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Day at White House exhausting, exhilarating for CASA director

Linda Osmundson, executive director of Community Action Stops Abuse in St. Petersburg, meets Vice President Joe Biden at the White House.

Photo courtesy of Linda Osmundson

Linda Osmundson, executive director of Community Action Stops Abuse in St. Petersburg, meets Vice President Joe Biden at the White House.

Editor's note: Linda A. Osmundson, executive director of CASA, Community Action Stops Abuse, in St. Petersburg, was invited to the White House on Oct. 27 for President Obama's commemoration of Domestic Violence Awareness Month. This is how she spent her day.

My alarm goes off at 3:45 a.m., and I am already awake.

I make a last-minute wardrobe change to a magenta suit instead of the purple wool. I opt to wear pink flats because I will be on my feet all day. I choose an interesting multicolored scarf knitted by my niece Olivia and conservative pearls.

I'm off to the airport by 4:30 a.m. 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.

I jump off the train at Federal Triangle and try to guess which way to walk. After a couple of blocks, I discover I am walking in the wrong direction. So much for feeling sophisticated. I turn around, and this time I 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. I'm usually not comfortable eating alone in restaurants, but I am feeling courageous and want something special because it is a special day. Does the solicitous young man who waits on me know I've been invited to the White House?

When I venture outside, it is pouring rain. I walk a block to a hotel to ask if I can buy an umbrella, but the woman there says they are already loaned out. She directs me to Filene's another block down. By the time I've walked the two blocks in the rain, my suit is splotchy, and I'm wet.

Stepping gingerly over the streams of rushing water at curbs, I make my way to the White House gate we were told to enter. The crowd gathered at the gate includes many old colleagues who have worked together around the country for decades. We greet each other enthusiastically with hugs and utter amazement that we are in front of the White House.

Guards instruct us to line up in two lines. We divide ourselves into two crowds. A frustrated guard finally says if we can't get into two lines, they can't let us in. I smile to myself and think, this isn't a group likely to respond well to threats!

In a few moments, we are walking up a sidewalk to more guards that check IDs again. We go through a metal scanner and present our purses for inspection.

On a long hallway, we are greeted by a life-sized portrait of Hillary Clinton and portraits of former presidents. Rounding a corner we are greeted by a string quartet in fancy red uniforms trimmed in blue. Later I learn they are Marines.

I try to follow a small group of people into a side room, and I'm firmly blocked from entering. It appears to be a private reception for really special people. I see Salma Hayek enter and Victor Rivers.

Doors open and we pour into a room. On every seat is a copy of a proclamation for National Domestic Violence Awareness Month and a four-page "Fact Sheet: Obama Administration Highlights Unprecedented Coordination across Federal Government to Combat Violence Against Women." It presents the president's four new strategies to end domestic violence.

My longtime friend and colleague, Lynn Rosenthal, bounces through a side door to the podium. Rosenthal, who is White House adviser on violence against women, introduces Valerie Jarrett, chair of the White House Council on Women and Girls, who in turn introduces Joe Torre of baseball fame, who tells some of his personal story of growing up with abuse.

Minutes later, Vice President Joe Biden strides out. He is warm and smiling. He tells us the history of the passage of the Violence Against Women Act. After he speaks he steps back, and President Obama enters the room and we all stand. President Obama looks serious and a little tired. He delivers his message and four-point agenda

We applaud and stand as he makes his way across the front of the room shaking hands with the first two rows of people. I consider bounding across the chairs to shake his hand, but sanity takes over. When he finishes, he is whisked out the back door, and Vice President Biden works the entire room and shakes hands with everyone.

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." I should have said, "Thank you, Mr. Vice President." He was so gracious, anyway.

I get up the nerve to ask someone to take my photo with the vice president. He puts his arm over my shoulder and tells me in my ear that he knows CASA is one of the best domestic violence programs in the country! All I can do is grin.

Afterward, I almost floated down the street looking for a Metro sign. My flight didn't leave until 11 p.m., and my head finally rested on my pillow at 4:30 a.m. But I had been invited to the White House!

Day at White House exhausting, exhilarating for CASA director 11/09/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 9, 2010 11:29am]
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