Doing good makes eight teens good as gold

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. --  Next month a few dozen of America's most determined, goal-oriented high school and college age young people will gather in Washington, DC to get one of America's top honors for service and personal growth.

They'll be getting the Congressional Gold Award, recognition that is extremely difficult to earn. This week's FOX 4 Young Achievers did it.

You'll have no trouble finding outstanding students at The Barstow School. At this small private school in far south Kansas City, children and teenagers push themselves in academics, athletics, activities and community service. But eight Barstow students really have pushed themselves to the limit -- and struck gold in doing it.

"These students are extremely determined," said Barstow teacher Caroline Kill. "They think outside themselves. And they truly just put the needs of the community above all else."

The students have all earned the Congressional Gold Award. The U.S. Congress established that as its highest honor for America's high school and college age young people. And only about 250 get it each year.

"The award is a huge challenge," said Barstow junior Mahroosa Haideri. "It took up a lot of time. It took up a lot of energy."

To get the Congressional Gold Award, over a period of no less than 24 months students have to do 200 hours of physical fitness, 200 hours of personal development, four consecutive overnights in an expedition or exploration and an astonishing 400 hours of community service. And the hours have to be thoroughly documented.

"I think the award really opens us up to see what we're capable of and what we can do to make the community better," said Barstow junior Jonah Elyachar.

It's an enormous undertaking," said Kill, who helps coordinate the program at Barstow. "Each of these students has to be very goal-oriented. They need to write personal goals that they wish to accomplish."

Barstow's gold standard for 2014 includes one senior.

"I'm Jay Gillen and I volunteered at St. Joe and Research Medical Centers."

Four juniors.

"I'm Jonah Elyachar and my service was theater projects."

"I'm Kathryn Lundgren and I did mission work in Guatemala."

"My name is Mahroosa Haideri and I worked with underprivileged kids."

"I'm Payal Desai and my primary service was feeding the homeless."

And three sophomores.

"I'm Emily Reed. I created an online math enrichment program."

"I'm Lauren Bernard. I volunteered at St. Luke's South Hospital."

"My name is Sophia Mauro and I volunteered with young children."

The Congressional Gold Award program really has become part of the culture at Barstow. For several years now, one, two or maybe three would achieve it every year. But eight in one year? That's phenomenal.

"That is extremely rare," said Kill. "I know there are some very large high schools out there who may come close to that but for a school our size, to have eight Congressional Gold Award winners in one year is unheard of."

It's all about stretching themselves, learning new things and doing good.

"So these students are very hard-working students who are very committed to the greater good of the community," said Kill."

"It really just makes me realize what my strengths are and how I can make them even better," said Jonah.

"We've helped not only ourselves but helped others around us," said Mahroosa. "And it's made us, I think, grow as people, as well."

"What we're really trying to do is start working for something bigger than ourselves," said Jonah.

"We feel super accomplished," said Mahroosa. "And it kind of gives us the mindset that we can go do something even greater than this." They are good as gold.

Since 2008, 25 students from The Barstow School have earned the Congressional Gold Award. And many more have challenged themselves in earning silver and bronze medals.

FOX 4 News is Working 4 You to spotlight outstanding young people and their positive accomplishments. In our weekly report called Reaching 4 Excellence we meet young achievers in subjects like academics, the arts, leadership, community service, volunteerism, career exploration, overcoming obstacles and heroism. Watch for Reaching 4 Excellence every Wednesday on FOX 4 News at 9 p.m. and every Thursday on FOX 4 News at 8 a.m. and noon.

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