Utah teen receives Congressional Award Gold Medal for outstanding community service

Nov 24, 2023, 7:05 PM | Updated: Nov 25, 2023, 4:35 pm

SALT LAKE CITY — A Utah Teen has received a prestigious award from Congress. The honor took four years to achieve, involving hundreds of hours of volunteer and personal work, and it has made a difference for the high school seniors and the Salt Lake community.

Preparing a post-Thanksgiving Day meal Friday, Katie Kim sliced sausages and cut rolls in half as part of a lunch for homeless youth at the Volunteers of American (VOA) Youth Resource Center.

The 17-year-old West High School student spent her holiday break from school volunteering and helping others.

“I love coming into the kitchen and cooking because it’s really hands-on,” Katie said. “You get to meet people in person, serve them, really connect.”

Volunteering at the VOA and making meals for other teens her age who are displaced, is just one way Katie connects with people.

She has quite a list of other organizations and projects she’s involved in.

“One of the favorite ones I’ve done, was with Peace Through Music, which taught free music lessons to underserved youth around elementary school in Utah,” she said. Additionally, she has worked with children through the YouthCity Summer Program.

Katie is also on the Attorney General Youth Council, which she explained is a board of around 40 students from schools around Utah that gather to discuss issues impacting teens in the state.

“Last year, we did a little bit of drafting for potential laws to put into place,” she said. “For example, there were some about mental health in schools and water conservation.”

Plus, Katie is a member of the National Honor Society (NHS), National Charity League, and HOSA Future Health Professionals. She does work with each one of those organizations, like volunteering with other NHS students and Katie won first place in HOSA competitions for CPR/First Aid and Cultural Discrepancies and Disparities.

Katie also competes in the pool and is currently the Captain of the West High Swim Team. She was recently named the Heisman High School Scholar-Athlete Scholarship winner for Utah.

Not to mention, Katie is a talented pianist who teaches lessons, and she loves art. Her artwork was featured on a Utah Transit Authority bus as part of a competition for students to draw a picture about their community and showing why Utah is beautiful.

“It was about really embracing diversity,” Katie said, of her drawing submission featuring people from different backgrounds. “Going to West High, I really got exposed to so many different cultures that I wasn’t really aware were concentrated in Utah like that, so it was really exciting to be part of that.”

Over the past four years, Katie has volunteered more than 400 hours. This has included organizing clothing and hygiene kit drives for the VOA Youth Resource Center, plus her regular kitchen visits to serve meals. She accepted an invitation to help launch the VOA’s new Volunteer Ambassador Program, as the organization’s first official VOA Ambassador.

It’s no wonder that Congress awarded Katie The Congressional Award Gold Medal, their highest honor for civilian youth. According to the award program, participants must complete at least 400 hours of voluntary public service, 200 hours of personal development, 200 hours of physical fitness, and they must spend at least five days and four nights exploring a new environment or culture.

Katie planned a trip to Boston for that last requirement, learning all about our country’s history.

In June, Katie will fly to Washington DC to receive the medal at an award ceremony.

“The Congressional Gold Medal Award was really such an honor to get it because it really involved every part of my life– my working, my physical fitness, personal development, leadership, service,” Katie said.

Katie’s mom Jane Kim, who often volunteers with her daughter, said Katie began volunteering when she was 12, and it has become part of her life.

Jane chuckled thinking about the early Sunday mornings where volunteering at the VOA begins at 7:30 a.m. — Katie’s only morning of the week she could have slept in — but that her daughter does it anyway, and always finds it worthwhile.

“It’s great. It’s good for the community, it’s good for her, and I’m really happy. I’m proud of her,” Jane said.

Katie knows The Congressional Award Gold Medal award isn’t the real reward in all of this, though. She expressed how she enjoys meeting new people, helping others, and making a difference in those she serves.

She encourages others to get involved in their community as much as they can.

“I think it really helps to kind of go out of your comfort zone to connect with other people,” she said. “I think it’s taught me a lot about breaking out of my shell, and just connecting with the community.”

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Utah teen receives Congressional Award Gold Medal for outstanding community service