Award honors young Idahoans’ achievements

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I am once again honored to celebrate the amazing work of young Idahoans who take it upon themselves to meet the rigorous standards of the Congressional Award, a public-private partnership established by Congress in 1979.

Eleven Idahoans won gold, silver or bronze awards this year and I presented two of those medals in a ceremony this week at my office.

The medals are nice. But more important is what they represent: goal setting, discipline, commitment and the responsibility that comes with meeting deadlines. Many of these students, aged 14 to 23, must move outside their comfort zones, an experience that teaches lifetime lessons.

Fulfilling the requirements is tough. It takes 400 hours of volunteer work for a gold medal, along with 200 hours of fitness, 200 hours of personal development and at least four overnights on an expedition/exploration activity.

The result is young people prepared for adulthood, including marriage, relationships, parenting and career.

Zach McCammon earned a gold medal by overcoming his tendency to complete a goal in a burst of energy and then move on to the next thing. The Congressional Award requires a steady commitment, fulfilling goals over many months.

“I learned to be patient,” said Zach, whose projects included multiple trips with his church to build houses in Mexico, work at the local food pantry, a firewood business and raising $1,200 to supply and ship 51 care packages to U.S. military personnel serving overseas.

Zach, 19, lives in Cascade and was home-schooled. He was chosen to give the commencement address for home-school graduates this year and got a standing ovation from a crowd of 1,000, a moment he calls one of the highlights of his life.

Zach, who is dyslexic, summarized his speech this way: “When you face hardship, do not give up. Rely on God to help you through your circumstances, whatever they might be.”

Today, Zach will be on a plane headed to Sterling College in Sterling, Kan., where he will run track and cross-country on a scholarship. He plans to study communications and sports management and aims to be a track and cross-country coach at the college level.

I presented a silver medal to Alexandra Hahs, 19, of Eagle, who graduated from Cole Valley Christian School and was a varsity basketball and volleyball player.

For Alexandra, the most rewarding aspect of the program was leadership training. She attended Girls State, Hugh O’Brian Youth Leadership and the Academy Introduction Mission at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy.

Working with students from across Idaho and the U.S., Alexandra said she learned a lot about herself and how a diverse group can accomplish big things. “Every single one of them taught me something,” she said. “To this day, I talk to people from all of those camps, whether they live in Rigby, Idaho, or Colorado or Texas.”

The experience also strengthened her faith, she said. “I love the Lord with my whole heart and I think that’s the reason I ended up doing the whole thing. It’s about opportunities to serve, opportunities to learn, opportunities to lead, and I feel that’s where I’m called.”

Alexandra is currently working three jobs and will begin part-time at the College of Western Idaho this fall. She plans to transfer to Boise State in the spring and aspires to be a teacher or own a business.

This program is a great showcase for the development of talented young people. To learn more about the award and how to get involved, visit the Congressional Award online.

Raul Labrador represents Idaho in the U.S. House of Representatives. He can be reached at

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