Michelle Obama and Cabinet officers will lead volunteer efforts

McClatchy NewspapersJune 19, 2009 

WASHINGTON — Led by Michelle Obama, top members of the Obama administration will fan out across the country next week to participate in community service projects as part of a high-profile effort to spark volunteer work through the summer.

The first lady will join California's first lady, Maria Shriver, to help construct a playground in San Francisco on Monday. As she does, members of the Obama Cabinet will show up at volunteer sites in 15 states plus the District of Columbia.

"It's a way of saying you may not think you can do much, but here is something you can do," said U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk, who'll serve breakfast to the homeless at the Second Chance Cafe at The Bridge in Dallas, where he formerly served as mayor.

He's worked at the cafe before and wanted to underscore the need for year-round help.

"During Thanksgiving and Christmas, people are acutely aware of the need to help feed the hungry, but homelessness and hunger is a year-round phenomenon. During the summer is when they go begging for help," Kirk said.

"It's about giving back and serving the community," said Craig Fugate, the administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. He's a former volunteer firefighter who'll meet with Community Emergency Response Team volunteers and others who support firefighters in Denver.

He hopes to highlight the work of volunteers who are training people to prepare themselves for emergencies such as earthquakes, hurricanes or tornadoes.

"It's more than just having a disaster kit," he said. "The program teaches people how to turn off the gas so houses don't start on fire, how to use a fire extinguisher. . . . The more people are prepared, the better we do in disasters."

They're kicking off what's called the United We Serve summer, which will run from Monday through the National Day of Service and Remembrance on Sept. 11. The Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act, which President Barack Obama signed into law earlier this spring, set that date as a day of service.

Obama urged Americans this week to focus volunteer efforts over the summer on four areas: community renewal, education, energy and the environment, and health. He also unveiled a new Web site to help people find projects where they can work.

The list of events:

  • Michelle Obama will help construct a playground at the Bret Harte Elementary School in San Francisco.
  • Defense Secretary Robert Gates will visit wounded soldiers at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington.
  • Attorney General Eric Holder will visit the Police Athletic League in Philadelphia and toss the opening tipoff of a youth basketball game.
  • Interior Secretary Ken Salazar will work with volunteers from the Youth Conservation Corps and others in Shenandoah National Park in Virginia.
  • Commerce Secretary Gary Locke will help hold a job search clinic at the La Mesita Family Homeless Shelter in Mesa, Ariz.
  • Labor Secretary Hilda Solis will help construct energy-efficient housing for the poor in Los Angeles.
  • Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan will help volunteers from the St. Bernard Project rebuild a hurricane-damaged home in New Orleans.
  • Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood will work on Habitat for Humanity's Atlantic Avenue project in Brooklyn, N.Y.
  • Energy Secretary Steven Chu will help assemble home energy-efficiency kits with the League of Conservation Voters in Battle Creek, Mich.
  • Education Secretary Arne Duncan will read to children at Fanwood Memorial Library in Fanwood, N.J.
  • Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki will help volunteer drivers transport patients to medical appointments at VA medical centers.
  • Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano will assemble Community Emergency Response Team kits in preparation for hurricane season in Orlando, Fla.
  • _ United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice will visit the Harlem Children's Zone in New York and talk about the emergency relief items that children need in the Congo.
  • Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson will help test mercury levels in fish and clean up trash along the Missouri and Kansas rivers at Kaw Point Park, Kan.
  • Alonzo Fulgham, the acting administrator of the Agency for International Development, will help an immunization drive in Baltimore.
  • Council on Environmental Quality Chairwoman Nancy Sutley will help plant native wetland species in Kingman Lake, a 35-acre wetlands marsh adjacent to the Anacostia River in Washington.
  • Small Business Administration Administrator Karen Mills will help counsel aspiring businesspeople at the Southern Maine Community College in South Portland, Maine.

Other members of the Cabinet, including Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, planned volunteer works later.

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