In June, Summit High School junior Nick Cousino will travel to Washington, D.C., where he will be awarded the Gold Medal, the highest level of award granted by the Congressional Award program. This will mark the end of three and a half years of hard work for Cousino, who started toward this goal when he was 13 years old.The Congressional Award is given out nationally to young Americans every year to recognize achievement of personal goals in four separate categories - volunteer public service, personal development, physical fitness and expedition/exploration. Participants must plan out specific goals, choose mentors for each and record their hours spent in pursuit of those objectives. Finding out about the award "was almost by accident," Cousino said. His mother caught wind of the opportunity, informed him about it and then he decided to go for it. Cousino's first experience with the Congressional Award program was pursuing the Silver Medal. For this, he had to gather 200 hours of voluntary public service, 100 hours each for personal development and physicalfitness, and oversee an expedition/exploration of at least two consecutive nights. "I decided to go for the silver because it was a checkpoint just to see where I was at, see if I was on track with all my different hours, see if I was in the guidelines of what they were looking for," Cousino said. Apparently he was, because he received the Silver Medal at this time last year. Colorado congressman Jared Polis awarded him the medal at the high school. This year, Polis will once again present Cousino with his award, although this time it will be in the Capitol building in Washington, D.C.For the physical fitness portion of the award, Cousino used his participation in school sports, including football, baseball and, most recently, weightlifting. The piano was his focus for personal development, taking lessons and spending hours practicing. He didn't look at either the instrument or the sports as work, however, and said he enjoyed the hours spent.The exploration/expedition aspect required Cousino to involve himself in the planning and execution of an outing, as a chance to exercise his leadership skills. As a member of Boy Scout Troop 188 out of Silverthorne, Cousino already had experience in that field. To complete his Gold Medal requirements, Cousino documented helping lead his troop into a weeklong backpacking trip at the Philmont Scout Ranch in Cimarron, N.M. The trip focused on rock climbing and Cousino made sure to attend planning meetings and involve himself in the entire process.The most difficult part of fulfilling all the award requirements was the voluntary public service aspect, Cousino said. "That was the only part of the award that I was not doing on almost a daily basis."Cousino worked with various local organizations, including Friends of the Dillon Ranger District, where he did outside work like pulling weeds, trail maintenance and tree planting; helping out at the Rotary Club's weekly community dinners and working in the Family & Intercultural Resource thrift store. He submitted his final application in February and received confirmation of the award just two weeks ago. "That was a really good feeling, to be able to be done," Cousino said, adding that it gave him "a deep sense of accomplishment."He gives his advisors credit for his achievement, claiming, "I couldn't have done it without them."There is no trace of bitterness or exhaustion, joking or otherwise, as Cousino discusses his projects. While he admits it was a lot of work, the process doesn't seem to daunt him."Part of it is my personality, just primarily my work ethic, my dedication and my discipline, just to stay on top of the work that's before me," he said. "I enjoy getting things done."He's also happy with the end result. "It's very worth it," he said, smiling. "I'm glad I was able to get it while still a junior in high school, rather than when I was 24 (the cut-off age for the program)."Even though the Congressional Award projects are out of the way, Cousino doesn't plan to rest any time soon. Next, he'll be working on completing the paperwork for his Eagle Scout project, the application for the National Honor Society and, eventually, college applications."It's all part of a busy schedule, but that's just, I guess, my personality that fits that," he said with a shrug.Regardless, Cousino said he's excited for his trip to Washington, D.C., this summer. His family will also come along, including his younger sister Marisa, who is considering using the trip as part of the exploration/expedition aspect for her own Congressional Award project.Not many of his classmates know about the award opportunity, Cousino said. "I would encourage kids to investigate it."
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