SpotlightYouth Spotlight

We met Kaitlyn Chana because we all did the same program, The Congressional Award, and we reached out to talk to her more about what she did to earn her Gold Medal from Congress. Little did we know at the time how ambitious and accomplished Kaitlyn is. She currently works as a Multimedia Journalist at the NBC affiliate WLBZ in Bangor, Maine. Kaitlyn covers a range of stories, develops sources, delivers news to an online audience, and provides dynamic live coverage, among many other duties.

Kaitlyn has also run her own non-profit organization, so she knows very well how important time management and being organized is for success. Kaitlyn is generous with her time and advice, and it is clear how passionate she is about helping others. Read on to learn more about what it means to be a multimedia journalist, what it was like running a non-profit, and what advice she would give to her younger self.

*Fun fact about Kaitlyn – she is profiled in our book, Youth’s Highest Honor!

Name: Kaitlyn Chana
Education:
B.A. Radio-Television from the University of Central Florida
Follow:
@KaitlynChana / KaitlynChana.com

Kaitlyn Chana: For me, it means taking advantage of the opportunities around you. Be a go-getter; go after your dreams by putting yourself out there so you can learn and prosper. As a teen, stretch your resources, push your personal boundaries, and challenge yourself daily. No one can teach you about yourself, except you.

CJ: You studied Broadcast Journalism and Radio/Television at University of Central Florida. How did you determine what to study?

KC: Since 6th grade, I’ve wanted to be a storyteller. As a reporter, you need to build rapport and trust while informing the public and providing objective standpoints surrounding the community. I’ve always wanted to tell stories for a living. Journalism fuels my curiosity of wanting to know more, so in college I couldn’t get enough of it. I’ve always known that journalism is my calling. Everyone in life has a personal story of excitement, love, desperation, hurt or a driven message. I want to be the journalist who strives for purpose, bringing truth, and helping others to open their hearts.

CJ: You have held many internships in journalism at places such as TODAY Show in New York City and WKMG in Orlando, Florida. What were these experiences like?

KC: Internships are key. I gained so much insight by observing and making mistakes. Yes, mistakes will happen, and that’s normal. But it’s important you learn from these mistakes so it doesn’t become a repeat offence. Interning at the TODAY Show was remarkable. I was involved in the news gathering process, setting up interviews, researching and working with the talent. Local markets, like WKMG in Orlando, taught me how to write short and concise stories. TV is all about sound, video, and images. Creativity is important in the news industry.

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CJ: You earned the Congressional Award Gold Medal in 2010. How did you get involved with the Congressional Award and what was your biggest takeaway from the experience?

KC: I found this program intriguing because it allowed me to set and achieve goals that build character, foster community service, personal development and citizenship. This three-year commitment propelled me to become a motivated goal setter while being an interactive team player. I learned how to sculpt my schedule so I could juggle all my responsibilities. My greatest takeaway is balancing my activities and managing my time.

CJ: You are the Founder and President of Love Letters: Random Cards of Kindness. What inspired you to start this international non-profit organization, and what does your role entail?

KC: My inspiration came from an extraordinary woman named Linda Bremner, who founded Love Letters Inc., when her son, Andy, battled cancer. Having participated in a Girl Scout activity for Love Letters, Inc. years earlier, I revisited it when I needed to complete a community service project in eighth grade. After contacting Linda through email and phone conversations we formed a very meaningful friendship. At the close of one of our phone conversations she told me, “It only takes one person to move a mountain and then others will follow.” While I didn’t know exactly what she meant at the time, I wrote her beautiful quote in my book to always remember. Shortly after that, I received word that Linda had passed away and at her request the national organization, Love Letters Inc., was closed. My hands gravitated to Linda’s quote and I instantly realized that it was my turn to be the one to move the mountain to help children with medical challenges. It then became my passion to carry on Linda’s legacy by encouraging others to create inspiring homemade cards for children with life-threatening illnesses.

