Engage and Connect

President Obama is committed to making this the most open and participatory administration in history. That begins with taking your questions and comments, inviting you to join online events with White House officials, and giving you a way to engage with your government on the issues that matter the most.

Thumbnail from a video where a boy and a man are sitting together.

Latest News

  • A Culture of High Expectations and Opportunities

    Amelia Castañeda

    Amelia Castañeda is being honored as a Latino Educator Champion of Change.

    The oldest of four, I was a first-generation college graduate from Virginia Tech. In the fall of 2013, my youngest brother Saul was about to embark on his first semester of college after graduating a year early from high school. He shared with me that I had inspired him to pursue a college education. I was touched, especially since I had helped him along the way with his applications.

    Flash forward a year later. Hanging out in Saul’s room back home with my brother Greg, I had the chance to revisit our conversation and I asked specifically, “How did I inspire you?”  Greg chimed in and said simply, “You raised the standard.”

    Ever since joining the Higher Achievement team three and a half years ago, I have been able to articulate more clearly what has propelled me to give back to my community. I believe strongly in the three principles that guide Higher Achievement: talent is everywhere, intellect is built through effort, and opportunities matter.

    Growing up, nobody expected me to attend college right after high school. Not because my parents didn’t believe in me or because there was a lack of caring, but simply because they didn’t know how I could make that leap. Some of my peers were expected to go to college, but what becomes an expectation for some can be a foreign language to many. During my senior year in high school, I found myself continually feeling left behind. While everyone was speaking this magical language that included college applications and SAT’s, I felt completely lost.

    At Higher Achievement, my mission is to bridge that communication gap for families and students and to introduce the expectation of college attendance in the middle school years. We infuse our scholars with opportunities to not only discover their interests but also to prepare them for the rigor of high school and beyond. For example, we take our 7th and 8th graders on an overnight college visit, which for most of them is their first experience setting foot on a college campus.

    I first joined Higher Achievement in the spring of 2011 as we launched our Richmond affiliate. Prior to joining Higher Achievement, I worked at a school with students with autism in a one-on-one setting. There, I was already touching on two major Higher Achievement principles—setting high standards and expectations, as well as providing opportunities for our students to excel. 

    Last year, Higher Achievement introduced a new, bold vision: That, by 2030, all students in Higher Achievement cities (Richmond, Alexandria, Baltimore, Pittsburgh, and Washington, D.C.) will graduate high school prepared for college. As an organization, we have challenged ourselves to make college an expectation across the board. Accomplishing this goal will require a coordinated effort from staff, school districts, and community partners. As our communities band together to realize our bold goal of universal college-readiness by 2030, I am proud of the work we are all doing to raise the standards and make high expectations the new norm for all. One by one, we all have the power to be champions in our own communities and create a domino effect that inspires others to succeed and dream big.

    Amelia Castañeda is the Alexandria Center Director for Higher Achievement, an organization dedicated to closing the opportunity gap for middle school youth.

  • We Have the Power to Change the World…Now Let’s Get to Work!

    Anibal Soler

    Anibal Soler is being honored as a Latino Educator Champion of Change.

    I am honored and humbled to be recognized as a White House Champion of Change. This is an honor that I will never forget receiving, but an honor that I cannot accept alone. I am one individual amongst many caring educators at my school and in my community working hard to make a difference in the lives of our children. I’ve been taught that the ultimate thing that matters in our lives is what we have done for others rather than the material items we own—and that has continued to drive me during my career in education.

    My educational journey began in 2000, as an art teacher in a high-needs urban middle school in Rochester, New York. Since then, I knew internally that I could take on a larger role in bettering my community. I was fortunate enough to have others see potential in me; just a few years later, I found myself in the role of school principal.

    I stepped into East High School in 2009, and I was the fourth school principal in three years. The school was hurting, lost and looking for stable leadership. The school community wanted a leader that was committed to supporting teachers in their drive to improve student outcomes. I was fortunate to have been given that opportunity, and since that day I haven’t looked back. I look forward to future opportunities to develop a comprehensive “best-practice” urban high school with the best teachers, administrators, curriculum, facilities, and school supports available.

    During our school’s morning announcements, we always announce, “We have the power to change the world…Now let’s get to work!” I hope that we can all take that message to heart.

    Anibal Soler, Jr. is the Principal of East High School in Rochester, New York. 

  • Helping Young People Help Themselves

    Shana Runck

    Shana Runck is being honored as a Latino Educator Champion of Change.

    Over the course of my career, I would have never expected that my hard work and dedication to giving back to the community would lead me to being named a White House Champion of Change. As a New Mexico native and long-time educator, I have always had a passion to help at-risk Latino youth and to provide them with skills necessary for a successful transition into college and future employment. I am honored that I’ve been given an opportunity to make a difference in my local community, and I am grateful to receive this national recognition on behalf of New Mexico Educators Federal Credit Union for the programs we have worked so hard to develop.

