Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Fresh Food In The House: New Jersey Grocer, Mayor Who Campaigns For Healthy Eating Are First Lady's Guests During State of the Union Speech

President may mention food access in speech before joint session of Congress...and full guest list after jump
The White House has released the list of twenty-three guests who have been invited to sit with First Lady Michelle Obama this evening during President Obama's State of the Union Speech. In addition to Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden, Mrs. Obama will be joined by members of the military, including two heroes from the Ft. Hood shootings; a gay rights activist; tech-savvy entrepreneurs; the Haitian ambassador; and community organizers/activists. Mrs. Obama also has two notable guests from the food and health world. The foodie is Jeffrey Brown, a New Jersey grocer who has done significant work to combat what are known as food deserts, places where fresh and healthy food is unavailable, or too expensive for families on limited incomes. The health honcho is Mayor Mick Cornett, of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, who has started an anti-obesity campaign and put his entire city on a diet; the campaign focuses on both healthier eating and fitness

According to a White House source, the President is expected to actually mention the importance of building more supermarkets in urban areas, both as a way of reducing food deserts, and making healthier food more affordable for families. And yes, as a way of boosting local economies, fostering better communities, and creating jobs. Even if the President doesn't work supermarkets and food access into his speech, a grocer and healthy eating advocate being honored with seats in the First Lady's box during the President's much-anticipated speech speaks volumes about the seriousness with which the White House is approaching the need for improving America's national foodscape. It also speaks to the importance of Mrs. Obama's healthier food and fitness initiatives for the success of many of the President's programs, from health care reform through education, and even defense. And of course, both Brown and Mayor Cornett's presence are due to Mrs. Obama's own role as the administration lead on child obesity initiatives.

When speaking before the US Conference of Mayors last week, Mrs. Obama praised Mayor Cornett for his hometown efforts to get his city to lose weight. In addition to promoting city-wide fitness spaces and bike trails, Mayor Cornett put his entire city on a diet, and launched the website thiscityisgoingonadiet, in which citizens can join a big campaign and track their weight loss. To date, Oklahoma City residents have reportedly lost 525,997 pounds, led by Mayor Cornett, who added forty pounds of his own weight to the total. The ultimate goal is one million pounds. Healthier eating is a big component of Mayor Cornett's campaign: He quotes stats on his website that indicate that 70% of healthy weight loss is due to food choice. And yes, Mayor Cornett is a Republican; Mrs. Obama's efforts to combat obesity must be bipartisan for success.

Better food choices are made possible through the work of people like Jeffrey Brown, Mrs. Obama's other notable guest. Brown is the founder, President and CEO of Brown’s Super Stores, Inc., a ten-store supermarket chain trading under the ShopRite banner. At 46, Brown is the fourth generation in his family to be in the grocery business, and he's been an activist in helping solve issues of food access in under served areas. He lives in New Jersey, but four of his stores are in low-income neighborhoods; two in South Philadelphia, and two in West Philadelphia, which have high rates of poverty, as well as high rates of both hunger and obesity. Brown also sells ethnic foods in his stores, to meet the needs of the diverse populations where his stores are located. This tactic has been identified by nutrition experts as another way of encouraging people to eat healthier food, rather than relying on hyper processed foods. Brown employees 2,300 associates in his stores, and does plenty of community service, too.(In photo above, Brown is holding a basket of some of his ethnic food offerings from his West Philadelphia Store)

Brown has spent a lot of time working with Pennsylvania's Fresh Food Financing Initiative, (FFFI), which is what got him on to White House radar. FFFI is a program that combines state and private money to finance supermarkets that plan to operate in under served communities where infrastructure costs and credit needs cannot be filled solely by conventional financial institutions. The goal of FFFI is to eliminate food deserts, in order to provide families on limited budgets with a much wider range of options for fresh, healthier food choices at an affordable price.