So, in high school I became the Founder and President of Love Letters: Random Cards of Kindness, Inc. which was a 501 (c) (3) non-profit national organization whose mission was to create positive and inspirational homemade cards for children with life-threatening illnesses. Each card was unique because it was created by hand using stamps, stickers, scrapbook paper, and art supplies. Inside each one an uplifting message such as “Sending You a Great Big Hug” or “You Shine like a Star” was written to give children faith, courage and the will to survive.

Once the cards were created, I’d examine each card and hand deliver some to individual children going through the difficult times of treatments and surgeries and others to hospitals and organizations such as Give Kids the World, the Ronald McDonald House, and Keiki Cards so they could distribute the sincere messages. The remaining cards were sent with love through the mail to help lift children’s spirits. Doctors can’t prescribe love; it’s typically left to a volunteer to fill this prescription by restoring the patient’s dreams. Through Love Letters cards we were able to touch the lives of 120,000 children with life-threatening illnesses. I had to close the organization because I couldn’t continue the success of our mission and my full-time reporting job. My passion is in telling stories and I want to inspire people with my pieces, so all my energy is devoted to reporting.

CJ: How did you go about starting a non-profit organization, and what do you wish you had known before launching?

KC: Starting a non-profit is truly like running a small enterprise business. It’s a lot of work, yet with the right tender, love and care the imaginable is possible. I took a non-profit course during my high school years so I could have a strong understanding of the legal documents associated with my organization. My responsibility not only centered around the actual volunteering, but also the finances, management, recruiting of volunteers, working on grants, marketing my mission, and being an active presence with the organization’s brand. It was a 24/7 job.

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CJ: In addition to running Love Letters, you are a multimedia journalist. What does it mean to be a multimedia journalist?

KC: A multimedia journalist or ‘one-man-band’ means you do the job of four people as one person. I have to enterprise my own story ideas, interview my subjects, write, edit, anchor that portion, write a web story, and have a strong social media presence. That’s all in a day’s work. It’s not an easy job by any stretch of the imagination because there are many deadlines. Deadlines can be your best friend or worst enemy. You always want to stay ahead of the clock. You need to be tech savvy; sometimes I edit my stories in remote places and feed the content back to the station. Also, I set up my own live shots and lights for when I’m going live in the field.

CJ: What advice do you have for youth who are interested in being journalists, or who are interested in starting their own non-profit organization?

KC: Never give up! Always follow your dreams and passion. Don’t let negative comments steer you into a direction you disagree with. There will be days when you feel like you’ve been run over by a semi-truck. That’s when you are going to be tested the most. So, pick yourself up, get back on track and keep going.

CJ: Every day in your life must be different depending on school and the time of year, but what does a Monday look like for you?

KC: Currently, I work as a reporter for an NBC affiliate in Bangor, Maine. There is no general day! Every day is different depending on the story. Sometimes it’s an early morning live shoot covering breaking news or staying late to interview someone. The only thing that is constant is that we are live in our news shows from 5PM to 6:30PM. And I need to be ‘camera ready’ and look well-rested… news never stops and neither does my job. Every Monday is different. Once I go to bed, I get up the next day and get ready for another unpredictable day.

CJ: How do you stay organized and manage your time?

KC: Organization is key. If I wasn’t organized then I wouldn’t be effective or efficient, and I’d be left behind in my job. I’m very meticulous, to the point that everything in my office is color-coded and in similar binders and folders. My life revolves around calendars and sticky notes.

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CJ: What is an area, either personal or professional, that you are working to improve in and how?

KC: At heart, I’m a perfectionist. I want everything to be perfect. But, how do we define perfection? I remind myself daily that being perfect all the time dampers the beauty of life. In reality, I want to be imperfectly perfect.

CJ: What is a book you read in school that has positively shaped you?

