- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Jahnnavi Madiraju started her project as a freshman in high school, creating her own volunteer group in Virginia to gather clothes and basic supplies for an international refugee camp in Fredericksburg.

She then spent more than 450 hours throughout high school running the organization, working with dozens of people in her community to hold supply drives for the camp.

“We did a couple cycles every few months, and each time we had about 10 big boxes,” Ms. Madiraju said. “I like feeling like a part of this community. I felt like I really had a part in helping [the children] reach their goals.”

Now a high school graduate, Ms. Madiraju was one of 277 youths from across the country to receive congressional recognition Wednesday on Capitol Hill, earning gold medals for innovative community-service projects and the hundreds — or for some, thousands — of hours they devoted to them.

The medals were part of the Congressional Award Gold Medal ceremony, the government’s highest honor for the country’s most ambitious youths.

Paxton K. Baker, the chairman of the board for the Congressional Award Foundation — the designated charity group for Congress — described the annual ceremony as a rewarding event that showcases each individual’s creativity.

“They’ve put in the time. It’s literally hundreds of hours of that these young people have put into this,” Mr. Baker said. “Each story is unique every year because it’s a whole different class of people that come in.”

Given the large number of recipients, organizers split Wednesday’s event into two parts; Thomas P. McDevitt, president of The Washington Times, hosted a ceremony in the afternoon, while CNN anchorman Wolf Blitzer led a similar ceremony in the morning.

In the afternoon ceremony, the band Earth, Wind & Fire received the Horizon Award, acknowledging the group’s positive influence on the nation’s youth.

As for the youths, medals were given for projects that ranged from consistent volunteering at a local hospital to helping a nonprofit group rebuild dilapidated schools in India.

Congress members from each award winner’s district did the honors of handing the youths their medals as parents and family looked on.

“They’re giving back a lot to their communities to earn what they get here,” said A.J. Linton, father of recipient Marissa Linton of Mount Olive, N.C., whose extensive work with 4-H and local charities led to her medal.

“I think that is something we’re missing a lot of in the younger generation — that attitude of giving,” he said.

The Congressional Award Gold Medal ceremony has awarded more than 50,000 young people since 1979. In all, past recipients represent more than 5 million hours of community service, organizers said.

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