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First Lady Michelle Obama Kicks Off United We Serve

Katherine Brandon, White House Blog
2009-06-23

(First Lady Michelle Obama promotes the White House's United We Serve volunteering initiative at the Bret Harte Elementary School in San Francisco, California with Maria Shriver, First Lady of California, June 22, 2003.
Official White House Photo by Samantha Appleton)




White House Blog - TUESDAY, JUNE 23RD, 2009

The First Lady marked the kick off of United We Serve yesterday, where she joined Californiaís First Lady Maria Shriver to build a playground at Bret Harte Elementary, a public school in San Francisco. The First Lady worked with KaBOOM!, an organization that aims to create safe and fun places for kids to play within walking distance of their homes. They have been building playgrounds in underserved communities for 14 years, relying on volunteers across the country.

As we mentioned previously, United We Serve is a call to action for all Americans to volunteer in their communities this summer. It will be led by the Corporation for National and Community Service, and will focus on the four core elements of our recovery agenda: health care, energy independence, education and community and economic renewal. This particular project focused on health and community renewal.

The First Lady discussed how building a playground goes beyond simply giving children a place to play -- itís about keeping our children healthy. Our children are not getting enough exercise, which has both serious immediate and long-term consequences. It is essential that we get our kids active and moving, but unfortunately, many kids do not have access to safe outside play. The First Lady explained this is why organizations like KaBOOM! and the volunteers that help build playgrounds are crucial not just to our kids, but to our nation:

So I want people, as they think about how they're going to spend this summer, in addition to making your kids play, think about engaging in United We Serve. And think about ways that you can take more time to devote to activities and projects that are going to get our kids healthy and moving, whether it's serving a healthy meal at a soup kitchen, building a play lot, finding a project in your area that's going to focus on the health of our kids, taking time to tutor, mentor, taking a kid to the beach. I know in Chicago there are kids all over my city at home who have never seen the lake. I know that this is true for many communities across the city. Kids don't even know where they can play or what they can play. That's where we all come in. That's where we need your help. And today is just the beginning.

Community service projects can make a huge impact on our communities, which is why the First Lady stressed that everyone should make service a part of their daily life:

And as we think about what we're trying to do through United We Serve, I just think -- imagine the changes that happen with the creation of this park. Kids who were never able to play on a swing set get the opportunity to play. And that just doesn't happen here on this site. Think about the libraries that will be changed because each of us donates a book or two. Or think about the smiles that are on some homeless person's face because you took the time to spend a couple of hours to feed somebody a healthy meal. That's what United We Serve is all about. It's a nationwide effort to call Americans to make service a daily part of their lives -- like all of you here; it's not something that you do in your spare time. After building the playground, the First Lady gave the keynote address at the 2009 National Conference on Volunteering and Service, which brought together thousands of volunteers and service leaders from across the country. In her remarks, the First Lady explained that for too long we have viewed service as separate from the governmentís policies -- that service is a nice bonus, but not an essential component to getting work done. But change comes from the bottom up, and the time is now to make service a central pillar in the foundation of our country.

Serve.gov makes it easy for everyone to get involved by providing everything you need to get projects started: connecting you to service opportunities and to others who are interested in the same service area, and providing tools to track the impact you are having on your community. Visit Serve.gov to find a volunteer opportunity today, and get involved in building Americaís new foundation.

First Lady Michelle Obama's Speech: AT A "UNITED WE SERVE" SUMMER KICK-OFF ACTIVITY WITH MARIA SHRIVER Bret Harte Elementary School San Francisco, California

MRS. OBAMA: Oh, wow, thank you. Maria -- First Lady Maria Shriver -- oh my goodness. (Applause.) I am thrilled to be here. This is my first trip, I think, to the West Coast since I've been First Lady. (Applause.) I think so. And this is a great way to spend it.

I have to give kudos back to Maria. She is a girlfriend. She has been such a tremendous support through me -- to me throughout this journey. She has been a role model in so many ways, and she's such a gifted individual. And she's provided me with the kind of inspiration that it takes to get through this wonderful journey that I've been on. And I am so glad to be working on this project with her. Let's give our First Lady, your First Lady, a round of applause. (Applause.)

So one of the reasons why I'm here is that we're here to kick off what we're calling United We Serve. (Cheering.) Yes, they're excited about it! (Laughter.) They are fired up about United We Serve. We should be fired up.

As you may know and as Maria said, community and national service is something that's near and dear to my heart. It's not something that we just started to do in the White House. It's been sort of the air that we breathe in the Obama household in so many ways, and I see faces of people that I have served with who have helped bring me to this point in time -- friends, folks -- (cheering) -- hey! -- (laughter) -- friends who have helped get me to this point in time. So it is just a tremendous honor for me to be here.

