By ALVELYN SANDERS
President Barack Obama knows how to make an entrance.
Here is the scene: Community leaders from around the country are settling into the second half of a daylong visit to the White House to hear a series of briefings from the Office of Public Engagement (OPE) on June 24, 2011. After a purposefully, fanfare-less introduction of a special guest, in strides the 44th President of the United States – stage right. He heads straight to the podium bearing the presidential seal, and I – known as the perennial, laid-back woman around these parts – I, Alvelyn Sanders, almost screamed. Almost. It is a good thing I did not scream. Un-southern lady-like. After all, when the President of the United States surprises you, a fellow American (not a screaming fan), with an unscheduled visit to thank you and your colleagues for your hard work, you do not scream. You close your mouth, sit down, try to snap a few shots with a camera or cell phone, savor the gracious moment, and listen to what the man has to say, which is what I did – after I caught my breath.
The President of the United States wanted us to know that while it may seem like we are alone in the work that we do, we are not. Others, as evidenced by our gathering, are with us, and he, as the President of the United States, is with us, too. He needed our help still. Our communities needed us still. There is work to do still. His visit illustrated the mission of the OPE, appropriately created by the Obama administration, to make sure the public, regardless of individual party affiliation, knows about government policies and programs and how we can utilize those resources to make our communities better.
Even before the president catapulted the OPE briefing into the earth’s stratosphere, the series of sessions and presentations had already been immensely informative. We heard updates by key staffers like Valerie Jarrett, senior advisor to the president; Macon Phillips, special assistant to the president and director of digital strategy, David Kamin, special assistant to the president for economic policy, and Greg Nelson, deputy director of OPE. We were reminded of many points of good news like that 3 million jobs were created by the Recovery Act, the benefits of the Affordable Care Act, and that the Small Business Administration Microloan Program provides loans to small businesses through eligible, private nonprofit community- and faith-based lenders. We addressed the challenges still on the table: improving the economy through the windows of infrastructure, transit and innovation. Plus, we heard