The Check in the Mail Says … What?

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When the Mosaic Youth Theatre of Detroit, an arts education organization, received a $10,000 personal check in the mail earlier this month with the names Barack and Michelle Obama printed across the top, the first thought from its CEO was “this was too good to be true.”

There was no accompanying note. No comment from the White House. Even the signature was illegible.

But after founder and CEO Rick Sperling received confirmation from the bank that the account was valid – and the check was good – he finally believed the gift was from the president’s family.  He learned from the White House that his group was among a small group of nonprofits to which the Obamas chose to donate their money over the holidays.

Mosaic, an ensemble of actors, singers and stage technicians established in 1992, still has no explanation of how it was chosen.

The organization has a few supporters with ties to the Obama administration, but none claimed to be behind the donation, Sperling said. His best guess is that Mosaic got on the Obamas’ radar when the  youth ensemble was hired to perform at a 2008 Obama campaign rally in Detroit. But they didn’t meet the Obamas; the group performed before the Democrat presidential candidate arrived.   

Regardless of how they were selected, Mosaic Youth Theatre can use this money to offset some of the recent cutbacks that Michigan’s woeful economy has forced upon the organization, Sperling said.

“We have had to cut back on staffing, and we were just saying that we wanted to bring back a position, at least part-time, to work directly with young people,” Sperling said. “And this [donation] will allow us to do that. [The Obamas] created at least one half of a job through this.”

Evidence of the group’s uplifted spirits can be seen in a YouTube video of Sperling announcing the surprising news of the check to Mosaic students . With his students assembled on gymnasium bleachers, Sperling first shows a copy of the check to rousing cheers. He receives a far more celebratory reaction when he reveals the donor’s identity by taking off his sweatshirt to display an Obama shirt underneath.

“The money is very much needed and will go to good use, but what it’s done to our spirits really goes beyond that,” Sperling said. “Detroit is struggling very much right now. You do this kind of work and sometimes you don’t know if people are seeing the impact.”