It started when she was just 13-years-old. Junior nursing major McKenna Yearick took on a challenge that few Americans have and now is recognized as one of the outstanding servant leaders in the nation.
Yearick completed the qualifications for the Gold Medal Congressional Award. That means she completed 400 hours of volunteer service as well as 200 hours of both personal development and physical fitness while also planning and executing a five-day expedition.
“The whole program is designed—and it may seem like a negative connotation, but it’s positive — to help kids grow up. Truly it’s made me so much more responsible and mature because I was always working toward a goal,” said Yearick.
“A lot of awards are competitive, but with this one you set your own goals, and you achieving them is the award.”
The program aims to build character and citizenship. It’s open to all youth regardless of ability, circumstance or socioeconomic status. Participants earn Bronze, Silver and Gold Certificates and Bronze, Silver and Gold Medals. Each level involves setting goals in four program areas; Voluntary Public Service, Personal Development, Physical Fitness and Expedition/Exploration.
“McKenna is one of those once in a decade students you encounter who is a force of nature, exuding brightness and energy,” said Dr. Steven Elliot-Gower, director of the Honors Program. “It’s intuitive, but you just know that this is a very special person, so it’s no surprise that she would achieve an honor like the Gold Medal Congressional Award.”
Because Yearick achieved the highest level Gold Award, she will be honored in June 2020 at Capitol Hill in Washington DC. Members of Congress will present the awards to their constituents at a distinguished ceremony.
“Participating in this program helped prepare me for college by teaching me to set goals and achieve them,” she said. “A lot of the time people, including college students, don’t realize their actions have consequences, but also that good things can come out, so being able to be rewarded and awarded for the stuff I did is awesome.”
Although she started the program as a young teenager, her involvement at Georgia College helped give her the final push to completing the program.
“I came to college knowing I wanted to do nursing and be involved like I was in high school. I knew service was something I was interested in too, so I got put in touch with the GIVE Center and found opportunities through that.”
She worked as a community advisor for University Housing, is in the Honors Program, serves as a Young Life leader at GMC, gives her time for community service in multiple ways and still finds time to follow her two passions—nursing and travel.
“When I was young, I’d always take care of baby dolls,” she said of how she first showed an interest in the medical field. “It’s a tangible way for me to help people get better physically. As I got older, I decided I like to travel, then I found out I could use nursing to see the world.”
Her goal is to one day utilize her nursing skills and global studies minor to help in international missions—continuing her enthusiasm of service.
“This is my first semester in the nursing program, but I’m already having patient connections and working with nurses. It’s been amazing,” she said.
As of 2018, just over 5,200 Gold Medals have been awarded since the Congressional Awards founding in 1979. According to their website, the U.S. Congress established The Congressional Award Foundation on Nov. 16, 1979 to recognize initiative, service and achievement in young people. It began as a bipartisan effort in the Senate and the House of Representatives. The legislation was originally signed into law by President Jimmy Carter and each succeeding president has continued the legislation.