Ms. McDonald Goes to the White House, pt. 2

Washington, DC, was in bloom when I arrived and I found myself bolstered with a sense of optimism at seeing the tulips and cherry blossoms and GREEN GRASS.  I hadn’t seen that since last October, so I was naturally in good spirits.  The day’s events began with the Community Leaders Briefing at the White House Conference Center off Lafayette Square.  The room was packed with 87 people from all parts of the nation, from New Mexico to New York, and several from Midwestern states like Wisconsin, Illinois, Missouri, and Minnesota.  The Office of Public Engagement staff informed us that this was the first such Community Leaders Briefing in what is meant to be a future series.  We heard from staff of the White House Office of Public Engagement, Office of Communications, and National Economic Council (if you are a policy wonk and want to know exactly who presented, it was Michael Strautmanis, David Simas, Brian Deese, Anne Filipic, Michael Blake, Stephanie Valencia, and Jon Carson.)  Most pertinent to my visit was learning about the “Winning the Future” Public-Private Partnerships initiatives, including Skills For America’s Future and Let’s Move:

  • Skills For America’s Future is a program to partner corporations with labor unions and community colleges to ensure that these students are placed in jobs after graduating.  This could positively impact the Building Jobs Coalition by realigning resources to support the trades unions’ own apprenticeship programs and assisting with job placement by identifying projects where capital investment will yield apprentice and journeyperson jobs.
  • Let’s Move is a campaign to help children focus on activity and prevent youth obesity.  How can this help preservation?  By possibly aligning resources with efforts to retain historic neighborhood schools, which are accessible by sidewalk and encourage walking and biking to school.

I also left this meeting with an open invitation to contact the White House staff to ascertain contacts to assist with specific problems.  With this information, the Building Jobs Coalition will be able to engage appropriate staff to further address problems in the credit market.

The briefing adjourned and we found ourselves at the 15th Street gate awaiting entry to the White House.  It was an amazing and surreal feeling to walk up the path toward the White House (THE White House), past a checkpoint, past security scanners, and come around the corner to the East Wing portico.  The excitement amongst our cohorts was palpable with beaming faces, cameras flashing, and a litany of “Look at that!” emitting from the crowd.  We entered through the East Wing Ground Floor, down the corridor lined with photos of the First Family, historic images of the White House, and Presidential and First Ladies’ portraits from the National Gallery.  The other ladies in the group chose to snap pictures with Eleanor Roosevelt and Jacqueline Kennedy in the Vermeil Room, while I drifted to the demure, but determined Lady Bird Johnson to recognize her work through the Beautification Act as a precursor to cultural landscape preservation.

Michael and I headed up the stairs to the State Floor with a combination of awe, hubris, and excitement.  In the Entrance Hall was a small concert being played by the Marine Corps Band as a mark of instant hospitality.  We took in the grandeur of the Cross Hall, studied the galleria of America’s treasured artwork in the Red, Blue, and Green Rooms, and entered a deserted East Room but, for the enormous paintings of George and Martha Washington and a feisty Teddy Roosevelt.  You could almost feel the energy of the thousands of people hosted in that ballroom.  We progressed through the Hall, past the spirited eyes of Ronald Regan and a hauntingly posed John F. Kennedy to the State Dining Room, where a small reception was held in our honor.  We had the opportunity to talk with the other attendees, as well as several staff members of the White House Office of Public Engagement. Check in with the blog on Monday to hear about meeting President Barack Obama!

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