KC: In third grade, I read The Bravest Dog Ever: The True Story of Balto, and it was almost as if the words on the page were speaking to me. The frigid temperatures, walloping snow, and miserable wind kept hounding lead dog, Balto, as he carried medicine to sick children miles away in Nome, Alaska. These incredible athletes were inspiring and moved me to want to be a musher in the Iditarod. For years, I studied the race, the remarkable dogs, and their mushers. As a reporter, I covered the Can-Am Crown 250 this year, which is a qualifier race for the Iditarod. I was beside myself as I got to see the sport in its entirety right before my eyes. A surreal experience; it started because of this book.

CJ: Having a loaded schedule can sometimes be overwhelming. What do you do when you’re having a bad day and need to unwind or reset?

KC: Each day I allot time for me; to work out, read a compelling story, spend time with family/friends, or do something life-affirming. Structure is fantastic, but you have to have a little ‘wiggle room’ to breath and let lose. On those sour days, it’s important for me to break down my walls and do something physical. I reflect on my actions best when working out on the Stairmaster.

CJ: What advice would you give your 15-year-old self?

KC: Don’t rush yourself into growing up. Appreciate the ‘present’ and be in the ‘present.’ Learn to enjoy developing into the woman you’d like to see. It won’t happen overnight, so as you take detours and back roads reflect and appreciate all the avenues you’ve been given.

Kaitlyn Chana Qs

Images by Kaitlyn Chana

SpotlightYouth Spotlight

When we met Andrew O’Neill at the Congressional Award Gold Ceremony in 2014, we were impressed by what he had accomplished to earn his Gold Medal and were interested in learning more about him. Inspired by combining technology and outdoor leadership, Andrew attended Green Mountain College and majored in Adventure Education and Youth Development and Camp Management.

Andrew has put to good use the skills he’s learned in various endeavors, whether he’s building websites and creating a food program, working as a camp manager, editing videos, or learning a new language. Andrew’s curiosity is limitless, and he explores his interests and follows his heart. Read on to learn more about the different projects Andrew is involved in, his top three tips for learning a new language, and the advice he’d give his younger self.

Name: Andrew O’Neill
Education:
Double Major in Adventure Education and Youth Development and Camp Management (YDCM) at Green Mountain College
Follow:
WebsiteTwitterPinterest

Carpe Juvenis: How do you define “Seizing Your Youth”?

Andrew O’Neill: Young adults have a tendency to be afraid to dream big. Seizing your youth means taking chances toward your current dreams at any age.

CJ: You double majored in Adventure Education and Youth Development and Camp Management (YDCM) at Green Mountain College. How did you decide what to study?

AO: I took a two week-long canoe trip in the Canadian wilderness, and I thought it would be cool to follow a career path similar to the guides on that trip. At the time, I knew I was highly interested in the realm of technology and computers as a potential career, but I did not like the thought of being stuck inside all the time at a computer. I was inspired by the life that the guides on the canoe trip enjoyed that I looked into schools that specialized in outdoor leadership.

CJ: What cause or issue do you care greatly about and why?

AO: I have strong feelings towards the practice of factory farming. As a lifelong vegetarian, I have continued to learn and become more passionate about the abuse of farm animals at these farms and the negative health and environmental issues that this practice is causing on the planet. The way we are treating the animals that we are eating, which we should not be at all in my opinion, has a direct influence on how we are treating each other as humans. I believe that the brutality of factory farm operations correlates to why there are so many horrible acts of war currently happening in our society. I am extremely passionate about this subject and have created a website, ameatfreemonth.org, which aims to provide anyone with a free healthy 30 day vegan eating program to help steer them away from the addictions of eating animal products.

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CJ: You earned the Congressional Award Gold Medal in 2014. How did you get involved with the Congressional Award and what was your biggest takeaway from the experience?

AO: My mother, who has been a long-time Girl Scout troop leader and an all around incredible person, found out about this program through a student she worked with at Hawthorne Valley Waldorf School. Within less than a year, I had signed up and was already working toward the Bronze Certificate. Earning this medal has made me realize that I will always be interested in learning new skills and to never stop challenging myself. Participating in all four program areas has helped me to become a well-rounded person excited to guide future youth through the program.

