TAMPA — Their eyes light up at the mention of Washington, D.C.
It's not lost on six South Tampa teens how lucky they are to be heading to Washington to participate in the historic inauguration of President-elect Obama on Jan. 20.
"This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," said Devin Oliver, 16, of Robinson High School. "I'm just so glad to have been chosen."
As the Jim Walter Interbay Boys & Girls Club works to get all the financial pieces into place, Oliver and the other teens wait and hope everything will come together.
Shervin Rassa, the club's director, said the Interbay Club learned just before Christmas that it was one of seven clubs nationwide selected for the trip.
The clubs will be part of the People's Inauguration Project sponsored by the Stafford Foundation, a Christian nonprofit founded by Virginia businessman Earl W. Stafford Sr. The foundation has booked the entire J.W. Marriott Hotel in Washington and donated the accommodations for more than 300 people to several community programs, including 50 slots to the national Boys & Girls Club.
"We selected clubs based on financial need, kids who were from the most distressed areas," said Judith J. Pickens, senior vice president of programs and youth club services for the national Boys & Girl's Club.
Then it was up to the club directors to choose whom they were going to send.
Rassa said the decision was difficult because so many of his members have attended the club up through their teens. "We picked kids based on their dedication to the club and community service," he said. "Some of them practically work here."
Jennifer Tran, who was selected, gives tours of the club and counsels younger children.
"They look up to me," she said. "And they come to me for advice." The 16-year-old Plant High School student said she takes her responsibilities seriously.
In front of the younger children "I'm more mature and responsible," she said.
In all, 42 students and eight chaperones from across the country will represent the Boys & Girls Club. Besides Tampa, other clubs sending members are in New Orleans, Arcadia, La., Richmond, Va., Washington, D.C,, Columbus, Ga., and Lanett, Ala.
Corporate sponsors are picking up the travel costs, buying round-trip plane tickets and Amtrak fares. The Stafford Foundation also is providing free tuxedos and gowns for the Youth and Children's Inaugural Balls, haircuts, manicures, a prayer breakfast Sunday, and a luncheon with Martin Luther King III on Monday.
All other expenses such as spending money, business and cold-weather attire and meals are the responsibility of the teens, Pickens said. "So the Boys & Girls Club locations are getting donations for the kids, and others are hoping their communities come out to support their kids in this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."
Tyler Placeres, 16, of Robinson High School is hoping the trip will give him the connections he needs to either own his own shoe store chain — or become a congressman.
"I wish everyone could come with me," he said before laughing at how much he already sounded like a politician.
Robbyn Mitchell can be reached at (813) 226-3373 or [email protected]