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.

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Latest News

  • Changing How People See Emergency Preparedness, With Small Steps

    Erika Mahoney

    Erika Mahoney is being honored as a Individual and Community Preparedness Champion of Change.

    It is an honor for me to be chosen as a White House Champion of Change, particularly since I am representing Do 1 Thing, the non-profit program that I spent my life working on. I am so proud of the work we are doing and will continue to do in the future.

    I feel very strongly that as a nation we need to build resiliency, one small step at a time. In particular, we must ensure that those who live in high-risk areas, such as flood plains, or those with greater vulnerability, such as people with disabilities, are prepared ahead of time for emergencies and disasters. If we want to see the United States have a strong culture of emergency preparedness, then we need to work one community, one family, one person at a time.

    Through AmeriCorps VISTA, I worked at Do 1 Thing right out of college. I was drawn to Do 1 Thing because it is built on the belief that everyone should have access to emergency preparedness information that is clear, concise, and free. People with disabilities and the elderly are among some of the very first groups I started working with, and I quickly realized that there is tremendous work to be done, particularly in those communities. I sought to create reading materials accessible to people with disabilities and the elderly. Large print, visual factsheets, braille, multiple languages, and audio are just some of the ways we have made our program accessible, but I knew that I had to stay longer to accomplish the things I wanted to accomplish. I offered to stay a second year, and during that year I was hired by the Michigan Region 1 Homeland Security Board to continue my work with Do 1 Thing.

    Do 1 Thing has been an amazing and rewarding experience, and helping people prepare for emergencies and disasters has become my passion. Even as a child, I helped prepare my own family for emergencies, always asking my parents to make plans in case disaster strikes. We had sheltering plans, fire plans, emergency contacts, and meeting places. I began volunteering outside the home early on, as well. At the age of 12, I won the Youth Assistance Award for my volunteer work in my hometown of Rochester, Michigan. And at Michigan State University, I served in my dorm as the Community Service Director.

    As Americans, it is important to remember to give back to the communities in which we work and live. I am proud of Do 1 Thing and of my work with the organization. While my career has been nontraditional, it has been incredibly rewarding. The Do 1 Thing program has grown from a small local organization into a national non-profit with community partners all across the country. I am so proud to be recognized as a Champion of Change, but I am even prouder that it is through the work of this fantastic program, Do 1 Thing.

    Erika Mahoney is the Executive Director of Do 1 Thing, a non-profit dedicated to helping individuals, families, businesses, and communities prepare for all hazards and become disaster resilient.

  • Watersheds and Wildfires

    Jonathan Bruno

    Jonathan Bruno is being honored as a Individual and Community Preparedness Champion of Change.

    I grew up in a home overlooking the North Branch of the Winooski River in central Vermont. Each spring, as the winter snow melted and the temperatures climbed, my brother and I would wait anxiously for our father to announce that it was time to “move some rocks,” which to me meant swimming. As we’d splash in the clear waters, my father would spend hours clearing the boulders that had filled his swimming hole during the spring floods. As a kid, “moving rocks” was part of summer. As I grew older, I came to see dad’s underwater rock wrestling matches as a reminder that the river I loved as a boy is part of the global system that we interact with every day.

    For more than a decade, I have worked in natural resource protection through the Coalition for the Upper South Platte (CUSP). With 27 staff and 6,500 annual volunteers, we work to balance the diverse needs and interests of Coloradans, serving more than 75% of our state’s residents by protecting our 2,600-square-mile watershed located in Colorado’s central Front Range. With mounting research demonstrating the global impacts of local wildfires, watershed protection demands a multimodal action approach, including fire prevention. Proper land management saves lives, money, and resources.