CJ: That’s awesome! We completely agree and support the learning of new skills. You have been a camp counselor and camp manager at Hawthorne Valley Farm Camp – what did you learn from those experiences?

AO: As a camp counselor, I learned about the psychological and social challenges that can arise while working with youth. Often, I was around campers all day and even when exhausted, had to be careful with my words and actions so that I could set a good example for the campers to look up to. The following year, as a camp manager, I was pushed into new challenging roles that helped me to understand the different aspects of running a camp. The camp director was new the year I managed, so I was placed in a more challenging role being a support to the director. In this higher role, I wrote and submitted our entire camp safety manual, created a new scheduling system for the camp that I used to create the actual camp schedules each week. Additionally, I started and maintained a camp newsletter, served as a primary contact for parents during camp, and compiled a camp recipe book that has been in high demand for many years. Essentially, I now feel I have gained the skills necessary to open a camp of my own.

CJ: You are passionate about video editing and have produced promotional videos for a 3D printing shop in Vermont. What sparked this passion and how did you learn video editing skills?

AO: My passion for video editing goes back to when I was a kid. It all started when I was able to buy my first video camera and connect it to my father’s laptop. Around my senior year in high school, my parents gave me a Cannon HD camcorder, and my uncle bought me a laptop for college. This enabled me to begin working on small projects that explored new ways to edit videos. Ever since this experience, I have taken on more challenging projects that have pushed me to expand my editing skills. All of my video editing skills have been self-taught and all from the small and large projects I have completed over the years.

CJ: You taught yourself how to speak Spanish. What are your top three tips for learning a new language? Is there another language you plan on learning?

AO:

  1. Immerse yourself in a country where they only speak the language you are trying to learn.
  2. Read news articles or listen to songs of interest in the language.
  3. Most importantly, be consistent!

I do plan on learning Japanese and already have a computer program called Human Japanese that I plan on using.

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CJ: What is an area, either personal or professional, that you are working to improve in and how?

AO: I am working on improving my health by transitioning to a totally raw mostly fruit diet and practicing regular yoga. Additionally, I am reading books about the fruitarian diet, and journaling everyday to help myself reflect on my day-to-day life.

CJ: Having a loaded schedule can sometimes be overwhelming. What do you do when you’re having a bad day and need to unwind or reset?

AO: My trick is simple, I rely heavily on my ability to be optimistic and always be able to find the positive in any situation. Almost always I am able to pause and just do a simple reflection and feel better. Additionally, I will find myself eating something special that I don’t always eat, but that is still in line with my diet.

CJ: What advice would you give your 15-year-old self?

AO: There is no time like now to do whatever your heart desires. Answers and opportunities can often be found simply by networking. Every person is a human so don’t be afraid to interact, reach out, and make new connections.

Andrew Oneill Qs

Image: Andrew O’Neill

Professional SpotlightSpotlight

In today’s competitive academic climate, attending classes isn’t always enough to give you the boost you need to land that dream job. Interning is an extremely popular way to beef up your résumé and gain valuable skills in the process. One person in particular has made the most of her college experience by constantly staying engaged in work and internships.

Esther Katro is the Queen of Interning. Seriously. With over 10 internships under her belt, Esther knows a thing or two (or three!) about working hard and building her portfolio. Having recently graduated from college, she now works as a TV News Reporter for 5NEWS in Arkansas. During college Esther would commute several hours each day for internships in New York City from Philadelphia, all while maintaining a big smile. Esther’s upbeat and go-getter attitude is contagious, and she undoubtedly seizes her youth and makes the most of each day.

Name: Esther Katro
Education:
Broadcast Journalism from Temple University
Follow:
Website/@5NEWSEsther

Carpe Juvenis: How do you define “Seizing Your Youth”?

Esther Katro: Waking up early! College gives you the convenience to schedule your classes late in the afternoon, but take advantage of the all the hours in the day! I’ve completed six internships that were not in Philadelphia, where I went to college. I had five in New York City, and one in Washington D.C. In order to complete these internships, I had to wake up at 5AM to catch the Megabus to get to work in the morning. I didn’t think I could do wake up that early and still be productive the entire day, but I learned that I have so much energy as a young twentysomething, and it’s important to take advantage of all the energy you have at this age!

