McCandless teen one of 10 from PA honored with Congressional Medal Award |
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Tony LaRussa

A McCandless teen is among the 538 students nationwide selected to receive this year’s Congressional Award Gold Medal, which recognizes “initiative, service and achievement.”

Josef Mueller, 18, is one of 10 people from Pennsylvania to receive the medal. The other local winners are Ruby Chen of Jeannette and Ayush Sharma of Pittsburgh.

Established in 1979, the medal is the only congressional charity and award program for young people between the ages of 13 ½ and 23.

Mueller, who was homeschooled and recently completed the coursework needed to graduate, said he learned about the Congressional Award from his father, Don Mueller, who had been speaking to a friend about some of the activities in which their children were involved.

“Even though I was pretty much completing the requirements (for the award) already, it would require me to ramp-up my efforts several fold — it was intimidating,” Mueller said. “My parents encouraged me to move forward, as even if I didn’t make the grade, the effort would still be worthwhile.”

Mueller said the “personal development” requirements for the medal were achieved through his membership in the Pittsburgh Youth Concert Orchestra and the Pittsburgh Youth Symphony Orchestra. Personal development — both physical and mental — was demonstrated by the dozen years Mueller has been a student of martial arts. He is expecting to earn hist fourth degree black belt in October at the Young Brother’s Tae Kwon Do Institute.

Mueller said his musical training helped him meet the requirement to complete 400 hours of volunteer service, which he described as “the greatest hurdle.”

“I met this requirement largely though volunteering at a local senior living facility,” he said. “While I assisted with serving meals, mainly I provided entertainment playing the violin.”

The teen logged volunteer hours by assisting at his church’s annual festival and by serving as a mentor and teacher at local summer music camps.

To meet the “expedition/exploration” requirements for the medal, Mueller travelled to the Chautauqua Institute at Lake Chautauqua, N.Y., where he studied the cultural diversity of music and the arts by visiting historic architectural landmarks located on the institute’s grounds. He attended concerts featuring different genres of music and performed recitals.

“Throughout my two-year journey to meet the prerequisites for the Congressional Award, I came to realize that time is our most precious commodity; the importance of being a productive and contributing member of society; that prudent decision-making is an acquired skill; and that one must not only be grateful for this great country we live in, but seek out opportunities to pay it forward,” he said.

In addition to his high school studies, Mueller has completed a dual enrollment program at the Community College of Allegheny County, where he earned associate degrees in liberal arts and sciences.

He is planning to study biology at Grove City College in the fall.

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