Three Washington, D.C., high school students who asked first lady Michelle Obama questions during her recent visit to their after-school program were chosen to sit with her Tuesday night during the president’s address to both houses of Congress.
Eleventh grader Elizabeth Carballo and 10th graders Akrem Muzemil and Juan Francisco Rodríguez who met the first lady during her Feb. 10 visit to Mary’s Center, a health nonprofit, were invited personally to attend the joint session. Alvaro Simmons, the organization’s chief operating officer, accompanied the students.
The three teens had asked Michelle Obama about curbing community violence and attending college. In response, she praised community support organizations like Mary’s Center and urged the students to take personal responsibility for their actions. During a pre-speech meeting with both Obamas, President Obama joked that they were brave to ask his wife a question.
Lyda Vanegas, advocacy communications coordinator for Mary’s Center, said that the three students were individually selected because of their comments during Mrs. Obama’s visit. Carballo, 16, Muzemil, 16, and Rodríguez, 15, attend public high schools in Washington.
Mary’s Center, which was founded in 1988 as a prenatal care center for Latino women, today supplies health care, education and social services to low-income immigrant families.
In addition to providing services such as primary health care and literacy classes, the Mary’s Center runs programs for immigrant youths. The daily After School program is designed to give teens a sense of community and keep them off the streets. A summer program, Urbanitos, empowers students to launch community projects such as creating a scholarship fund.
“We want Mary’s Center to be like their second home,” said Vanegas, who noted that many of the teens’ mothers received prenatal care at the center.
Mary’s Center, which Hillary Clinton also visited as first lady, is affiliated with the National Council of La Raza (NCLR), a Hispanic-American advocacy group. The founder, president and CEO of Mary’s Center, Maria Gomez, serves on the board of NCLR.