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CJ: You majored in Broadcast Journalism at Temple University. How did you decide what to study?

EK: I grew up with parents who were Christian missionaries, so as a baby I grew up sleeping on airplane floors and was constantly being exposed to different people and cultures around me. I always knew I wanted a job where I interacted with different people everyday to tell their stories. My family watched the evening news each night, and when I saw the reporters sitting down and interviewing people, or chasing people down the street, I thought that’s what I want to do! I want to be a television reporter.

I chose to go to Temple University because I grew up in the Philadelphia suburbs, and wanted to stay in the 4th media market and be able to give back to my community by covering stories in the area. I wanted to concentrate my studies in international relations after traveling to China and filming a documentary called “Esther Goes to China.” I believe that the more places people go and expose themselves to, the better they can understand how the world works to then make a difference in it and help solve problems. I hope I can do a lot of international work as a working journalist.

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CJ: What cause or issue do you care greatly about and why?

EK: I’m a water advocate, along with Matt Damon! In high school I got involved with the group H2O for Life, which educates Americans on conserving water and then helps build wells and provide water to people in developing countries, where water is limited. Within this topic, I’m most passionate about women in these developing countries whose job it is to fetch water daily. This activity takes up to six hours of their day, and so they can’t get an education because they’re spending so much of their day traveling to get water from the well and bring it back to their families.

I’m very passionate about women getting an education, and hope that my platform as a journalist can also serve as a women’s rights advocate. I believe that every woman should have the right to a good education all over the world.

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CJ: You earned the Congressional Award Gold Medal in 2013. How did you get involved with the Congressional Award and what was your biggest takeaway from the experience?

EK: When I joined H20 for Life, as mentioned above, the woman running the program also ran the Congressional Award program at my high school. I was already doing a ton of community service, and through this organization I was going to be doing a ton more!

The Congressional Award seemed like the perfect place for me to log my hours, and also meet like minded people who share my desire for community service and outreach. I’ve made friends at the community service events that I’ve attended or led that have become some of my best friends.

Through H2O for Life, I traveled to Nashville, Tennessee, to speak and film about water issues in the country and overseas. Working with people who were just as passionate about the World Water Crisis as I am, but also inspiring people to get involved with the water crisis, was one of the best experiences I have ever had.

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CJ: You have had many internships over the years. Which ones stand out the most to you and what did you learn from those experiences?

EK: I knew I wanted to be a broadcast journalist after I watched the kids news show Nick News with Linda Ellerbee do a special on how girls who were my age didn’t have the opportunity to go to school where they lived in Afghanistan. At 11 years-old I wanted to make a difference.

As a sophomore in college I had the amazing opportunity to intern for Nick News with Linda Ellerbee, the show that inspired me to become a journalist, which is incredible! As an intern for her show, I was able to be on set when we interviewed Seth Myers, right in Linda’s home! I also got to act as a production assistant when we did a studio show at HBO Studios with Gloria Steinem called “Are We There Yet?” where we discussed if women have achieved equality to men yet, or if there’s still improvements to be made. This was my first internship in New York City, and it exposed me to so many successful people in the industry. The people who work at Nick News feel like my New York City family, and Linda Ellerbee has taught me some of the best interview techniques that I’ll carry with me for my entire life.

CJ: What advice would you give to a young person who is interested in pursuing a career in multimedia journalism?

EK: Intern everywhere. Seriously. I’ve had 15 media internships in both print, online, and broadcast journalism that all have been very different and have made me a well rounded journalist. I’ve taken sports internships, morning news internships (where I’ve had to be at the studio at 4 a.m.!!), and even wedding and food writing internships.

