Jennifer Lein is a gold medalist.
Well, not in Olympic terms, but in the congressional one.
The 2020 Prior Lake High School graduate was one of 478 teenagers and young adults from across the country to earn the Congressional Award Gold Medal. It’s the United States Congress’ highest honor for civilian youth and given to those for their commitment to voluntary public service, as well as personal development and physical fitness.
Lein received her award in the program’s first-ever virtual gold medal ceremony Sept. 26.
“Winning the award was a huge accomplishment,” she said. “The 400 hours of volunteer service was very rewarding because I got to help my community while working towards the award. When I received the news that I was receiving the gold medal, I was surprised and proud to receive it.”
The award was established by Congress in 1979. It is a nonpartisan, voluntary, non-competitive award that is open to ages 13 to 23.
To be eligible, Lein had to complete 400 hours of volunteer service, along with 200 hours of personal development and 200 more hours of physical fitness. She also needed to take a five-day expedition, which she did with her family.
“I planned a trip to Washington DC for my family,” Lein said. “I really enjoyed this because I met a lot of nice people who live there. My favorite places that I toured there were the White House and the FBI.”
Lein is planning on attending Clemson University in South Carolina starting in January. Right now, she will be going for a double major in American sign language and pre-pharmacy.
“I know that my plans could change, so I have a few backup plans,” she said. “Between now and January, I plan to tutor students in K-12 in math and continue to keep college options open just in case something changes with the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Lein was in the pool a lot in high school. She competed on the synchronized swimming team in the spring and was on the swimming and diving squad in the fall. In the winter months, she also was part of the Prior Lake weightlifting team.
Lein’s father is a professional photographer, so that’s what Lein did for her personal development requirement for the congressional award.
“I took photos at several Prior Lake High School sporting events,” she said. “This experience enabled me to learn how to edit photos using programs such as Adobe Photoshop.”
Lein volunteered her time with several different organizations, including the River Valley YMCA, Simon Says Give and Wee3Beasties. She said volunteering in her community is her important to her because she enjoys helping others in need.
“My most memorable experience was helping and serving my community,” Lein said. “My favorite volunteer experience was with Wee3Beasties, where I helped with a pancake breakfast and silent auction to raise funds for and to promote the adoption of rescue cats.”