    One of the main programs I’m involved with, Running Start for Careers, allows high school sophomores, juniors, and seniors to earn dual-credit hours toward graduation while gaining valuable work skills and on-the-job training. The course focuses on careers in the financial services industry from tellers and loan officers to marketing and human resources. Students who complete the course have the opportunity to interview for an internship at the Credit Union, where they can earn high school and college credit, an hourly paid wage, and a valuable work experience in a career they are passionate about. 

    I also helped create the financial capabilities program at New Mexico Educators Federal Credit Union.  Educational institutions, business, and non-profits utilize the program to provide participants with the knowledge and skills required to effectively manage their finances. The financial capabilities program is scalable to provide an 18-module curriculum, individual financial workshops, and topic-specific training, and it is the only model aligned with New Mexico’s Common Core State Standards. I work closely with each of our partner institutions to adapt the curriculum to reflect their particular goals, ensuring that we provide an effective resource for our partners.

    It is a rewarding to know that my work within the local community has inspired students to pursue education and job training in fields that interest them and to learn foundational financial skills. In a state with high poverty rates, low youth employment, and high student dropout rates, I am grateful that New Mexico Educators Federal Credit Union has given me a platform to make a difference in increasing high school graduation rates among Latino youth and providing them with employment opportunities. It is an honor to be named a White House Champion of Change among other inspiring individuals from all across this great nation. 

    Shana Runck is the Assistant Vice President of Community Relations and Financial Capabilities with New Mexico Educators Federal Credit Union in Albuquerque, New Mexico. 

  • Promise Zones: Creating Opportunities

    Ed. note: This is cross-posted on the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's blog. See the original post here.

    As the former Mayor of an urban Promise Zone community, I have a unique appreciation for the passion and dedication local leaders have when working to turn around their communities.

    I saw San Antonio’s Promise Zone create new pathways allowing our citizens the chance to reach higher, dream bigger, and reach goals they never thought imaginable. They are about giving folks who have been under served for far too long the opportunity to build stronger neighborhoods and more prosperous lives. I am honored to share this opportunity with other communities across the country as they work to transform their futures.

    Watch on YouTube

  • Wishing You a Sweet, Happy, and Healthy New Year

    Shanah Tovah from the White House! On Wednesday evening, Jews in the United States and around the world will begin celebrating Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year.

    The High Holidays offer the Jewish community a moment of pause, a time to reflect on the previous year and recommit to the unending task of Tikkun Olam, repairing the world. Together, working with people of all faiths, we can bring greater peace and prosperity to the world in 5775.

    In his 2014 video message for the High Holidays, President Obama extends his wishes for a sweet new year and discusses why this time of year is so significant.

    Watch on YouTube

    Read the remarks: 

    Hello. As Jews across America, Israel, and the world gather together for the High Holidays, Michelle and I extend our warmest wishes to you and your families for a sweet and happy new year.

    My good friend Elie Wiesel once said that God gave human beings a secret, and that secret was not how to begin but how to begin again. These days of awe are a chance to celebrate that gift, to give thanks for the secret, the miracle of renewal.

    In synagogues and homes over the coming days, Jews will reflect on a year that carried its shares of challenges. We’ve been reminded many times that our world still needs repair. So here at home we continue the hard work of rebuilding our economy and restoring our American dream of opportunity for all. Around the world, we continue to stand for the dignity of every human being, and against the scourge of anti-Semitism, and we reaffirm the friendships and bonds that keep us strong, including our unshakeable alliance with the State of Israel.

    So let’s approach this new year with new confidence and new hope. Let’s recommit ourselves to living out the values we share as individuals and as a country. Above all, let’s embrace this God-given miracle of renewal, this extraordinary opportunity to begin again in pursuit of justice, prosperity, and peace. From my family to yours, shanah tovah.

  • Hispanic Heritage Month: Celebrating our Raíces and Shared Culture with Latin America

    The following Op-Ed by Katherine Vargas was published in El País, and can be read in Spanish HERE.

    Last week marked the beginning of Hispanic Heritage Month, a time to honor the rich heritage of the Latino community and celebrate its countless achievements. It is also an opportunity to celebrate the familial, cultural and economic ties that so many Americans share with Latin America.

    Latin America is booming; it is a region that is proudly carrying forward on a journey toward becoming middle-class, secure, and democratic for the first time in its history. The policies of the Obama Administration are designed to enhance and support this trend.  Throughout the Americas, we are engaged in a common cause to strengthen citizen security and democratic institutions, expand economic opportunity and prosperity, promote social inclusion for all, including vulnerable populations, and develop a clean and secure energy future while working together to address climate change.  

    The Western Hemisphere holds enormous potential —economically, politically, and socially—and the United States remains committed to working with partners to seize upon shared opportunities and address common challenges, including through the active pace of engagement by the President and Vice President. 

    We’re also focused on deepening the connections between our people through initiatives like “100,000 Strong in the Americas”, which is focused on expanding educational opportunity and exchange to build connections between the people of the Americas, and to make our region more competitive. President Obama launched 100,000 Strong in the Americas to meet the target of bringing 100,000 students to the United States to study each year, while also increasing the number of Americans studying abroad in the hemisphere to 100,000. He did so out of a belief that greater educational opportunity and exchange will serve the interests of all our countries – developing new skills, increasing employment opportunities, building bridges across borders, and ultimately improving relations between the United States and our neighbors.

