For most teenagers, the ages 14-17 are often riddled with confusion, questions and doubts.
For Brookfield's Melinda Mastel, those same years were all devoted to one goal.
Last month, Mastel attended the Congressional Award program's National Gold Medal Ceremony in Washington D.C. Mastel was one of two Wisconsinites recognized at the event, having earned her Gold Medal last fall.
The daughter of Cheri and Larry Mastel, Melinda had been striving toward that goal since she first learned of the program as a 14-year-old in June 2011.
"She was looking for places to volunteer locally and, because of her young age, it wasn't so easy," Cheri said.
"Because I was 14, it was hard finding places that didn't have a minimum of 16," Melinda said. "While looking, I came across the award because a big part of it is volunteering."
In her pursuit of medal, Melinda set goals for herself in four different areas: voluntary public service, personal development, physical fitness and expedition/exploration.
Midway through her pursuit of a Gold Medal, Melinda earned a Congressional Bronze Medal in January 2013.
"It's kind of cumulative because some of the projects, if you continue to do the hours, can still count toward gold," Melinda said.
Melinda focused on a wide variety of activities throughout her three years of work. She served the community with over 500 hours of public service, including tutoring children in a Milwaukee elementary and middle school, as well as spending over 150 hours volunteering at Children's Hospital of Wisconsin. Melinda also developed her interest in photography and eventually earned multiple awards in a statewide competition. For fitness, she focused on swimming among other activities, and, as her final test, Melinda had her first experiences abroad.
"The most different (challenge) for me was the exploration, because it was my first time traveling abroad," she said of her five-day exploration of Canadian society. "That was huge for me, both as a person and for the project."
Melinda has attended a variety of schools both in and outside of Brookfield, but she is a lifelong resident. She graduated from Waukesha County Technical College earlier this year. Due to her associate degree in global business from there, she will begin as a senior this fall at Concordia University in Mequon. She hopes to one day work in either public health management or disaster relief management.
Melinda was one of only two Wisconsinites to earn a Congressional Gold Medal this year; 283 gold medals were awarded in total. She and her mother are imploring others to look into the program and potentially experience the same growth.
"This is not a competition," Cheri said. "It's up to each student to set their own individual goals and apply themselves. We hope that others may (hear about the program) and take the challenge. I'm so proud of her."
In addition to her parents' support, Melinda was also aided by an adviser, Katie Stowe, a former teacher of hers.
"I thought that Melinda was a very fine student, and I was glad to work with her on the Congressional Award as her adviser," Stowe said.
The Congressional Award program is a nonpartisan, voluntary opportunity open to all 14- to23-year-olds. The program offers six levels of awards to fit various lengths of time commitment. For Melinda, it was a truly special opportunity.
"It's fantastic. I think it's great that everyone can kind of set their own goals. There's a little bit of structure, but you can really use your own interests," Melinda said. "I have realized the rewards of industriousness while being inspired to create positive change within myself, my community and the world."
For more information or to get involved with the Congressional Award program, go to www.congressionalaward.org.
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