Michelle Obama Visits the Corporation for National Service-Through My Lens

Michelle Obama speaking last week

Michelle Obama speaking last week Photo by Katrina Mathis

A first-hand account of encountering the First Lady.

“I shook her hand.” I can’t recall the number of times I uttered or texted those words exactly a week ago today. “I…SHOOK…HER…HAND!”  “I shook Michelle Obama’s hand.”  I am still elated. But that’s how the event ended.  Let’s start from the beginning.

I arrived early to ensure a good seat.  It was a closed affair, just for us—Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) employees, but that wasn’t going to guarantee prime seating, so I made my way to the venue, down 13th street as fast as my wedges would allow.

I was excited about the First Lady’s visit, but was a little anxious because I wasn’t as familiar with my camera as I would have liked. Buying a Nikon D-40 had been on my To-Do list for a while and news of the First Lady’s visit made it a-night-before-the-big-event purchase. Thus, I had less than 24 hours to learn to use it. Yikes!

I scored a great seat: second row center. It was like being in the orchestra section at the Kennedy Center, sans the price of admission. As more CNCS Continue reading

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Pres. Obama Calls for Swift Passage of the Serve America Act

Update, April 21, 2009: President Obama signs the Serve America Act into law. To take effect October 1, 2009.

In an address to a joint session Congress tonight, Feb. 24th, President Obama urged lawmakers to pass the picture-24Kennedy-Hatch Serve America Act which would expand funding for national service.

The Serve America Act, co-authored by Senator Kennedy (D-MA) and Senator Hatch (R-UT), was introduced in the Senate January 16 and would:

  • Engage more Americans in a term of national service to solve critical challenges in local communities by increasing AmeriCorps from 75,000 to 250,000 Continue reading

Returned Peace Corps Volunteers on the March!

RPCVs marching. Check out more photos on Flickr. Search "PeaceCorpsInauguration2009"

RPCVs marching. Check out more photos on Flickr. Search "PeaceCorpsInauguration2009"

Organized by the National Peace Corps Association (the independent group of Peace Corps alumni), the Peace Corps community participated in the Inaugural Parade for President Barack Obama, eliciting a huge smile from “the Service President.”

According to blogs posted on PeaceCorpsConnect.org:

Returned Volunteers, two currently serving Volunteers and current and former Peace Corps staff carried the flags of the 139 countries where Peace Corps Volunteers have served during the 48-year history of the agency. Many marchers are also wearing the national dress of those host countries.

Read more on the Peace Corps Polyglot blog!

You can see footage of the event on CSPAN — starting at 37 minutes, 40 seconds into the video. The Providence Journal blog offers this eye-witness account from 67-year-old Brazil RPCV Lucy Mueller.

And check out greetings from the gathered Returned Volunteers, speaking many different languages:

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Obama Video Contest for MLK Day

President-Elect Obama’s Renew America Together campaign partners with Youtube to invite you to create a three-minute video about how you plan to volunteer for MLK Day.

Here are the guidelines and instructions from the contest webpage:

The goal: For individuals and organizations to create a three-minute or less YouTube video designed to tell the story of what they plan to do on MLK Day. The videos could be dramatic, heartfelt, comical, or narrative — whatever best captures the spirit of the Renew America Together campaign.

All submissions should be posted to the Presidential Inaugural Committee YouTube channel no later than 11:59pm EST January 15th, 2009. Three winners will be selected. The winning videos will be posted on www.USAService.org, and the creator of the single best video will get a personal phone call from First Lady Michelle Obama.

For more information and to upload your reply-video, please visit us at www.YouTube.com/Inauguration.
Here’s how to enter:

  1. Watch Kal Penn’s invitation video. (It’s the one to the right.)
  2. Create your own video answering these questions:
    What does service mean to you and why is it important?
    What will you do on January 19th to serve your community?

    Upload it as a reply to Kal.