    Two recent fires alone – Waldo Canyon in 2012 and Black Forest in 2013 – resulted in over $750 million dollars in insurance claims and greatly harmed the surrounding natural environment. These and other devastating Colorado wildfires spurred the creation of the Wildfire Insurance and Forest Health Task Force, which was designed to make recommendations aimed at lessening the impacts from fire, especially in wildland-urban interfaces (WUI), the zones of transition between unoccupied land and human development. The recommendations included an assessment of where to build and how to build so that our communities won’t be put in harm’s way. We must ensure that homeowners understand that living and building in the WUI, or deep in the forest, means that their homes could become tinderboxes when fire encroaches. While I still believe that the burden for action and property protection ultimately falls on the homeowner, the responsibility to take action falls upon everyone, and we must all be willing to take accountability and ownership over our communities.

    Everyone is impacted by the way our natural resources are used, as well as how they are protected. From the river I swam in as a young boy in Vermont to the watershed I now work to enhance, protection of these resources starts with the local community. That includes property owners, local officials, land managers, and people like me who want to ensure safe and healthy communities. Wildfire issues, as well as many other environmental and societal challenges, are far too large to be solved by a single individual, office, or agency. We must be willing to accept that global problems are problems for all of us, and that solutions are possible when – and only when – we address these issues together.

    Jonathan Bruno is the Chief Operating Officer for the Coalition for the Upper South Platte, a non-profit whose mission is to protect the water quality and ecologic health of the Upper South Platte Watershed.

  • Passion for Public Safety

    Phil Amtower

    Phil Amtower is being honored as a Individual and Community Preparedness Champion of Change.

    I have been involved in public safety for over 20 years. For the past 16 years, I have worked in the field of emergency management. I started out as a volunteer firefighter, and my passion for public safety grew from there.

    In 1997, I was appointed by the county commission as Emergency Management Director. This was basically a volunteer position; I received $100 a month of pay and had a budget of merely $5,000 per year. I continued my emergency management work in this capacity until 2003, when I convinced the county commission that this position needed to be a full-time job. After 3 months as a full-time employee, we had our first major emergency. An F-3 tornado made its way through the western part of our county and left a wide path of destruction.

    The next day, I was incredibly overwhelmed. There was a whole lot of work to do, and I was only one person! I decided that we needed more members of our community involved in emergency preparedness and management, so I decided to start a Community Emergency Response Team (CERT). I took the train-the-trainer course and taught my first class to our first group of volunteers in October 2003.

    Since then, we have taught 53 classes and trained over 1,000 people in our county alone. The main goal of CERT is to train people to be better prepared for disasters and to empower them to help themselves and others in the wake of a disaster. After completing the course, the students can sign up as CERT volunteers. Right now, we have over 200 CERT volunteers in our county, and they provide over 4,000 service hours annually. This incredible team has been instrumental in preparing our communities for disasters before they strike.

    Later, it became clear to me that we needed to work with other CERT volunteers across the state to address crises when they occur. In May 2011, an F-5 tornado hit southwest Missouri and devastated the city of Joplin. While thousands of CERT volunteers across Missouri responded, each CERT group responded in a different way. That uncoordinated approach hurt our emergency response efforts. After that, I decided that we needed a unified approach that would alleviate some of the duplication that happened in Joplin and harness all the resources from southwest Missouri’s CERT groups. When all of the groups next met, I pitched the idea, and MO CERT 1 was born. So far, the MO CERT 1 team has been deployed all across the Midwest, from Moore, Oklahoma, to Baxter Springs, Kansas, to Branson, Missouri. The team can provide shelter support, perform wilderness search and rescue, remove debris, and conduct damage assessments and wellness checks.

    My experiences have shown me that we can only respond effectively to emergencies if we come together and rely on each other. It’s been incredibly meaningful to help make that happen in my home state of Missouri.

    Phil Amtower is the Director of Emergency Management for Christian County, Missouri and the Task Force Leader for MO CERT 1.

  • Changing the Culture through Education and Understanding

    Lt. Brian K. Rand

    Lt. Brian K. Rand is being honored as a Individual and Community Preparedness Champion of Change.