Last July, White House officials visited one of Brown's ShopRite stores in West Philadelphia, to get a first-hand look at a store that's a good model for the kind of change needed to eliminate urban food deserts. Brown's work also fits perfectly with Mrs. Obama's anti-obesity campaign, because his markets are making fresh and healthy food available to the kinds of populations that are most in need of it. The First Lady has frequently discussed the need to increase access to fresh and healthier foods, and her new campaign will include partnerships with private, non-profit and public entities in a broad attempt to create significant change in both child health and the nation's foodscape. The White House Farmer's Market and Mrs. Obama's Kitchen Garden are part of the same pieces of that pie, which encourages all kinds of strategies for food access.

And another of Mrs. Obama's guests this evening is doing critical work in food, too. Water, to be exact: Li Boynton, 18, is an award winning young scientist from Texas who has invented a method for rapidly and inexpensively determing the contamination level in water. Her work can have crucial implications for public health, because waterborne disease is a global problem. She's currently deciding between attending Harvard and Yale right now....

Mrs. Obama's guests will attend a reception at the White House before the State of the Union speech this evening. Watch the President live here at 9:00 PM Eastern, 6:00 PM Pacific, or on major news networks.

The full list of Mrs. Obama's State of the Union guests as released by the White House:

Clayton Armstrong (Washington, DC)
Clayton was a DC Scholar with the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs during the summer of 2009. He is currently a freshman at the University of Arizona. Clayton grew up in Southeast Washington, DC and graduated from Ballou High School where he was the captain of the football team.
Mayor Mick Cornett (Oklahoma City, OK)
Mick Cornett became Oklahoma City's 35th mayor on March 2, 2004, and was re-elected on March 7, 2006. In 2007, he was elected as a Trustee of the U.S. Conference of Mayors. Cornett is also the national President of the organization representing Republican Mayors and Local Officials. Cornett is a graduate of the University of Oklahoma, where he earned a degree in journalism, and after graduation embarked on a 20 year career in broadcast journalism. In 2001, Cornett was elected to City Council, where he served until becoming mayor. Cornett was born and raised in Oklahoma City, and together, he and his wife Lisa have raised three sons – Michael, Casey and Tristan.

Tina Dixon (Allentown, PA)
Tina is currently employed by Lehigh Valley Health Network as a Technical Partner Trainee, a job that she was able to secure through the EARN program (Employment Advancement and Retention Network – a program focused primarily on Paid Work Experience placement) at the Allentown, Pennsylvania CareerLink in preparation to re-enter the workforce after years as a stay-at-home mother to three girls, Olivia, Allison, and Lauren. It was at CareerLink that Tina met President Obama on the first White House to Main Street Tour in December 2009.

Gabriela Farfan (Madison, WI)
Gabriela is a 19-year old from Madison, Wisconsin whose passion for geology started at a young age – collecting rocks as a seven-year old with her father. In 2009, as a senior in high school, her hard-work and research won her one of the top awards in the Intel Science Talent Search, winning a scholarship for her independent research describing why certain gemstones appear to change color when viewed from different angles—a finding that directly affects the gemstone industry and may have applications in the nano and materials sciences. Gabriela is now in college as a freshman at Stanford University, and a declared geology major. Gabriela is also a National Hispanic Scholar awardee, has two very proud parents, Abigail Farfan and Carlos Peralta, and has a real dedication to the arts: singing, drawing, painting, speaking French and Spanish, and following operas and musicals.

Julia Frost (Jacksonville, NC)
Julia is a former Marine bandsman trumpeter, a wife of an active duty Marine, and current student at Coastal Carolina Community College. She served a four year term with the United States Marine Corps stationed at Marine Corps Base Hawaii. Her husband, Sergeant Ryan Frost, is also a Marine bandsman, stationed at Camp Lejeune North Carolina.

