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Brother and Sister Receive Congressional Awards
by Christina Ishizu
Homeschool graduates Jaymes and Jansina Grossman received the Congressional Gold Award on June 21, 2006, for educating others about Lou Gehrig’s disease (also called amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS). Their uncle, who has suffered from ALS for eight years, inspired the siblings' work in this field.
Jaymes and Jansina Grossman at the Congressional Award ceremony in Washington, D.C. Congressman Mark Kennedy (MN) presented their gold medals.
As part of the 400-hour volunteering requirement for the Congressional Award program, the brother and sister team informed others about ALS in a variety of ways. Jaymes, now 19, gave speeches at various clubs on the University of Minnesota campus, sent letters and emails, managed a website, and organized teams for fundraising walks. One of the highlights of his experience was an all-night cancer walk.
“It was held on a school running track,” Jaymes said. “People lit candles that were set inside of small paper bags, each with the name of a cancer survivor. These bags lined the inside of the entire track, plus they took bags and spelled out in large letters HOPE on the bleachers.”
“I donated over 300 hours to promoting awareness of ALS,” says 16-year-old Jansina, who made posters, sold bracelets, organized teams for walks, gave speeches, and wrote articles for various newspapers. “Seeing the sparkle in the children’s eyes as I read to them, seeing the lightbulb go off in someone’s head when they understood something I was tutoring them with, knowing I have been part of a larger effort to make people’s lives better, makes me a better person as well.” In addition to volunteering for ALS awareness, Jansina worked with local youth programs and fundraisers for the homeless.
The Congressional Award program, open to American youth 14-23 years old, requires participants to set goals in the four “program areas” of community service, personal development, physical fitness, and expedition/exploration. Fulfilling the requirements for each program area expanded the siblings’ horizons through pursuits as different as tutoring and traveling in Europe. Jaymes tutored in math and science at the local community college, oversaw web development for the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society, and took a weight training class. Jansina wrote a monthly column for a local newspaper, studied piano, and joined an Irish dance group.
During a family vacation to Europe, Jaymes planned a one-week excursion into Rome, focusing on ancient cultural and historical sites. Jansina’s tour led the family into the Loire Valley region of France, where the family visited World War II sites.
Homeschooling allowed both siblings the time and flexibility to volunteer. “Volunteering became a normal thing to do,” says Jansina.
The siblings’ mother, Karen Grossman, adds that volunteering has always been a family affair.
“[Jaymes and Jansina] would participate when someone was sick and we would bring them a meal. We had time to visit people in the VA hospital and nursing homes on a regular basis, so people with handicaps, or the elderly, were not strangers to them.” Because homeschooling allowed for a self-paced study program, Jaymes and Jansina were able to complete their high school education early, beginning college at ages 12 and 13.
Jansina, a junior at Bethel University in St. Paul, Minnesota, is pursuing a degree in writing and literature and plans to graduate in the fall of 2007. Jaymes, a senior at the University of Minnesota, is working on bachelor of science degrees in electrical engineering and computer engineering. He plans to graduate in the spring of 2007.
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