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CASA director gets invite to the White House

EDITOR'S NOTE: Linda Osmundson, executive director of CASA was recently invited to the White House for a reception to commemorate National Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

When the alarm went off at 3:45 a.m., I was already awake.

I made a last minute wardrobe change, opting to wear pink flats with ankle straps because I will be on my feet all day. I choose an interesting multi colored scarf knit by my assistant, Amy, and conservative pearls.

My outfit came from the CASA thrift store – except the pearls and scarf. I save putting on lipstick until just before the event.

I'm off to the airport by 4:30 a.m. to park in the economy lot. I take plenty to read and buy a good-looking but tasteless muffin before I board the plane.

When I arrive in Washington, D.C., it is cloudy and humid. I feel quite sophisticated because I know how to find the Metro station and I have a Metro ticket left over from a month ago.

I jump off the train at Federal Triangle and try to guess which way to walk toward the White House.

After a couple blocks, I realized I was walking in the wrong direction. I turn around and soon see signs with arrows: "White House this way."

I am like a conspicuous Florida parrot in my magenta suit and pink shoes. Everyone walking by is wearing gray or black or brown.

It is early so I look for a place to eat lunch. With the White House in front of me, I turn right and find Old Abbott Grill. I was seated immediately at a small table next to the waiters' stand.

The restaurant has three different menus and an unlisted special, but I was drawn to the Norwegian sandwich with dark rye, thin slices of salmon, slices of egg, cream cheese and capers.

My sandwich was worth the wait. As I finished, my waiter deftly scraped bread crumbs off the white tablecloth. He pointed to the heavy rain and kindly invited me to stay for awhile until it let up. I finished my newsletter and ventured outside and walked a droopy block to a hotel to ask if I could buy an umbrella, but they were already loaned out.

By the time I'd walked the two blocks in the rain, my suit was splotchy and I was wet. Just inside the door was a display of umbrellas and I chose a magenta flowered number that will never get lost.

I check my Blackberry and I have another e-mail from the White House.

I made my way to the gate where we were directed to enter and was told to come back at 2:15.

I found the White House Welcome Center in the next block and went in to look at exhibits with photos of former presidents, first ladies and the children of the White House. It was an interesting way to pass time and keep dry.

At 2:10 I walked back to the entrance and joined a small group of former colleagues who I'd worked with decades earlier, including Barbara Hart, Debbie Cain, Ulester Douglas, folks from the Faith Trust Institute, Ann Mennard, Casey Gwinn and Sue Ells.

White House guards instruct us to form two lines. I'm ready with my passport as they check off their lists. In a few moments, we are inside the black iron gates walking up a sidewalk to more guards who check ID again.

We enter what appears to be a temporary structure housing the metal scanner and an airport conveyor belt where we put our purses and bags for inspection. Steps and then we are walking down a long hall.

On the left we are greeted with a life-sized portrait of Hillary (Clinton). Rounding a corner we enter a large foyer, greeted by a string quartet in fancy red uniforms trimmed in blue that look like a cross between a band uniform and a military uniform. Later I learn they are Marines.

We mill about and walk into large open rooms sparsely furnished to accommodate receptions, I suppose.

I try to follow a small group into a side room and I'm nicely but firmly blocked from entering by one of the uniformed women. It appears to be a private reception for really special people. I see Salma Hayjak enter and Victor Rivers.

Finally we wait in front of two large, closed double doors. Rita Smith advises me, since she has done this before, to stay in front to pick a seat near the front. We are monitored by young people in uniforms.

The doors open and I choose a seat on the center aisle in the fourth row. The first two rows are reserved for the special people that come through a side door from the room I'd tried to crash.

On every seat is a copy of a proclamation of National Domestic Violence Awareness Month by the President of the United States and a four page "Fact Sheet: Obama Administration Highlights Unprecedented Coordination across Federal Government to Combat Violence Against Women" presenting the president's four new strategies to end domestic violence.

Someone mocks my name tag and says I look like a realtor, but I'm glad I'm wearing it. I look around and estimate the crowd to be about 200. Some are forced to stand in back.

In front of me is the stage with the official podium. We wait with eager anticipation and finally are told by the guards to sit. My long-time friend and colleague, Lynn Rosenthal bounces out the side door to the podium and greets us with a big, triumphant smile. She introduces Valerie Jarrett, chair of the White House Council on Women and Girls who in turn introduces Joe Torres, former Los Angeles Dodgers manager, who shares some of his personal story of growing up with abuse.

Minutes later, Vice President Joe Biden strides out the side door to the podium. We break into applause. He is warm, smiling and visibly proud to face us and tells us the history of the passage of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). After he speaks, President Barack Obama enters the room and we all stand.

President Obama looks serious and a little tired. He delivers his message and four point agenda. When the President finishes we applaud and stand again as he makes his way across the front of the room shaking hands with the first two rows.

Momentarily I consider bounding across the chairs to shake his hand but sanity takes over. Those nice, polite guards might just surround me to take me down. So I just try to capture decent photos.

When he finishes he is whisked out the back door and Vice President Biden works the room and shakes hands with everyone that wants to shake his hand. When he comes to me, I shake his hand and say, "Thank you Joe!" and he leans in close and tells me I look lovely!

I can't believe I just said, 'Thank you Joe.' My mother taught me better. I should have said, "Thank you, Mr. Vice President." He was so gracious, anyway.

I mill with the crowd and then get up the nerve to approach again and ask someone to take my photo with him. He puts his arm over my shoulder and tells me that he knows CASA is one of the best programs in the country. All I can do is grin.

I introduce my long-time colleague, Barbara Hart who has been waiting patiently. The guards are firmly herding us out of the East Room until we find ourselves back in the foyer.

Slowly we filter down the hall still feeling amazed by where we've been and what we've seen. The nice guards greet us politely along the way wishing us a nice day.

And just like that, we are outside again at a different place than when we'd entered. I almost floated down the street looking for a Metro sign. It was about 5 p.m. and time to head back to the airport to catch a flight scheduled to leave at 7.

After a flight delay, my head finally rested on my pillow at 4:30 a.m. More than 24 hours had passed, but I had been to the White House.

Linda A Osmundson is executive director of CASA (Community Action Stops Abuse). She can be reached at www.casa-stpete.org

CASA director gets invite to the White House 11/04/10 [Last modified: Thursday, November 11, 2010 10:30am]

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