First Lady to push volunteerism in SF

June 21, 2009 5:32:08 PM PDT
San Francisco's Bayview District is preparing for a special visit Monday. First Lady Michelle Obama is bringing the White House's message of volunteerism to the Bay Area. Neighbors have high hopes for this high-profile visit.

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The plans for a new playground at Bret Harte Elementary in the city's Bayview District have been in the works for months. But, no one knew until just a few days ago that the First Lady of the United States would be there to help build it.

"It was just released on Thursday evening and so this is a big surprise to everybody," 3rd-grade teacher Benjamin Klaus said.

Michelle Obama is in town as part of a White House push for volunteerism. She will deliver the keynote address before the National Conference on Volunteering and Service at the Moscone Center too.

At Bret Harte, there will be a pair of first ladies. California First Lady Maria Shriver will also be on hand as hundreds of volunteers erect a new play structure, plant a garden and paint a mural.

The First Lady will be here to encourage volunteerism, but she will also be put to work.

"The preparation for this one is a little bit more than usual. We want to make sure that with all the madness that will be happening and the hype when folks are going to be so excited that she's going to be here... We want to make sure that the work still continues to gets done," said Jen Demelo, project manager for Kaboom.

It will be Mrs. Obama's second trip to Northern California. Last month she delivered the commencement address at UC Merced. But, in San Francisco's Bayview, a neighborhood with a large African American population and one that has been plagued by problems of crime and violence, her visit is especially important.

"I feel like there's a lot of bad press so it's nice to have this glimmer of hope and optimism with Mrs. Obama coming through," Klaus said.

The Alice Griffith Housing Projects are across the street from Bret Harte Elementary.

"As you can see, things are messed up over here and to build a brand new playground, that is awesome. Thanks out to Michelle Obama. We really appreciate that," Shamica Simpson said.

Tatiana Mims and her brothers moved out of the project Sunday. They hope Michelle Obama is able to see what they are up against.

"She wants to see the neighborhood being better than what it is," said Aaron Stone.

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