Friday, July 20, 2012

First Lady surprises UAB campers affected by April 27 tornadoes

It began with a promise. In 2011, President and Mrs. Obama promised to return to areas in Alabama devastated by the April 27 tornado. They promised to listen to the reports, see the progress and lend their support. The First Lady kept her promise Wednesday when she visited the McAlpine Rec Center in South Pratt for a roundtable discussion with U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell, Birmingham Mayor William Bell and other officials.

“They’ve been very helpful to us in getting federal funds to come back to Birmingham and the Pratt City/Ensley area,” said Bell. “We’re very grateful for that and this is an opportunity to express that to the First Lady.”

Following the debriefing Mrs. Obama walked across the center to the gymnasium where she surprised a summer camp for children directly affected by the April 27 tornadoes. The crowd of nearly 100 kids erupted in screams and squeals in decibels that would rival a Justin Bieber concert.

“They lied to us, they tricked us! They said another lady was coming to help us, but they lied,” said camper Walter Washington. Quickly pointing out he was excited to see Mrs. Obama and it is not nice to lie.

“Oh my God! The First Lady is at the McAlpine – I am so excited!” said Kiara Cherry, who added that meeting the First Lady was on her list of things to do before she turned 15. She has checked it off her list.

The First Lady chatted with and hugged every child in the gym. At one point, it looked like the Secret Service would need to intervene.

“I warned her that we are real affectionate here. And then everybody came up and started giving her hugs, big bear hugs and I was like, 'I told you we are real affectionate here',” said Cherry.

The summer camp was part of the Healthy Happy Kids program run by the University of Alabama at Birmingham Minority Health and Health Disparities Research Center. This camp is an offshoot of the year round HHK program they run in Birmingham City Schools. The focus of each is the effort to reduce childhood obesity in minority and underserved children through a nutrition and physical activity curriculum. They made a special snack for the First Lady on Wednesday.

“We picked the trail mix snack because it was easier to fix today but sometimes we have them make snacks with peanut butter and celery and other things,” said Mona Fouad, MD, MPH, director of the UAB MHRC. “We know some of these kids go home and they do not have anybody to help them so these are things they can learn and do on their own.”

When the First Lady departed the kids’ volume level dropped but their excitement level remained steady and strong. They understood this was a once in a lifetime event and their Mayor understood Mrs. Obama’s visit could be a life changing event.

“It gives these kids inspiration and hope. It gives them a role model to look up to that shows they can rise above their circumstances and the sky is the limit,” said Bell. “If you apply yourself and look toward your studies and do those things necessary it’s no telling what they can achieve and by being here and seeing the First Lady we hope it’s an inspirational moment for all the young people.”

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