A Conversation with Mitch Draizin, Congressional Award Foundation
By Dr. Pola Rosen & Lydia Liebman
Established in 1979, the Congressional Award Foundation strives to recognize initiative, achievement and service in young people. Education Update spoke with board member Mitch Draizin about his involvement with the foundation and shared his favorite stories of success.
Education Update (EU): Can you explain your involvement in the Congressional Award Foundation?
Mitch Draizin (MD): My involvement began in the last quarter of 2013. The focus of my tenure has been two-fold: one is to make more members of Congress aware of the program and to enlist their assistance in promoting it within their respective constituencies. It’s a wonderful program that helps encourage young people to become our future leaders. I have also been focused on expanding the program in New York City and New York State. We currently have over 30,000 students in the process of earning awards and only 210 are from New York City. I’ve been working on various levels to promote the program within the school system as well as in youth organizations such as the Scouts, the Botanical Garden club, and many more.
EU: How does one register to become part of the program?
MD: Anyone who wants to register can register. As opposed to a contest, nobody loses because they aren’t competing with anyone. When they sign up they choose a mentor and develop a program which includes the areas of the award program. We have validators, coaches and members of the community who can actually verify what the participants have done.
EU: Can you expand on how exactly you plan to reach out to more New York youth?
MD: In New York I’m working with a number of councilmembers to choose certain schools where they think there would be an interest and, at the same time, certain councilmembers are introducing us to youth groups. The young people are interested because they’re already doing things in their youth groups that would count towards earning the Congressional Award. I’ve been working with several of the vice chancellors at CUNY to introduce the program in high schools and I’ve been working with Hunter President Jennifer Raab to introduce it into some of her high school programs.
EU: What are some examples of what young people have done?
MD: There are four program areas: voluntary public service, personal development, physical fitness, and expedition/exploration. This past summer, over 80 medals were presented to youths from New Jersey. At the ceremony, a student shared his exploration experience of living as a homeless person for a period of time and he actually slept in a box on the street. The point is to understand other cultures and other people’s points of view.
EU: Can you share a particularly fond memory you have from being on the board of the foundation?
MD: When I was in Washington during my first summer of being on the board I attended the annual Gold Medal Ceremony in the Cannon Caucus Room. I remember sitting with the members of Congress who actually presented the awards and I remember feeling like it was graduation day. It was so emotionally impressive. The diversity and how proud the families were really struck me. You have significant diversity: kids from all different backgrounds, many of whom are first generation. Many of them go on to Ivy League schools and are certainly future leaders of this country. I’ve met parents who don’t speak English but their child is on his or her way to Harvard.#