click Solutions
Major General Robert B. Newman, Jr. – Virginia
Kimberly Norman – Texas
Andrew F. Ortiz – Ortiz Leadership Systems
Jerry Prout – FMC Corporation
Glenn Reynolds – USTelecom Association
Adam Ruiz – Kentucky
Dan Scherder – Scherder & Associates
Jimmie Lee SolomonMajor League Baseball
Jeffrey L. Thompson – The Walt Disney Company
The Honorable Jeri Thomson – Former Secretary of the US Senate
Joe Watson – Virginia
Kathryn Weeden – United States Senate Page School
Jon Wood – Alpha Natural Resources

National Staff

The Congressional Award National Office is located on Capitol Hill and oversees the day-to-day operations of the Congressional Award Foundation and the Congressional Award program. To better meet the needs of youth, states are assigned to a geographical region – North, South or West, with a designated Program Manager. The Program Managers work closely with Advisors and youth in their region to answer any program-related questions and promote the program in their respective region.[10]

Past Financial Uncertainty

Now totally resolved, the Congressional Award Foundation did experience a brief period of financial uncertainty. In a GAO audit of the Congressional Award Foundation’s 2005 and 2006 financial statements, the office identified[11]

two significant matters related to the Foundation’s financial statements. These matters concerned (1) the Foundation’s ability to continue as a going concern, which has been resolved, and (2) inconsistency between functional expenses reported in the Foundation’s annual information return (Form 990) filed with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and the audited financial statements for fiscal year 2005.

The first "significant" matter referred to various problems, including a serious decline in the foundation's assets: as of September 30, 2006 the value of the foundation's asset had declined to under $8,500.[11] Within a year, the asset value had grown to $125,000.[11] The GAO also noted that the CAF's national director paid over $23,000 to cover the costs of the foundation's Gold Award Ceremony during the CAF's 2006 fiscal year; she was reimbursed for all but $664 by December 2006.[11]

The inconsistency described in the second matter was resolved in the Form 990 and audited financial statements for fiscal year 2006.[11]

Congress created the Congressional Award Fellowship Trust in 1990 to "benefit the charitable and educational purposes of the Foundation"; the CAF withdrew $20,000 from the trust in order to support its 2007 operations.[11]

The Congressional Award has enjoyed financial stability in the subsequent years, and its proactive fundraising initiatives are working to ensure that it will never again face a budget shortfall.


  1. ^ a b The Congressional Award
  2. ^ Public Law 111-200
  3. ^ The Congressional Award
  4. ^
  5. ^
  6. ^
  7. ^ [1]
  8. ^
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  11. ^ a b c d e f Financial Audit of the Congressional Award Foundation’s Fiscal Years 2007 and 2006 Financial Statements (May 2008), from the website of the Government Accountability Office

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