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Greater DC Cares €" First Lady Cares,Too

Mary Wells | 6/17/2009, 11:35 p.m.

More than 500 people attended Greater DC Care€s Awards Luncheon on Tue., June 16, at the Renaissance Hotel in Northwest to celebrate organizations and leaders who have excelled in service, volunteerism and philanthropy. Guests also turned out to see First Lady Michelle Obama €" the keynote speaker for the event.

Greater DC Cares, based in Northwest, works with a network of more than 500 nonprofits, 12,000 volunteers and myriad corporate foundation partners that work together to positively impact the region.

€The participation of the First Lady is a testament to the importance of volunteerism and service and can play in the revitalization of our communities and economy,€ said Mayde Henson, president and CEO of Greater DC Cares. Henson introduced Obama at the Business & Nonprofit Philanthropy Summit and Awards event.

Obama received thunderous applause from guests as she approached the podium. After the applause died down, the former hospital administrator told the audience that she could relate to their mission.

€Having built an organization, I know what it takes €" real resources to move on. Through Public Allies, an AmeriCorps Program, I worked with all types of volunteers, more than 30 or 40 every year. We worked with all types of groups throughout Chicago. A person with a GED would recognize that they had the same determination as someone in law school. It was awesome to see them when the light bulb goes off,€ Obama said.

Earlier, organizations that benefited from Greater DC Cares€ guidance and expertise explained that with the encouragement and help of volunteers from the program, they were able to service more people.

€Every 40 minutes in this country, the Foundation helps make the life of a young person with a life threatening illness or disease and their families happy. Greater DC Cares has been a part of that in this region,€ said Cathy Martens, president and CEO of the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

Others agreed.

€With the help of Greater DC Cares, volunteers helped us get more involvement in the schools from the parents, said Brearn Wright, principal of Truesdell Education Center in Northwest and formerly of Clark Elementary School, also in Northwest.

€At Clark Elementary School, parents said the playground was not used after school because the older boys in the neighborhood used the playground for drugs and all kinds of unsafe behavior. Volunteers from Greater DC Cares helped paint the playground, landscaped the soccer field and made it a safe place for our elementary students to use all the time. We got computers with Internet capabilities at both schools,€ Wright told the audience.

€The biggest lesson we learned is that heroes come in different shapes. Now, students at Truesdell and Clark and their parents are simply giving back to their communities,€ he said.

Doris Washington, chair of the Board of the Coalition for the Homeless, attended the awards luncheon. She said that Greater DC Cares makes a difference.

€I€ve taken their board training and one of my board members has had their training. It makes a big difference when you are looking for board members for them to have board training for non-profits,€ Washington said.

€I€m hoping to get more board members from [Greater DC Cares] because we are expanding,€ she said with a smile.