Washougal High School senior Bridgette McCarthy rose to the top of 29 Clark County youth to win the Marshall Youth Leadership Award and a $2,500 college scholarship, on March 21.
According to The Historic Trust, which sponsors the award, the General C. Marshall Youth Leadership Award is presented to a Clark County high school student who demonstrates leadership, takes a stand for rights of others, serves as a role model, shows initiative and motivates others to become involved.
McCarthy is the second Washougal High student to receive this award in 17 years. The first was Rosalyn Hart in 2005.
McCarthy has dedicated more than 800 hours of her free time to community service. She has been a youth representative on the leadership committee for UNITE Washougal and the Washougal Community Coalition for the past five years; a 4-H member since she was 5 years old; an Oregon Zoo “Zoo Teen” volunteer; a youth representative for the 12 Sector Board; and has also served as a youth representative for the Washougal City Council.
McCarthy also is a Running Start student at Clark College, a member of the Washougal tennis team, plays alto-saxophone and loves to sing. She recently starred as Annie Oakley in the Washougal High performance of “Annie Get Your Gun.”
Washougal City Councilman Paul Greenlee, who met McCarthy about four years ago, nominated her for the Marshall Youth Award.
Greenlee said he had the opportunity to write a college recommendation letter for McCarthy, and that when he saw her biography, he thought that even his would not be as long as hers.
“It is absolutely amazing that a young woman has done as much as she has — has been involved as much as she has,” Greenlee said. “I looked at that and said, ‘Marshall Award.'”
McCarthy said she believes that one of the best ways to be a leader is to give back to your community.
“I want to help my community to grow and there’s lots of different ways to do that, and I enjoy every single one of the ways,” she said. “Even if it’s just being a part of the tennis team or helping people out, being there to listen — as well as going and representing youth nationally.”
McCarthy has had the opportunity through leadership conferences to travel to Olympia, Washington, and Washington D.C., to speak with state and national legislators about the problem of drug abuse amongst youth in her community.
The Washougal senior also is involved in helping the Clark County peer education program, McCarthy said that meeting with the leaders of STASHA and hearing their stories was inspiring.
“I want to help give youth a voice, because a lot of times we can be kind of put into a box,” she said. “What I’ve tried to do through these years is show them that, actually, youth are a lot different, there’s not just one stereotype of youth.”
McCarthy said that just being nominated for the Marshall Youth Award was a great honor. She liked the fact that all 29 award nominees attended the ceremony, because she was able to learn about the great things her regional peers were doing to help their communities.
At the ceremony to announce the winner, the committee led with a description of McCarthy and her work in the community.
“I was surprised that I didn’t break down crying, because I was just in shock,” McCarthy said. “I definitely didn’t think I was going to win. And, like they said, everyone was a winner there. I wanted to make sure to tell the people there that they all had done an awesome job, and to keep doing what they’re doing for their communities.”
McCarthy, 17, is the youngest of Mike and Margaret McCarthy’s three children. Her sister, Erin, is 27; and her brother, Patrick, is 24.
Margaret said her youngest child often inspires her.
“I’m very proud of Bridgette,” Margaret said. “She amazes me, and she’s actually, in a lot of ways, my hero.”
As a parent, sometimes you get busy with your job, or community and can’t always make all the possibilities for your child happen, Margaret said.
“As a freshman, (Bridgette) just decided that she was going to dedicate herself to her schoolwork and doing a good job,” Margaret said. “I was unable to help her, and she took it on. She’s the one who is out there with several projects that she’s worked on with the community, and she has brought together the youth to do it.”
Her youngest child also is known for encouraging other youth to get more involved with the community, Margaret said.
“She also does it in a way where it’s not about her, it’s about the people she’s working with,” McCarthy’s mother added. “So, I’m just very proud of that compassion, that focus on connection and the focus that she brings — that you, individually and uniquely, can make a difference.”
McCarthy is still deciding where she wants to attend college next year.
In the running are Chapman University, Gonzaga University, University of San Diego, University of San Francisco and Western Washington University.
“I just appreciate the whole mindset of serving others, which is what I’m looking for (in a college),” McCarthy said. “Some schools don’t focus on that as much in their curriculum.”
The award-winning Washougal senior said she wants to study behavior neuroscience and theater, since those are her two main passions, but added that her time as a city council youth representative also sparked an interest in politics.
“I would like to say thank you to (Washougal Councilman Paul Greenlee) very much, for nominating me for this award,” McCarthy said. “As well as the Washougal City Council for being really supportive and teaching me the ropes, and letting youth be a part of their council — letting that be a part where it’s something that’s really important.”