Teens head to White House for barbecue, talks on mentoring

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When Kara Curry's mom got a message about her daughter attending a meeting at the White House, she thought the caller was just talking about the school district administration building.

Its nickname is "The White House."

But very quickly, she learned it was the White House.

Kara, a junior at West Greene High School in Greene County, had to quickly answer the question: Did she want to attend a special barbecue on the South Lawn, during which President Barack Obama and 150 teens would discuss mentoring?

"I'm really excited," she said as she gathered with seven other girls at Station Square on Sunday afternoon.

The group was taking a bus to Washington, D.C., and planned to return this evening.

The original invitation went to the Women and Girls Foundation, an organization in southwestern Pennsylvania dedicated to working for equality.

Heather Arnet, the chief executive officer of the group, said she got the call from the White House on June 4 and was given just five hours to come up with a list of eight girls.

"We had to move very quickly," she said.

About 90 girls in grades 9 to 12 are involved in the Women and Girls Foundation, and so Ms. Arnet tried to choose a group that would represent the diversity of the group -- in age, race and background.

"These girls are fantastic," she said. "But we could have picked any of the 90."

Andra Labanc, a sophomore at Shaler Area High School, participates in the foundation's Girl Gov program, in which teenage girls are matched with a state legislator to shadow.

"I was thrilled. It's the president of the United States," Andra said. "I don't agree with everything he's doing. But all politics aside, I think he's a great leader, and I'm honored to meet him."

Her mother, Margarite Labanc, was stunned by the invitation.

"I never had these kinds of opportunities," she said. "These are 100 times better than understanding things out of a book or lecture."

Ms. Arnet laid only a few ground rules for the girls attending the barbecue --no flip-flops, no jeans, no T-shirts.

When Kara first arrived at Station Square, she and Andra discussed what they'd be wearing to the events.

Kara brought a skirt and flowered suit jacket. Andra is wearing a black and white zebra-print dress.

Besides talk of clothes, the girls also talked about female empowerment and how important it is for more women to participate in politics.

Vimbai Martin, a ninth-grader at The Ellis School, was one of the four girls who created the foundation's Girl Gov program.

For her, this will be the second time someone in her family meets Mr. Obama.

Her mother got to meet him two years ago, while they still lived in South Carolina, before moving to Pittsburgh.

"It's a wonderful opportunity," she said.

On the ride down, the girls were going to snack on grapes, hummus and chocolate chip cookies.

But it's on the return trip to Pittsburgh, after the barbecue, that Ms. Arnet will get to hear all the girls' stories.

"The bus back is the best part," she said.

Paula Reed Ward: pward@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2620.


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