LaGrange woman earns Congressional Gold Medal

Matthew Strother

September 4, 2014

A Lafayette Christian School teacher traveled to Washington, D.C., this summer to receive an honor that she had worked for four years to achieve – a Congressional Award Gold Medal.

Cheyenne Smith, 22, of LaGrange, now lead teacher for 3 year olds at LCS, received the gold medal on June 19 from Congressional Award Chairman Paxton K. Baker and Nick Cannon. Receiving the award culminated hundreds of hours of community service, physical and personal development, and a days-long expedition.

“I had a lot of setbacks, but I kept pushing forward,” Smith said. Achieving the award showed “that if I give it my all, and keep trying, then I can achieve a lot more than I think can.”

The Congressional Award is a public-private partnership established by Congress in 1979 as a non-competitive program open to people ages 14-23. The Congressional Award Foundation’s goal is to teach participants to set and achieve personally challenging goals that build character; and foster community service, personal development and citizenship.

Smith had received a Congressional Award bronze medal in 2011 in a ceremony where U.S. Rep. Lynn Westmoreland presented it to her in downtown LaGrange. She then had her sights set on the gold medal.

To achieve a gold medal, participants must log 400 hours of volunteer work, 200 hours of personal development and 200 hours of physical development, along with a five-day, four-night expedition. Smith volunteered locally with the Boys and Girls Club of America, American Red Cross and Leisure Living of LaGrange assisted living for the elderly.

“I learned about a variety of people in LaGrange, elderly and young people,” Smith said. ” … I got to know a group in LaGrange that I otherwise wouldn’t have gotten to know.”

She picked up piano for personal development, and chose soccer for physical development, not knowing anything about playing the sport when she began. She went from a beginner to coaching soccer in Columbus.

Despite having to change advisers throughout the process and continually having to update, check and double check the filing of the paperwork that logged her hundreds of hours of work, she stuck with it. At the ceremony in June, a total 208 people nationwide received awards and only three were from Georgia.

The ceremony also allowed Smith a chance to meet with heads of one of the organization she helped.

The ceremony “was definitely a lot more than I thought it would be,” Smith said. “I thought I would just go and get the medal, but they made me feel very special and were so appreciative. We had dinner before and they had board members there from Red Cross – or whichever organizations (each recipient) helped – who took time out of their schedules to thank us for what we did. It really meant something.”

Her time spent working with children also influenced her decision to study early childhood education at West Georgia Technical College. Now working full-time with toddlers at LCS, she is seeing four years’ of work put into the medal pay off in her career.

“It was definitely worth it,” she said.