And as we think about what we're trying to do through United We Serve, I just think -- imagine the changes that happen with the creation of this park. Kids who were never able to play on a swing set get the opportunity to play. And that just doesn't happen here on this site. Think about the libraries that will be changed because each of us donates a book or two. Or think about the smiles that are on some homeless person's face because you took the time to spend a couple of hours to feed somebody a healthy meal. That's what United We Serve is all about. It's a nationwide effort to call Americans to make service a daily part of their lives -- like all of you here; it's not something that you do in your spare time.

As history has shown again and again, when we come together as a nation, we can really get things done. We saw that in this past election. We've seen it time and time again. Service is how we get where we need to be.

And United We Serve is going to focus on a couple of key strategies: one is education, health, energy and the environment, and community renewal. (Applause.) And the project that we're working on here today has a clear focus on health and community renewal.

And I've been talking a lot about health lately. America's children, as we all know, deserve the healthiest start that we can possibly give them. And there are several components to a healthy start, and one is eating right, and that's something that I've been talking about with the creation of the first White House Kitchen Garden. (Applause.) We just harvested from that garden earlier this week. It was a wonderful event. The garden is blooming. If you visit the White House, you've got to see this garden. The rain has just made it a tremendous -- just bursting with vegetation. It's really good.

But health is just one part of it. The other component, as we all know, is that kids have to be active. They have to move their bodies in order to get their minds flowing. It's important for us to help our children understand that connection between what they eat and how they feel, and the fact that if they move their bodies and get their self going, they just have more energy to get through the day. That's our job as the adults in their life.

And as the President and Congress begin to tackle health care reform, which is coming up, we will begin to see the costly effects of unhealthy habits that burden our health care system. We're going to see the costs, where it's going to be more clear to us. Obesity, diabetes, heart disease, high-blood pressure are all diet-related health issues that cost this country more than $120 billion a year, and that's a conservative figure. While that dollar amount is shocking, and it should be, the effect on our children should be even more shocking.

Childhood obesity in the United States is reaching epidemic proportions. I talked about this last week at the Garden Harvest. Nearly a third of the children in this country are either overweight or obese, and a third will suffer from diabetes at some point in their lifetime. These are children. And in the African American and Hispanic communities, those numbers climb even higher so that nearly half, okay, half of the children in those communities are going to suffer that fate.

And for the first time -- and this is the thing that shocked me -- in this history of our nation, medical experts have warned that our youngest generation may be on track to have a shorter life span than their parents as a direct result from obesity.

This has serious consequences for the immediate and long-term health of individual children and for our national health care system. There are just too many kids that are living a life off of high-calorie food and they're not getting enough exercise. And in order to stay healthy, children are supposed to get 60 minutes of activity every single day. Now, how many kids in your lives are doing that these days, at least 60 minutes every single day?

So that's why we can't underestimate the value of having safe and quality playgrounds in every single community. You know, that's why this project that we're doing here today is so important, and why organizations like Kaboom are just necessary, not just to the health of our children but to the health of the entire nation.

And I've known Kaboom for a long time. They've done stuff not just here in San Francisco but around the country. They've done projects in Chicago, my hometown. (Cheering.) For the last 14 -- yes, a little shout-out for Chicago. (Cheering.) There's nothing wrong with a little shout-out for Chicago. (Laughter.)

For the last 14 years, Kaboom has been building playgrounds in under-served communities across the country. And their vision is to have great places for kids to play within walking distance of their homes, and they do this by enlisting the help of communities and people like you from around the country. That's why we're here.

So now the focus becomes exercise. We've got to get kids moving. We've got to get them active. And the truth is we all know this, but at the same time there are so many kids around this country who don't have access in their schools to recess or outside play. Too many kids are sitting around watching TV, playing computer games. And I don't know about you, but we've instituted Camp Obama in my house -- (laughter) -- which means that the television and the computers are off all day until after dinner and right before bedtime. Bedtime is early. (Laughter.) So we're shutting off the TV and turning off the computers in our house.

And our kids are fortunate, because as you know, we have a swing set -- finally -- (laughter) -- in the White House. (Applause.) And there's nothing like watching kids play. And my kids, they get to swing on the swings, climb on the jungle gym. They're playing; they don't even know they're getting exercise. That's the value of play and that's what we need to get our kids to do in this community -- but we have to provide them with resources to make that happen. This project is so critical.

So I want people, as they think about how they're going to spend this summer, in addition to making your kids play, think about engaging in United We Serve. And think about ways that you can take more time to devote to activities and projects that are going to get our kids healthy and moving, whether it's serving a healthy meal at a soup kitchen, building a play lot, finding a project in your area that's going to focus on the health of our kids, taking time to tutor, mentor, taking a kid to the beach. I know in Chicago there are kids all over my city at home who have never seen the lake. I know that this is true for many communities across the city. Kids don't even know where they can play or what they can play. That's where we all come in. That's where we need your help. And today is just the beginning.

It is a great honor for me to be here. I am so delighted to be a part of the conference that's coming up, to be hanging out with my good friend, and to be able to spend some time getting this playground together. So let me stop talking, and let's get to work. Thank you so much. (Applause.)






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