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A medal unlike all others

Mike Eklund earns a national honor
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Mike Eklund is given his Congressional Award Bronze Medal from Congresswoman Darlene Hooley last week in her office in West Linn. Mike is the 51st young person to earn the Bronze Congressional Award in Oregon.

Mike Eklund has won the bronze Congressional Award medal. No, he's not in the military. He's a sophomore at Lake Oswego High School, and he's on his way to winning the highest honor bestowed on a youth by the U.S. Congress.

Few people know about the youth award program, which was started in 1979. Most are more familiar with the Congressional Medal of Honor, given to military servicemen, or the Congressional Medal, given to civilians.

In fact, Eklund stumbled onto the program in a rather interesting way himself. He was in Washington, D.C. with his mother, Teresa Delaney, who was dealing with a broken ankle at the time. Feeling sorry for her, a woman offered to get her coffee. The woman had a unique pin on her jacket - the Congressional Award pin. Delaney asked about it out of curiosity and immediately thought that Eklund should give the program a try.

He started right away, working his way through a bronze, silver and gold certificate by setting goals in four areas: Volunteer public service, personal development, physical fitness and expedition/exploration. Last Thursday, Eklund got his first medal in the program and was presented with his award by Congresswoman Darlene Hooley, who represents Oregon's 5th District.

The program is open to all 14 to 23 year olds and is based on one's own interests and goals.

'It's very good for college,' said Eklund. 'It's definitely going to set me apart from other people.'

For Eklund, earning the awards has mostly meant getting more serious about interests he already had and setting some goals. So far, his personal experiences have ranged from volunteering at home to encountering other cultures abroad.

Eklund has visited The Netherlands, Namibia, Japan and China to meet his award program goals.

'I'm getting new insight on different cultures,' he said.

On his first expedition, Eklund visited the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam.

In 2006, Eklund worked with the Cheetah Conservation Fund in Namibia, an organization for which his mother is a trustee. He tagged baby goats, fed non-releasable cheetahs, surveyed a new cheetah enclosure and set posts for a new rhino enclosure. He also visited Twyfelfontain to see ancient bush paintings

Eklund explored Japan as a People to People Student Ambassador last summer. While in Japan, he heard the story of a survivor of the Nagasaki bombing of World War II at the Nagasaki Peace Museum, and stayed with a family on a very remote island of Ojika off the southern coast of Japan.

Following the trip, he met up with his parents in Beijing and visited the Great Wall and the Forbidden City, fulfilling more hours of exploration.

Stateside he helped with the Run for the Cheetah, a benefit for the Cheetah Conservation Fund. He has also worked at the Oregon Food Bank, participated in the Livestrong Challenge to raise money for cancer research and helped with a clothing drive for Africa House, a Portland nonprofit where refugees from Africa can receive free clothing, food and other services.

'I've learned new ways to help out in my community and new ways to better myself while doing that,' said Eklund.

To fulfill personal development requirements, Eklund has taken extra reading courses, learned to referee Lake Oswego Youth Lacrosse games, run for class office and worked with a math coach. In addition, he participated in and won the school geography bee in sixth grade and again in eighth grade.

His physical fitness requirement is coming fairly easily since he is on the lacrosse team and has also played football and run cross-country.

Eklund will continue to work toward the silver and gold medals and has a busy summer full of activities that he hopes will put him on track to earn the silver by fall.

To start off, Eklund leaves for Costa Rica on June 19 to survey monkeys for Earth Watch. He's a little nervous about that.

'It's going to be interesting,' he said. 'I think that's the right adjective.'

Following that trip, he'll be heading out with People to People again, this time as a junior leader for a trip to Fiji, New Zealand and Australia. After that he'll meet with his parents again and head to the Great Barrier Reef.

If he earns the silver medal, he will be the 20th young person from the state of Oregon to complete the requirements. Hopefully, the summer activities will also put him on track to earn the gold by next summer, when there is a ceremony in Washington, D.C.

To earn the Congressional Award Gold Medal, Eklund must have completed 400 hours of voluntary public service, 200 hours of personal development, 200 hours of physical fitness and four overnight expeditions in 24 months.

He would be the eighth person in Oregon to earn the gold.

'Participating in the Congressional Award Program has given Mike a positive structure that encourages him to set and achieve goals and try new things,' said his mother Delaney.

It only costs $10 to register for the program. For more information about the Congressional Award program, go to the Web site, www.con

gressionalward.org .