By Pamela Gentry, Senior Political Analyst
Jan. 21, 2010 – The president and first lady announced the expansion of the White House’s mentoring program. The program will be expanded to include 20 young men to the 20 young ladies selected for the program initiated in November 2009 under the leadership of Mrs. Obama.
The East Room announcement Thursday introduced the mentors and their mentee and expanded the year long program to include young men. The forty young folks from across the United States will have a White House staffer as their mentor, attend one workshop a month, and participate in field trips in the nation’s capital.
First lady Michelle Obama told the children, “People are doing this because they want to be a part of your lives, they want to hear about your hopes and dreams and your passions and your struggles. They are here because they believe in your potential and they want to share some of the lessons that they’ve learned.”
That’s exactly what Michael Strautmanis, chief of staff for senior advisor Valerie Jarrett told me about his high mentors: the Obamas. “They have always been about giving back and I’ve personally benefited from it.”
Strautmanis has been tapped to coordinate the program and its partnerships with other departments in the White House. “I wouldn’t be here today if they hadn’t been there for me,” he told me. I first met Strautmanis when he came to Washington with Sen. Obama and served as the freshman senator’s chief of staff. A native of Chicago and an attorney Strautmanis started his legal career as at Sidley, Austin law firm in Chicago where he met the Obamas.
The president acknowledged the challenges facing young people today during his remarks – and reflected on his youth. “Fewer young people are growing up in homes with two parents. I’m one of those people who didn’t grow up with two parents in a household. Parents are working longer hours and they’ve got less time to spend with their kids. And many young people don’t have the advantage of living in those tight-knit neighborhoods that many of us who are older grew up in, where people looked out for each other, and for each other’s children,” he said.
The White House Men/Boys Mentoring Program has also managed to snag the support of corporate sponsors, national non-profits and the U.S. Government is also stepping up and launching the serve.gov/mentor Website for federal employees to volunteer their time.
“It’s tough being a young person out there these days, “Statautmanis said. “We’ll bring them [mentee] to the White House and expose them to different perspectives, new careers, how the federal government works and introduce them to cultural opportunities in D.C.
All of this for what the first lady summed up as a promise. “The only thing that we ask in return, and we said this to the girls, is that when this is all over, that you give back, that you do the same for someone else. That’s the only thing we ask of you. Because the beauty of being a mentor is that anyone can do it at any age,” she told the mentees.
The message was clear from the first couple, anything is possible. Mrs. Obama told the mentee, “Each of us has the ability to move beyond the circumstances that we were born into. That’s really the story of both me and the president, that through hard work and perseverance, that you can actually choose the life that you want to live — it’s your choice.”