The more you expose yourself to as a journalist the better, and I think the most structured way to get that exposure is to intern. I think that traveling and opening up your eyes to as many people and cultures helps, but I strongly believe that interning in this industry is the best thing you can do for yourself. It’s important to know how to write clean copy quick and accurately, and to meet your deadlines, but it’s also important to know how to use a camera, to edit footage, and to talk in front of a camera. A multimedia journalist needs to be able to effectively accomplish every job description in a newsroom, and the only way to get good at that is to intern.

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CJ: You’ve done a lot of commuting from school to your internships. What are your commuting tips and how do you stay productive during that time?

EK: I call the Megabus my mobile home, because I probably spend more time riding a bus than I do at my actual home in Philadelphia. I’ve had five internships in New York City and one in Washington D.C., and I took the Megabus to commute to all six of those places. It’s fun! You get to meet so many interesting people on the bus, and learn what they’re doing at these cities. But sometimes the person sitting next to you doesn’t want to talk, so in that case I try to get my homework done since the bus has Wi-Fi and power outlets.

I love to catch up on my reading with my Kindle which is great because the Kindle lights up so I don’t have to turn on the headlight above me and disturb the person sleeping next to me. I love to write on my iPad too. I love to write about my day. Barbara Walters once said that her greatest regret is not keeping a diary. When I read that quote, I thought, I’ve got to keep a diary of what I do everyday because as a journalist, commuting, everyday is so different and exciting!

My number one advice for commuting is to never ever sleep! Just look out the window and you’ll see the city lights lit up if you’re traveling at night, or you’ll see people just starting their day if it’s the morning. Or just people watch inside your bus or train. It’s really awesome to see how the world works and the many different people inside of it.

CJ: What is your favorite book?

EK: The Devil Wears Prada by Lauren Weisberger (because there are some days when I felt I lived her life).

CJ: What is a book you read in school that positively shaped you?

EK: Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger.

CJ: Every day in your life must be different depending on school, internships, and the time of year, but what does a Monday look like for you?

EK: No two days are the same. Ever. Which is why I love commuting and why I’m a journalist. I love change. However, on a typical Monday I would get up at 5AM. Well, technically 4:58AM because I set three one minute alarms until 5AM. I pick out my clothes the night before so I get ready in about 10 minutes.

I drive to the train station which is about 10 minutes from my house and take a 40 minute train into Center City Philadelphia. From there, I hop on the Megabus, and take a 2-3 hour bus ride (depending on traffic) to New York City. I have a 30 minute walk to my building. I put in a full day of work at my internship, and then from there I do the same commute in reverse to come back home. So at least six hours of my day are spent commuting!

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CJ: What is an area, either personal or professional, that you are working to improve in and how?

EK: My life is so fast-paced, so I often don’t have time to sit and think about what I should improve on except when I’m sitting in the bus commuting. I often think about my day too much in the bus or talk to the person next to me that I don’t get to write about everything that happened during the day. I regret that. I want to focus on writing more about my days, which requires a lot of discipline. I hope to one day compile my writing into a book of all my internship experiences…I just hope it won’t turn into a promotional ad about the Megabus.

CJ: Having a loaded schedule can sometimes be overwhelming. What do you do when you’re having a bad day and need to unwind or reset?

EK: This is going to sound like I’m not human, but I can’t recall the last time I had a bad day and needed to unwind. Sometimes I’m convinced I’m a robot made in the bottom of a news basement somewhere. I just always have a very positive outlook on life, and it’s really hard for me to get bothered by something because I’m always looking ahead, and I never dwell on anything bad that happened. I’m always looking for the next story or the next internship.

But I will say that finding at least one person at your work or internship that can be a close friend is always very helpful, if you need to get something off your chest or just unwind. I’ve always been able to find other intern to become really great friends with, who I can share any dilemmas I’ve having with. Also, fro-yo always helps. Bad day = a big cup of frozen yogurt. It’s healthy right?!

CJ: What made you decide to go to Arkansas?

