Not to be coy, but I am a privacy freak (and, well, a freak in general), so I won't be sharing details of my kids' paths to their awards. That said, I hope someone finds something in my ramblings useful.
The most important advice is to read the entire website, and email the CA folks w/ questions. I can't stress that enough. Write the CA folks with questions. Email them. Paper trail, and usually quick responses. The CA folks can't *approve* your choices beforehand, but they will *advise* you. For ex: You want to volunteer at a private dance/music/sports studio/gym? That most likely isn't considered public service. So, before your child invests a lot of time in that for CA (feel free if it's still a passion!), write the CA folks.
Someone upthread mentioned that neither the advisors nor validators were necessarily well versed in the CA requirements and that is spot on. It's up to your dc to make sure things line up w/ the requirements.
Voluntary Public Service
For the 4 links above, be sure to click on all the tabs: Guidelines, Activity Ideas, and Requirements and it also has FAQ's for the Expedition/Exploration.
There is a CA FB page. More for publicity, but it's fun to look at the pictures.
For record keeping, my dc both made spreadsheets where they kept track of hours. They also put hours on a calendar. Just 2 ways. None of these records had to be submitted, but they were shown to validators. It probably isn't required, but mine wanted to have proof ready. Take pix of your kids doing their activities too. Also, the places where my dc volunteered kept record of the hours too. Easy peasy.
I can only address going all the way through for the gold medal in 24 months, but AFAIK it's an Expedition OR an Exploration. If you get signatures at every level, I guess you can do several of each. For our kids, it was far easier to do the whole shebang once. Also, my kids didn't want to bother validators for several signatures all along the way. At both of my dc's gold medal ceremonies, however, I met people who said getting the awards one at a time really kept their kids motivated for that next level. Personal choice. Speaking of motivation, look here. It's fun to see who else in your state has finished the gold medal requirements. More fun still when your dc's name is on that list. And when the 3 certificates and bronze and sliver medals arrived in the mail, there was no less joy in our home when mine opened those packages. Yeah, we had a little celebration when those arrived.
As for advisors, they are as involved as much or as little as they desire, as long as they meet the requirements. One child's advisor was a stickler and thought my dc hadn't followed the rules b/c this dc discussed some goals with me!!! The advisor called the CA folks who assured this advisor that it was fine (even wise) for the child to run ideas by the parents. We teased this dc that w/ this advisor's high standards, not only had he/she earned the gold medal, but also a platinum medal. LOL. For the other child, the advisor had small dc and a long commute and didn't want to commit a lot of time. This advisor did check in w/ this dc and kept abreast of how it was going, but didn't want much more involvement. Perfect match.
It is great to have it all done in time for college apps, but it's not always possible and IMO should not be the sole reason for doing the CA. One child had submitted the paperwork for the gold, but hadn't received approval in time for college apps. So I wrote under EC's: "Congressional Award for Youth Gold Medal (Approval Pending)" or "(Pending Approval)" - something like that. The other dc had it all wrapped up and had received the gold medal in plenty of time for college apps.
If you can attend the Gold Medal Ceremony, do. (See disclaimer here.) They usually get good speakers. Sometimes it's the same speaker for both ceremonies, sometimes not. You can't take pix during the ceremony itself, which is very streamlined, but there is a photographer and you can order pix. We got one complimentary photo of each, although I never received my freebie for the 2nd child. Also, pix are taken outside at the Capitol: one huge group photo and several smaller groups: by state, 4H, homeschooled, Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, etc. These are taken b/t the 2 ceremonies. There is a morning and an afternoon ceremony, by states. Be warned that b/c the group photos are after one of the 2 ceremonies, half the kids will have their gold medals and half won't. The last time we attended, kids were loaning out their medals for the smaller groups' pictures, so everyone in the picture donned a gold medal. I actually heard, "OK, whose medal is this?" LOL. Sweet kids to be so generous, but wow.
The Gold Meal dinner is nice. The gold medalist gets two tix: for himself and for one guest, and then you pay (I think $100/ plate) for extra guests and there may be a limit on how many extras you can have. I missed one dinner but attended the other one. I wish all of us had attended both dinners. Yeah, it's a lot of money, but it is special. So, if you're going to DC for the ceremony anyway, start saving so you can all attend the dinner. We invited the advisors, but neither was interested in attending. There were motivational speakers (names you'd know) at the dinner I attended.
Funny story: one of my children made a dear friend while standing in line to go in for the gold medal ceremony! They started talking and learned they had nearly identical paths to the gold! It was wild. That year they received tickets to a sports event where the gold medalists sat together. The kids really bonded that night. They're still in touch to this day, and if my child could have afforded the airfare and time, would have attended the wedding of this gold medalist.
In summary, communicate w/ the CA folks about requirements, have your children keep excellent records, and consider attending the gold medal ceremony and dinner in Washington.
When my first child started on this journey, there was little info/support out there. At first I resented that, but then I realized it was better that way. It forced my child to be more independent doing this and in life. And really, the child should do the bulk of the work, researching the opportunities and writing to CA for advice for beginning work on a goal, keeping records. After finding the advisor and setting goals, sit back and let the clock run and enjoy watching your kids grow and succeed.
Edited by Angie in VA, 25 March 2017 - 05:50 PM.