The first lady was the keynote speaker at Moscone Center in San Francisco, at a national conference on volunteering and service. She said volunteers can help bring about change in rebuilding the economy.
"We have a president that wants to help us break out of those old habits that got us into this mess and build a new foundation for our economy; making investments in education, health care, and clean energy that will create jobs and preserve our planet and give our kids every opportunity to fulfill their dreams," she said.
Any first lady draws a lot of attention, but not since Jacqueline Kennedy have we seen this kind of response. Like President Kennedy, Mrs. Obama is using her power to attract attention to promote service to the country.
At an elementary school in San Francisco's Bayview neighborhood Mrs. Obama tightened the last bolts on a playground slide and then talked to the volunteers who spent the past week assembling the playground.
"Community and national service is something that is 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," Mrs. Obama said.
She told the crowd that as the president and Congress take up health care reform, every American can do something to help.
"Kids have to be active, they have to move their bodies in order to get their minds flowing," she said. And she added, healthy, active kids can make a difference in the bottom line of healthcare costs. "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."
It is a cost we cannot afford, said the first lady.
"That's why this project we're doing here today is so important and organizations like Kaboom are necessary, not just to the health of our children, but to the health of our nation," she said.
In the audience Monday was San Francisco's superintendent of schools.
"It was great, it was great having the first lady here, she was wonderful, it was a good example of volunteering, getting the kids behind physical fitness, it was great," Carlos Garcia said.
Some of the volunteers who were selected yesterday to meet the first lady were just as excited.
"She shook my hand and gave me a big smile and said it was great to meet me," AmeriCorps volunteer Katie Evans said.
Even the youngest people at the elementary school took home the message.
"It's helping us exercise, to eat fruits and vegetables more because it's healthy," Bridget Hankin said.
The White House has also set up a Web site to help people find ways they can volunteer.