    As an emergency responder, I’ve been taught that all events have a “life cycle.” They consist of a beginning, a middle, and an end. But emergency management and community preparedness do not have a life cycle. They have a beginning, but the task of managing emergencies and preparing our communities is unending.

    That’s what I find so exciting about emergency preparedness. Preparedness means getting ready for an event before it happens, even if such an event has never occurred in a given community. I am happy to say that this approach is now guiding emergency services preparedness and training across the country.

    Preparing emergency action plans for an event that may or may not occur can be a daunting task; it always requires a great amount of time, effort, research, and training. I have found that it is important to remember two things throughout this difficult process. First, always ask “what if.” And second, never place yourself in the position of having to answer the question of “what do we do now.” Changing the culture of emergency response to be proactive is a major goal we should all strive to achieve.

    My work at the Watertown Fire Department has given me a chance to enact my vision of proactive community preparedness. As an example, we have worked with stakeholders to enact policies to deal with opioid overdoses and the pre-hospital treatment of these events. The Department went to great lengths to meet with community activists, hospital officials, and medical directors, as well as to enhance our pre-hospital treatment of overdoses on scene during the event.

    Because we saw great success with this program, we are now working with local partners to help change the legislation to have the same medication we provide also available on scene (Naloxone). By educating and changing the culture of how communities perceive an individual who becomes addicted, we gain greater support for important programs that help treat individuals with addictions. The Department offers training to families to help better understand addiction and to save the life of a family member in an emergency. At a minimum, we hope that our education and training will allow an individual who cares for a person afflicted with addiction to have the proper tools to save his or her life.

    A piece of advice that I received as a U.S. Marine from my Gunnery Sergeant, Kenneth Crutcher, still guides my thinking today: “If you find yourself with nothing more to do, you are wrong.”  This is the mindset you must maintain while creating and implementing emergency preparedness plans of all shapes and sizes. You are never done. You can always go back and make things better.

    This is the attitude that ensures emergency preparedness workers build relationships with community members who are needed to create community-centered solutions to emergencies. Engaging these local partner is vital because they will be the ones there in the event of an emergency. Preparing all aspects of a community is the key to success in an ever-changing emergency management landscape here in the United States.

    Lt. Brian K. Rand serves as the Emergency Medical Services Coordinator and Training Officer for the Watertown, Massachusetts Fire Department.

  • Putting Others before Yourself

    Marny D. McLee, Sr.

    Marny D. McLee, Sr. is being honored as a Individual and Community Preparedness Champion of Change.

    I have always had a strong commitment to my family, community, and country. I grew up in a single-parent household and was the oldest of six boys, so I had to step up and help take care of my family. This showed me that I could dedicate myself to improving the lives of those around me—members of my family, community, and country. When I was old enough, I joined the military and served on Active Duty in the U.S. Air Force for over 20 years. The values I learned from my experiences with my family and in the military are now a part of me, and those values have driven me towards working in community preparedness.

    My journey to Citizen Corps started over 10 years ago, when I began a second career as an Emergency Planner. In this role, I presented to community groups, faith-based groups, and schools about Citizen Corps and the importance of emergency preparedness. Engaging with these communities showed me that my true calling was in family safety and community preparedness.

    Early on, it was clear to me that partnerships and outreach had to be two pillars of our community preparedness work in Delaware. To bring together local stakeholders and ensure community investment, we made it mandatory for programs to be sponsored by a county or local emergency manager, fire chief, or chief of police. We also discovered that the business community, educational institutions, and non-profits could be helpful in providing citizens with opportunities to get involved in community preparedness. We now have partnerships with organizations all across the state, such as the Boy Scouts of America and the YMCA. We also have strong relationships with faith-based communities, such as the Muslim community.