EK: I sacrificed a lot, if not all, of my college career for internships. I took internships at all hours of the day. I would drive to unpaid internship at 3am when I would see my college peers just leaving the bars. And while I learned a lot about journalism and the personalities in the business, I only saw the top of the field. I was only interning in top 10 markets. The opportunity in Arkansas, was my first on-air job offer. My gut told me not to take the job. I thought this was just the first of many offers. However, a big benefit to having so many internships is that I had so many different mentors and contacts in the business to go to for advice. And everyone told me to take the job.

One of my former internship bosses told me, “There’s only one New York, Philly and D.C.–the rest of the country is Arkansas.” Although it was scary to move so far away from home on the East Coast, the journalist in me knew I had to see this part of the country. I also didn’t want a break from college to entering the work force. I wanted to sit at graduation, knowing that after the ceremony I would hit the road with my parents, on my way to my first reporting job.

I guess you could say you need a crazy passion to work in television news, and I never wanted a day off.

CJ: What advice would you give your 15-year-old self?

EK: Stop chewing gum! It’s going to get stuck in your braces and totally extend this whole metal inside your mouth process. Also, to stop wearing UGG boots, and to not pop your own zits because more will grow back! And I guess, I would tell myself to write everyday, be confident in myself, and to be nicer to my parents…they will be your best friends in your twenties and hopefully for the rest of your life!

Esther Katro Qs

Images by Esther Katro

Book PostsYouth's Highest Honor

We are thrilled to share with you the final cover of our book, Youth’s Highest Honor: Your Guide to Earning the Congressional Award and Building Life SkillsIt’s pretty crazy to us that our first book will be released into the world in a little over a month (August 17th!). We loved writing this book and putting it all together. This cover has been through numerous variations and concepts, and it’s been a fun process and huge learning curve.

In Youth’s Highest Honor, we offer a roadmap to optimizing the Congressional Award experience by explaining the Award program areas and guidelines in an easy-to-understand format and by providing real-life examples of what to do – and what not to do. This step-by-step guide – filled with useful tips, advice, and resources to consult when needed – demystifies the process of earning the Congressional Award.

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CultureEducation

Last June, Lauren and I went to Washington D.C. to celebrate her achievement in earning the Congressional Award Gold Medal from Congress. I was placed in this year’s ceremony so we had the opportunity to go back and enjoy the wonderful ambience of the country’s capital again.

I have been involved in The Congressional Award program for many years. It is a program that changed my life in so many positive ways and it was an honor to be presented with my Gold Award at the Capitol on June 17th. My sister, Lauren, and I even wrote a book about how influential the program was for us and how you can benefit from it too. There were less than 300 people who earned the Gold Medal this year, so I had the opportunity to meet some of my amazing peers.

I want to share a bit about what went on during the two days of celebration!

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My family and I arrived to D.C. on Tuesday evening a few hours before the Recognition Dinner was held at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center. At this dinner I met other students who had earned the Gold Medal and had a chance to speak with them about what they did to earn it. The Congressional Award is earned by completing a certain amount of hours in physical fitness, personal development, and volunteerism over a certain amount of months, and by completing cultural or wilderness immersion experiences. We talked about what we had done to earn our hours, and what the program meant to us.

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A main highlight of this dinner was having the opportunity to meet U.S. Representative Sheila Jackson, an amazing woman who has achieved so much in her lifetime and is still doing great things. Lauren and I got to chat with her and hear some great advice. At this dinner we also heard incredible speeches given by Steve Pemberton, Honorary John Dingell, Paxton Baker, and our friend Mary Rodgers who was awarded with the Inspiration Award that night.

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The next morning was the day of the ceremony. At 9am my family and I went to the Cannon Caucus Room at Capitol Hill and waited for the ceremony to begin. The ceremony was led by Chip Reid of CBS News and the keynote speech was delivered by Steve Culbertson of Youth Service America. Each awardee was given his or her medal in front of a room filled with family, friend, and inspiring leaders.

It has been difficult to accept that I’ve fully completed the Congressional Award program after having been so influenced by it for so many years. I’ve decided that as I venture further into adulthood I will continue to set goals, measure my achievement, and hold myself accountable to improvement. This program may be complete, but the next chapter is waiting to be written.