When asking a couple of young boys, ages 15 and 12, what they like to do in their spare time, one doesn't really expect the word "volunteering" to enter the equation.
Perhaps that's part of what makes Matthew and Mikey Thorn unique. The Fulton brothers, both reserved and polite, spend their free time helping others. They've done a little bit of everything -- from clean up Mississippi's Gulf Coast, assisting a recovery effort in ice-stricken Kentucky, distributing medicine in Venezuela to singing Christmas carols at local nursing homes.
The breadth of the Thorns' selfless experiences is wide and not unrecognized.
The brothers recently received Congressional Awards for serving their fellow man. The Fulton Board of Aldermen presented the awards to the brothers during a special ceremony in which they were applauded for their efforts.
Established in 1979 by the U.S. Congress, the Congressional Award is given to young Americans, ages 14-23, in recognition for one of four areas: Volunteer public service, which the Thorn brothers received; personal development; physical fitness and expedition/exploration.
Medals are awarded based on the amount of time a participant puts toward earning the Congressional Award. The gold medal -- the highest awarded through the program -- signifies at least 100 hours worth of volunteering in a year's time.
The program is entirely voluntary, and it's the responsibility of the participants to track how many hours they've put toward their goals.
According to Matthew, the older of the two brothers, joining the program seemed like a productive way to spend their time.
"We'd already been doing a lot of volunteer work with the Boy Scouts and through our church," Matthew explained, saying that working toward earning the Congressional Award seemed like an organic next step.
Matthew added that, being home-schooled, it's important for the two brothers to find extra curricular activities to round out their pre-college experience.
"The problem is, because we home school, we don't get to put a lot of things on our college resumes like clubs," he said. "But, one thing we can list is awards like [the Congressional Award]."
Although being honored with a national award is, naturally, exciting, it's easy to see that a sense of self-satisfaction is the brothers' true award.
"You get a good feeling from helping others," Matthew said, adding with a sincere smile, "Plus, traveling to another country or state to help someone is like a little vacation."
Pat Thorn, Matthew and Mikey's mother, says her sons don't necessarily look for areas in which to volunteer but just naturally decide to help out wherever seems best.
"God just opens doors for us. If you're willing to serve him, he'll show you where," she said. "Things just kind of come to us. I don't know if it's that people just know that we'll help, or if God's just trying to give these guys a broad base. The more you help other people, the more your world view is broadened. We really hope this will become a lifestyle for them -- helping others."
She added, smiling proudly at her sons, "The more you go out and help people, no matter where they are or what circumstance they're in, the more you find we all have something in common. That's a good thing to know."
Adam Armour can be reached at 862-3141, by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org or by visiting his blog at itawamba360.com.