    Just last week at the start of Hispanic Heritage Month, the White House hosted the first U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Inclusion Ambassador, Latin pop and vallenato singer/song writer Carlos Vives for a visit. In this role, Carlos works to promote social and economic inclusion of Afro-Colombian and indigenous communities in Colombia helping the country to overcome decades of conflict and move towards peace. The partnership builds on USAID’s decade-long effort to support Afro-Colombian and indigenous communities to promote their inclusion, rights, and economic opportunities.

    Today, tens of millions of Americans trace their origins back to Latin America. Millions of workers are earning a living from good jobs made possible by the trade between our nations. The United States is a more prosperous and more diverse country thanks to our partnerships with our southern neighbors.  The President, Vice President, and the entire Administration will continue to build on our common heritage, our economic relationship and our shared values to enrich the lives of all our people.

  • Nominate a White House Champion of Change for Strengthening the Economy through Citizenship

    All across the United States, immigrant workers make up the backbone of many small, large, and emerging businesses. Immigrant workers bring their skills and talent to the broader American workforce, and many businesses understand that by investing in their immigrant workforce they are also investing in their overall productivity. Our country is stronger and our businesses are stronger when everyone has a stake.  As a result, some businesses have begun providing assistance to qualified employees with the citizenship process. Citizenship offers individuals the chance to become full participants in the American workforce, helping to improve the economy and their communities.

    We would like to recognize these efforts so today, we’re asking you to help us identify and honor these leaders who are strengthening their businesses and the workforce by helping immigrants through the citizenship process. These extraordinary leaders will be invited to the White House to celebrate their accomplishments and showcase their actions to amplify the lesson that helping immigrant workers become citizens is not just compassionate but also good business. Please nominate a Champion of Change by midnight on Tuesday, September 30, 2014. Nominees may include the following types of individuals:

    • Small business owners who provide civic lessons and workshops to employees.
    • Managers within large or medium-sized businesses who provide English language lessons to employees.
    • Company owners who provide citizenship information to employees. 
    • Labor Unions working with employers to provide access to citizenship services.

    Click on the link below to submit your nomination (be sure to choose Strengthening the Economy through Citizenship in the "Theme of Service" field of the nomination form).

    Nominate a Strengthening the Economy through Citizenship Champion of Change

    We are looking forward to hosting this event and to highlighting the incredible work that businesses across the country are doing to strengthen our workforce, economy, and country.

    Julie Chavez Rodriguez is Deputy Director of the Office of Public Engagement. 

  • Jennifer Molina’s I’m Covered Story: Taking Control of My Health

    Jennifer Molina

    You can read this story on HHS.gov, HERE

    Between my college studies and working to pay for my education, my life is pretty busy. I don’t have time to be sick. But illnesses don’t care about schedules, as I found out this winter.

    They also don’t care what’s in your bank account. I couldn’t get health insurance through my sales job, I couldn’t afford it through my school, and getting it on my own was way too expensive. Prices were outrageous.

    So when I got really sick, I decided I had no choice but to wait it out. Medical care is too costly when you’re paying for it on your own. I took over-the-counter medicines, but they could only do so much.

    As a student who wants to become a nurse, I knew that taking care of my health needed to be a higher priority. So I checked out the Health Insurance Marketplace and got help from a navigator who ran through various plans and benefits with me and explained deductibles and premiums.

    Because of the Affordable Care Act, I was able to choose the coverage that was right for me. My new plan costs only $21 a month after tax credits.

    And I’m not the only one who was able to find an affordable plan. Millions of Americans have already enrolled in affordable, quality health coverage through the Marketplace.

    With the help of the navigator, I found it was a pretty easy process to get covered. I tell my friends: Just look into it. Don’t pass up this opportunity.

    When I first started looking, I thought it wasn’t going to be affordable for me, but I was wrong. I’ve since learned that nearly 7 in 10 people who signed up for plans with tax credits through the federal Marketplace got covered for $100 a month or less. Like me, nearly half were able to get covered for $50 a month or less. This is particularly important to the well-being of my friends and family, because Hispanic-Americans are more likely to be uninsured than any other racial or ethnic group.

    You can sign up at HealthCare.gov, or in Spanish at CuidadoDeSalud.gov when open enrollment begins again on November 15. Folks with special circumstances, like people who have lost job-based insurance, gotten married or aged off a parent’s plan at 26, may qualify for a special enrollment period, allowing them to enroll in a Marketplace plan before November. And if you are eligible for Medicaid or CHIP, you can enroll at any time.

    You can also contact the Marketplace Call Center -- 1-800-318-2596 (TTY: 1-855-889-4325 – anytime, day or night, and get assistance in English or Spanish or any of 150 languages.

    For me, health insurance means peace of mind and being able to feel safe. Thanks to the Marketplace, I don’t have to worry about what to do when I’m ill. I know that I’m covered at any time, any place.