Monday, November 2, 2009
Michelle Obama Launches Mentoring Program For Girls
WASHINGTON - -- First lady Michelle Obama -- and some of her Chicago "sisters" in the White House -- on Monday will launch a first-of-its-kind mentoring program with about 20 high school girls from greater Washington.
As the first anniversary of President Barack Obama's election nears, it's the first lady who is making history now. Call this chapter "Girl Power."
Observers say her leadership and mentoring initiative has not been done by a first lady before. It will see Obama -- and White House staffers including Valerie Jarrett, Tina Tchen, Susan Sher and Desiree Rogers, Chicagoans all -- act as mentors to high school juniors and sophomores.
Jarrett is a senior White House adviser. Tchen leads its public liaison office. Sher is the first lady's chief of staff. Rogers is White House social secretary.
The proteges were chosen by high schools, the Girl Scouts and military families, including Gold Star families who have lost a loved one, said Katie McCormick Lelyveld, the first lady's spokeswoman.
A similar initiative for young men is coming later, she said.
Tchen, an attorney from Chicago long active in politics, said the program builds on a March event at the White House that saw high school girls interact with the first lady, White House officials and a cast of celebrities including singers Alicia Keyes and Sheryl Crow; actresses and sisters Debbie Allen and Phylicia Rashad; actress Fran Drescher; and Mae Jemison, the first African-American woman to travel into space.
Tchen said the program launch will see proteges visit their mentors' offices and gather as a group for dinner. The inaugural class's duration has not been decided, she said, adding that she expects discussions of college, careers, and balancing work and motherhood.
The mentors, she said, want to give proteges a "window to a wide variety of different opportunities to play out your dreams."
Letitia Baldrige, who was a top aide to first lady Jacqueline Kennedy, said the mentoring program was "definitely" a first for a presidential spouse. She called it "wonderfully imaginative," but cautioned it will be difficult in part because of the ongoing commitment it requires.
"This is not just a nice lecture or community gathering," she said. "Mentoring for their careers, gosh, that's a big commitment."
Baldrige, a Republican, is a fan of the first lady and thinks the program will burnish her reputation.
"She'll set a tremendous example," Baldrige said.
The latest effort comes after Obama has tried to set an example for young people, promoted healthy eating and exercise, lent support to military families and hosted musical events.
"She's really gone in many directions," Baldrige said, "and I think it's fantastic that she has the energy."
Carl S. Anthony, a Los Angeles author and a historian for the National First Ladies' Library in Canton, Ohio, agreed that the mentoring program is a first.
He predicted it could grow much bigger, noting that Lady Bird Johnson began a committee to beautify the nation's capital, triggering a nationwide effort to plant wildflowers, beautify highways and spruce up parks.
Source: Chicago Tribune