Montville Township High School senior Mirella Richard recently received The Gold Congressional Award for Voluntary Service. It is the United States Congress' highest honor for young Americans.
An enthusiastic volunteer, Richard has worked toward The Gold Congressional Award for Voluntary Service since January 2020. Through a variety of volunteer projects she initiated, as well as other required areas of development, Richard completed six levels of challenges. The Congressional program involves four areas of concentration: Voluntary Public Service, Personal Development, Physical Fitness, and Expedition/Exploration.
“I have been volunteering since I was 9 years old,” Richard said, as she explained that she came upon the Congressional Award opportunity “Quite unexpectedly, while doing a Google Search about community service ideas.”
Richard’s journey toward the Gold level Award required extensive planning and vision. To receive the Gold she had to complete Bronze and Silver too. When the pandemic hit in 2020, she thought her goal might be delayed.
“The pandemic limited my opportunities for Voluntary Public Service and Physical Fitness,” Richard noted. “I found a work-around by volunteering at MTHS, which Dr. Schwartz kindly arranged for me.”
Dr. Sandra Schwartz is the Montville Township Public Schools District Supervisor of Math, Science, and Business. Schwartz served as an advisor to Richard through the six levels of challenges.
Despite the limitations created by the pandemic, Richard received the Congressional Bronze Award as a sophomore, the Congressional Silver award as a junior, and the Congressional Gold award this year.
A talented violinist, Richard often incorporated her instrument in the initiatives she developed. Growing as a musician was also one of her Personal Development goals for the Congressional Award.
For one of her first pandemic projects, Richard worked with Edward Fleischman, the District’s Supervisor of the Fine and Performing Arts and orchestra teacher Andrew Havington.
“I created a virtual ensemble performance in appreciation of the MTHS music department and Mr. Havington, my orchestra teacher,” Richard said. “Creating this video involved adapting a pop song into a classical arrangement. I learned many skills related to audio engineering and music recording.”
Richard also used the violin in a Thank You project to health care workers. She composed the original music, entitled “In the Clouds,” and recorded it for the note cards, that she made, which played music when they were opened. She then donated the cards to Morristown Memorial Hospital
“As we were emerging from more than a year of disruption and suffering, I wanted to show my appreciation for healthcare workers and their selfless service throughout the pandemic,” said Richard. I am extremely grateful and I hope my art brought a smile to their face!”
In addition to the above activities, Richard also was a student volunteer in Lakeland Youth Symphony Orchestra, mentoring violin beginners aged 4-8. She also volunteered at CedarHill Community Center in Boonton where she was a part of the After School Program, helping elementary school students, who didn’t primarily speak English, with their Reading and Math homework.
“I saw this Award as an opportunity to expand what I was already doing and also as an opportunity for personal growth,” she said of her experiences during that time.
The Congressional Silver Certificate, required 74 hours of Voluntary Public Service, 65 hours of Personal Development, 65 hours of Physical Fitness, and 2 days of Expedition/Exploration.
To achieve the Gold Medal, Richard prepared for 400 hours of Voluntary Public Service, 200 hours of Personal Development, 200 hours of Physical Fitness, and 4 nights/5 days of Expedition/Exploration.
In the final leg of her journey in pursuit of her Gold Medal, Richard volunteered at Mt. Pleasant Animal Shelter in East Hanover, Homeless Solutions in Morristown, and Arts High School in Newark (as part of NJSO Youth Orchestras). Over the summer she devoted even more hours to these organizations, and, as part of the Personal Development requirement, she took two Music Theory courses from Berklee College of Music and the National University of Singapore via edX and Coursera.
“I plan to use the concepts I learned to add to my composition repertoire,” she said of the courses, noting that she also composed a Piano Concerto and a String Trio.
In addition, Richard created an opportunity for teachers to make paper flowers for health care workers, and she volunteered at MTHS. There she helped prepare for the start of the school year by inventorying textbooks, delivering them to designated classrooms, washing lab goggles, and decorating bulletin boards.
“The most meaningful aspect has been Voluntary Public Service because it gives me an opportunity to give back to the community and be able to share my passions with others,” Richard said of her journey to the Gold Congressional Award for Voluntary Service. “For instance, I have been mentoring violin beginners at Newark Arts High School. It is very rewarding for me to hear from them that I have helped them play better and motivated them to practice on their own.”
Now that she has completed her goal of earning the Gold Congressional Award for Voluntary Service Richard has taken stock of the overall experience.
“The greatest lesson I learned,” Richard noted, “was that stepping out of my comfort zone brings about personal growth. Although things may seem daunting at first, there is always a solution if you are willing to commit yourself and put in your best effort.”
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CAPTION (Photo provided by Mirella Richard)
Mirella Richard of Montville Township High School received The Gold Congressional Award for Voluntary Service. The medal is the United States Congress' highest honor for young Americans. A senior at MTHS, she completed 400 hours of Voluntary Public Service, 200 hours of Personal Development, 200 hours of Physical Fitness, and 4 nights/5 days of Expedition/Exploration to achieve the Congressional Gold Medal. This is in addition to the volunteer work she completed throughout the pandemic to achieve the Congressional Bronze and Silver. Richard is a member of the MTHS Class of 2023.