    I’ve learned that partnerships allow us to do much more than we could ever do alone. For example, we sponsor an annual Family Emergency Preparedness Day, and it is absolutely essential that we have help from our partners. Working with Minor League Baseball has allowed us to spread our preparedness message all season long. We have also built a partnership with the amateur radio community, which helps us effectively improve emergency communications during times of disaster.

    I have also helped establish local groups of emergency preparedness volunteers so that communities all across the state are prepared for emergencies. I have pushed the State Citizen Corps Council to establish local citizen corps councils and provide them with support as they engage their own communities. By empowering local communities, we have been able to create solutions tailored to the unique needs of diverse communities.

    Providing people with the chance to serve through volunteer opportunities is important to bringing together communities. Through educating and training volunteers, we reach even more people in need of community preparedness. And by providing opportunities for volunteers to contribute, we ensure that communities are actively involved and empowered in the process of preparing for emergencies.

    Our strategy of partnerships and outreach has helped us reach more people than I ever could have imagined. I am incredibly proud of the work we have done to prepare the citizens of Delaware for disasters.

    Marny D. McLee, Sr. is the Delaware Citizen Corps and Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) Training and Outreach Coordinator. He works at the Delaware Emergency Management Agency (DEMA).

  • Veteran Entrepreneurs Honored as White House Champions of Change

    Ed. note: This is cross-posted on the Small Business Administration's blog. See the original post here.

    The energy in the room was inspiring as 11 veteran and veteran spouse entrepreneurs took the stage to be honored as Champions of Change on August 27. Invited to the White House to be honored for their extraordinary achievements, these “Champions” are community leaders who empower veterans and give back to the veteran community.

    Throughout the event, there was one constant theme: Veterans are natural leaders. Military training provides veterans with a skillset that translates directly to entrepreneurship. “People might learn leadership in various ways, but there’s no place like the military,” said Champion Louisa Long Jaffe, who attributes the problem-solving skills taught in the military as one of many reasons veterans not only make successful entrepreneurs but also great employees.

    The Champions also spoke of their passion to serve; a passion that has evolved from serving their country in uniform, to serving their communities by creating jobs, providing solutions, and contributing to economic growth.

  • Nominate a White House Champion of Change for Disability Employment

    People with disabilities, including significant disabilities, have the skills and talent to make meaningful contributions within America’s workplaces. Advancing employment opportunities and expectations for people with disabilities strengthens not only our economy, but also our society. It creates a more inclusive America where people with disabilities benefit from the intrinsic value of work and develop pride in knowing that they too play a role in the growth and success of our Nation. This Administration has worked steadfastly to address the persistent barriers to employment for people with disabilities and shift the conversation about disability employment from one focused on whether people with disabilities can work, to one more aptly focused on what we can do to ensure that people with disabilities are given the chance to succeed in our nation’s workforce and lift themselves into the middle class and beyond.

    While the President will continue to do everything he can to increase the employment rates of people with disabilities, we know efforts to spur hiring at the state and local levels – by small business owners, large companies, philanthropic organizations and self-employed entrepreneurs often have the most impact. The leaders who are creating change know that people with disabilities are an important part of the American workforce. Every day, these individuals are stepping up in big ways in our communities to make sure that all Americans with disabilities have equal opportunities and a pathway to the middle class.

    Today, we’re asking you to help us identify and honor innovators who are breaking down barriers to the middle class by providing employment opportunities for workers with disabilities, including workers with significant disabilities. These extraordinary leaders will be invited to the White House to celebrate their accomplishments and showcase their actions to ensure that individuals with significant disabilities have a fair shot at succeeding in good jobs and careers. Please nominate a Champion of Change by midnight on Sunday, September 14, 2014.  We are seeking Champions who reflect the diversity of our nation, including diversity of types/visibility of disabilities and veterans with disabilities.  Nominees may include the following types of individuals:  

    • Small business owners who have lead efforts to hire workers with disabilities, including workers with significant disabilities, and who have hired and retained one or more workers with significant disabilities and a worker(s) who are helping to build that business while gaining middle class security.   
    • Managers within large or medium sized employers who have developed effective initiatives for the hiring, retention and/or promotion of people with disabilities, including workers with significant disabilities.
    • Entrepreneurs with significant disabilities who have established successful businesses and are now employing others in a successful venture.
    • Leader within companies or organizations who have disclosed hidden disabilities and have initiated efforts to educate others about employment of people with disabilities. 
    • Public/private partnerships between employers and a state or local governments, colleges, foundations, or other entities that have developed effective collaborative initiatives focused on increasing competitive integrated employment for people with disabilities, including people with significant disabilities.