After you’ve uploaded your reply video, you can also submit the information about it here. You do not need to take this extra step, but it provides a second way for us to find it. Email

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January is National Mentoring Month

Be The Change, Mentor a Child

From Change/Wire:

“ServiceNation is partnering with the Harvard School of Public Health, and Mentor, to promote one of the most rewarding, important, activities we can all do to help build a better future: mentoring. We are doing it because January is National Mentoring Month, and here’s how you can get involved. Thanks to the brilliant Jay Winsten at Harvard, the ad [to the left] will run in Newsweek and other publications. The fact that we got clearance from President-elect Obama to use him in the ad caught the attention of the New York Times, here. We are hoping to be able to run a video ad, too. Stay tuned. And while you do, go ahead and sign up for some mentoring!”

Search volunteer mentoring opportunities on Idealist.org.

Follow BeTheChangeInc on Twitter.

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Michelle: the Public Allies Connection

Biography of Michelle Obama offers insights into her work with Public Allies.picture-161

Liza Mundy has recently published her biography of the future first lady called Michelle: A Biography.

USA Today excerpted the book earlier this month. Below are some pieces of that excerpt, regarding both Obamas’s work with the national service corps Public Allies.

If Michelle was helpful to Barack, the converse was also true. In the early 1990s, Barack was on the founding board of Public Allies, a new nonprofit whose mission was to train young people to work in the nonprofit sector, with the hope of producing a fresh generation of public service leaders. The Chicago branch needed an executive director, and Obama suggested Michelle. In 1993, she was hired. Barack resigned from the board before she took over. …

According to Julian Posada, her deputy director at Public Allies, Michelle was as hardworking as her husband. Public Allies would soon become part of the Clinton administration’s AmeriCorps program, and she was determined that the Chicago branch would succeed and excel, which it did. Among other things, she was a zealous money raiser, and left the organization, three years after starting, with cash in the bank. “There was an intensity to her that — you know, this has got to work, this is a big vision, this isn’t easy,” recalls Posada. “Michelle’s intensity was like: we have to deliver.” He was impressed with her sleeves-up attitude. “I’m sure she came from a lot more infrastructure. There was no sense that this was a plush law firm, that’s all gone. It’s like, ‘Who’s going to lick envelopes today?’ Nothing was beneath her.”

One of the first orders of business was recruiting “allies,” young people who picture-17would spend ten months working in homeless shelters, city offices, public policy institutes, and other venues for public service. Allies were recruited from campuses and projects alike. Michelle knocked on doors in Cabrini Green, a notoriously rough public housing project, but also phoned friends to ask if they knew any public-spirited undergrads at Northwestern. “We would get kids from a very very lily-white campus to come sit down with inner-city kids, black, Hispanic, Asian,” says Posada. In addition to recruiting and managing allies, she had to raise funds from Chicago’s well-established foundations, competing with more established charities. As such, she had to be in touch with the old-money world of private philanthropy and the no money world of housing projects, moving easily between almost every world that existed in Chicago. …

Many allies found Michelle inspiring. “You kind of know when you’re in the presence of somebody who is really terrific,” says Jobi Petersen, who was in the first class of Chicago Allies. “I owed a lot to her. She’s really fair, she’s calm, she’s smart, and she’s balanced and she’s funny, she doesn’t take any crap. I get a little bit angry when I hear the thing about her being negative. She is the least negative person I’ve ever met. She is a can-do person.” Peterson remembers a time when “one of the allies was despairing about how difficult things were, or the world wasn’t bending their way, and [Michelle] would come back and say, ‘You know what, today you have to get up and do something you don’t love doing. If it’s helping people, it’s worth it.’ She had a way of making you feel you could do anything. Humor, personal style, warmth, she can be strong and tough and not come across as nega-tive. She’s got timing. She can pass you one look and you’d laugh.”

Public Allies has enjoyed the spotlight since the election due to its history with the Obamas in Chicago. Paul Schmitz, the program’s C.E.O., serves on the Technology, Innovation and Government Reform working group for President-Elect Obama’s transition team.

Public Allies is a 10-month service and leadership program that serves in 15 cities across the United States.  Corps members — called “Allies” — serve with nonprofits and universities to “create, improve and expand services that address diverse issues, including youth development, education, public health, economic development and the environment.”

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