Rachel Lettre, my wife (pictured walking behind President Barack Obama), has been planning and running conservation service projects for almost eight years with the Student Conservation Association. This is part one of her series on "friends in high places:"
Each year, for Earth Day, we have over 100 volunteers join our staff for a huge project at Anacostia Park. We’ve done it so many times that it barely needs planning, other then getting the word out and moving tools and supplies to the park the day before. We send crews out to parks all over the country for weeks, many that we’ve never seen, some that we spend less then an hour talking to on the phone. This project was different.
Here’s how it all started:
April 9th, 9:30 a.m.: I walk into the office and Leah, SCA’s Director of Government Relations, pulls me into a phone call with some of our New Hampshire-based staff, who are asking if we can do an Earth Day project for some Americorps members. I say absolutely not, it’s our busy season and our staff is maxed out.
Later that day at 3 p.m.: I’m in a meeting and Leah runs in and grabs me, she’s on a call with the White House and the National Cooperation for Service. Can we do a site visit at Kingman Island for a project with First Lady Michelle Obama and a group of kids the next morning? Confidential.
April 10th, my day off: Amtchat Edwards, Leah and I go to Kingman Island with 2 members of the White House Advance Team to look at a potential project for the first lady, a group of students and some Americorps members. I suggest going to Kenilworth because it’s a more appropriate park. Still no clear answer on whether or not it’s really going to happen.
April 14th: Second site visit with two separate White House reps. They like Kenilworth better, still no confirmation and talk is for the first lady only. Still top secret.
April 16th, 10:30 p.m.: I’m getting antsy, haven’t heard from the White House in a day, and don’t know if it’s happening or not. Leah calls me at home and says, “Rachel, this is huge, and it’s confidential … are you ready? We’re on and it’s going to be The President, the First Lady, The Vice President, Dr. Biden, and Ted Kennedy. We need 12 students/Americorps members' social security numbers by morning and don’t tell them why.” Holy shit! My heart is racing, I can’t believe it. It’s 11 p.m. and I start texting all of our best students asking for their social security numbers. It’s all very surreal. Somehow I manage to get everyone’s socials to the White House the next day for vetting.
April 17th, 10 a.m.: Conference call with the White House: They go over the list of principals and I write these down. Not like I’m going to forget, but when will I ever be told such high-level superstars would be at one of my events again! “President Obama, Michelle Obama, VP Joe Biden, Dr. Jill Biden, and Bill Clinton.” ... My heart stops again ... did they just say Bill Clinton? OK, I’ll trade Ted for Bill. It’s not like Ted was going to get out there and dig a hole anyway.