    Click on the link below to submit your nomination (be sure to choose Disability Employment in the "Theme of Service" field of the nomination form).

    Nominate a Disability Employment Champion of Change

    We are looking forward to hosting this event and to highlighting the great work communities across the country are doing to advance the employment of people with disabilities

    Taryn Williams is an Associate Director in the Office of Public Engagement. 

  • Reach Higher: Improving Education for Hispanics

    The following Op-Ed by Eric Waldo was published in La Opinión, and can be read in Spanish HERE.  

    The future of our nation is strongly linked to the educational success of the Hispanic community. Hispanics are the largest, youngest and fastest growing minority group that will represent 70 percent of population growth in our country between 2015 and 2060, and for that reason, it is crucial to invest in the educational future of Hispanic youth right now. During the first term of the Obama administration, the number of Hispanics enrolled in college reached a record high and has grown by more than 1.1 million additional students.

    Fortunately, we have made some significant progress in the last decade - the Hispanic dropout rate has fallen by more than half from 28% in 2000 to less than 13% in 2012 and is still improving. But there is more to do.

    Continuing with the progress we have made, the White House recently announced our next "College Opportunity Summit at the White House" on December 4 to continue the dialogue on the importance of expanding access to college. We also announced recent educational measures, such as 14 new commitments from community colleges to strengthen college preparation for students who lack adequate academic preparation and many more commitments in progress.

    First Lady Michelle Obama also works to expand college opportunities with her education initiative “Reach Higher” launched this year, which seeks to inspire our youth to take control of their future, encouraging them to continue their secondary school education and obtain a college degree or professional certification.

    This summer, The First Lady spoke at the 85th Annual Conference of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), the largest and oldest Latino civil rights organization for the Latino community in the country centered on issues related to education and civic engagement. In her speech the First Lady highlighted the vital role a good education plays to develop successful individuals and communities. The First Lady stressed that too many Latino students still cannot realize their potential. Although the proportion of Latino students that graduate from high school has recently reached a historic high, it does not yet compare with the level other groups reach. And when it comes to college, regardless of the results of aptitude tests or academic average, Latino students are more likely to leave school without finishing; less than 15 percent of young Latinos age 25 have a university degree, a percentage that is behind their African-American, Anglo-Saxon and Asian counterparts.

    The First Lady invited all those present to be inspired by the example of Latino leaders who have dedicated their efforts to improve educational opportunities and fought for the civil rights of the Latino community, as they are a source of support and inspiration for the new generation of young Latinos. Because today in our economy a high school diploma is not enough. Students must reach higher; that is why the First Lady is working to unite the country around President Obama’s "North Star" goal, so that by 2020, the United States once again reaches the highest proportion of college graduates in the world.

    Through "Reach Higher" the First Lady is working to ensure that all students are aware that they need to complete their education, exposing students to opportunities for college visits and professional experiences; helping them determine eligibility for financial aid; encouraging the planning of their studies and academic learning during the summer; and supporting school counselors to help students get into college.

    All young people who are about to return to class you have to take your education as a personal challenge. Choosing challenging classes, reading stimulating books and making the best effort depends on the students. Therefore, parents and students this year, challenge each other to reach higher. And keep an eye on college for a better future. Your country is counting on you.

    Eric Waldo is the Executive Director of the First Lady’s “Reach Higher” initiative.