Lucas Fortwengler (left), Tierra Beard (center) and Demetrius Gunn pose with their U.S. Congressional Gold Medals for Youth. June 26, 2019 (Photo: Lucas Aulbach/Courier Journal)
Finally, some good news out of Washington, D.C.
A group of young people from Kentucky were among those honored last week in the nation’s capital with the U.S. Congressional Gold Medal for Youth, given to recognize individuals who commit themselves to public service and other areas of personal achievement.
Tierra Beard, Lucas Fortwengler and Demetrius Gunn represented Louisville at the ceremony and were presented their medals by Rep. John Yarmuth on Thursday as part of the ceremony. Cammeron Durham of Finchville, Alex Satterwhite of Shelbyville and three others from Simpsonville – Benjamin Ferguson, Nathaneal Sangster and Deric Senecal – were also given awards at the event.
It was a rewarding moment after years of work, Gunn said – and even more rewarding when the Kentucky honorees met the other medal recipients.
“There are millennials out there like me who want to inspire the world, who want to be the beacon of light in the world,” Gunn said. “Every millennial is not going to jail, doing drugs or having these horror stories. There are millennials who really want to make a change and have an impact on the world.”
Recipients needed to reach goals in four areas – voluntary public service, physical fitness, personal development and expedition/exploration – to qualify for the award, and they are required to have been involved for at least two years to receive a gold medal (bronze awards are given out after six months and silver is earned after a year).
Gunn, Fortwengler, Beard and Kentucky’s other recipients volunteered at times over the course of their two years at the Christian Care Communities center in downtown Louisville.
There, they worked with senior “mentors” – intended to introduce them to services like pastoral care and health services while providing seniors with a chance to interact with young people – and did other things to brighten the days of residents. Gunn, for instance, loves music and volunteered time to sing and perform for Christian Care residents.
Beard’s mentor for more than two years has been 91-year-old Betty Riggins, who said the former Simmons College and current University of Louisville student is “so mature.”
“She has matured so much and has been involved in so many things at her young age. I’m so proud of her,” Riggins said. “I’ve felt honored to be a part of her life.”
Beard also volunteers at Louisville’s Family and Children’s Place, working with kids in an after-school program, after years of spending time volunteering at the YMCA.
She was inspired to devote herself to helping people after losing her father and sister – Jamesha Beard, a Butler High School student with special needs whose unexpected death led to an outpouring of support – within a six-month period in 2013.
“My experience with depression and coping though that, and using my journey to help others has been most of my Congressional Award experience,” she said.
Last week’s trip to Washington, D.C. was a fulfilling moment for the award winners, they said. Fortwengler, who has Down syndrome, said he’s enjoyed working with mentor Jim Patton, who helped set up the partnership between the Congressional Award and Christian Care after his daughter was honored with a gold medal eight years ago, and Patton’s family.
“They’ve always helped me with my goals,” he said. “They’ve always been good to me.”
Patton visited the nation’s capital last week to watch the ceremony, as he does every year.
“It’s one of those choking moments,” Patton said “You know all of the hardships they’ve experienced as they’ve pushed through the award.”
Young people between the ages of 13-23 who are interested in getting involved can find more information at congressionalaward.org.
Lucas Aulbach can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, 502-582-4649 or on Twitter @LucasAulbachCJ. Support strong local journalism and subscribe: www.courier-journal.com/lucasa.