With the aid of the GI Bill, Julia is currently enrolled in the Elementary Education program through a partnership between Coastal Carolina Community College and the University of North Carolina, Wilmington. Julia hopes to complete her associate degree this summer and bachelors in the spring of 2012. Dr. Jill Biden, a community college professor, first met Julia when she visited her campus last October as part of the Administration’s ongoing efforts to support America’s community colleges and their students.

Ping Fu (Chapel Hill, NC)
Ping Fu co-founded Geomagic, a company which pioneers technologies that fundamentally change the way products are designed, engineered and manufactured around the world from automobiles to medical devices. Geomagic, under her leadership, has been an active participant in the SBA’s Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program. Fu has led Geomagic to deliver broad-based economic impact to the US economy with tangible results – the company tripled its customer base and employment while achieving high growth and profitability. As such, the NSF awarded Geomagic the prestigious Tibbetts Award for exemplifying the very best in SBIR.

Fu has more than 25 years of software industry experience in database, internet technology, and visual computing. Before Geomagic, she was the Director of Visualization at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications and is also, actively involved in promoting entrepreneurship and women in mathematics and sciences.

Li Boynton (Bellaire, TX)
Li is a 18-year-old senior from Bellaire, Texas whose passion for science and global health has led her to new and potentially ground-breaking methods for testing the quality of drinking water. Almost one billion people lack access to safe drinking water, and 3.5 million people die each year from water-related diseases. Observing the limitations and significant expense of conventional chemical-specific tests, Boynton saw a need for a broader, more efficient assay for testing – and developed a bacteria bio-sensor. Li’s work, which has the potential to be significant in improving public health worldwide, received the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair award for 2009.

Li has always had a passion for science and invention: in 5th grade, she designed a solar-distillation device after reading Life of Pi in case she ever got stranded in the middle of the ocean. Li is also an avid painter and participates in high school debate, which is where she originally developed her environmental interests.

Janell Holloway (Washington, DC)
Janell was a DC Scholar with the White House Domestic Policy Council during the summer of 2009. She is currently a freshman at Harvard University where she is a member of the Harvard College chapter of the American Red Cross, dances with the CityStep dance troupe, and is active in the Black Student Association. Janell is interested in the connection between child abuse and youth violence and has served as a volunteer at Safe Shores: DC Children’s Advocacy Center for more than three years. She is a native of Washington, DC and graduated from Benjamin Banneker Academic High School.

Ambassador Raymond Joseph
In 1990 Raymond Joseph was called to be Haiti’s Chargé d’Affaires in Washington and his country’s representative at the Organization of American States. After helping with the first democratic elections in December 1990, he returned to the Haiti Observateur where he remained until he was called back to Washington in March 2004, where he is currently the Ambassador. Joseph is a graduate pastor from the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, a B. A. holder in Anthropology from Wheaton College, Wheaton, Illinois. He also has a Master’s degree in Social Anthropology/Linguistics from the University of Chicago.

Don Karner (Phoenix, AZ)
Don Karner is the President, CEO, and Co-Founder of eTec (Electric Transportation Engineering Corporation). As President of eTec, Don provides strategic direction, conducts research and leads the company’s development of new products and services.

eTec received $99.8 million from the Recovery Act’s Battery and Electric Vehicle Grant program, which the company will match with another $99.8 million in locally raised funds. The funding will be used to manufacture and implement the charging infrastructure for an 11 city pilot program intended to research electric vehicle charging infrastructure. Cities involved are Phoenix, Tucson, San Diego, Salem, Portland, Eugene, Seattle, Nashville, Knoxville, and Chattanooga. The award will create at least 50 new permanent clean economy jobs working directly at eTec, has already saved numerous positions, and will require construction workers across the country to implement the project. Don participated in a Recovery Act roundtable discussion with Vice President Biden in Phoenix in November 2009 where they discussed the importance of the public/private partnership to a green economy.

Janell Kellett (Sun Prairie, WI)
Janell has served as a lead volunteer within the Wisconsin Army National Guard for approximately six years, including during her husband’s fifteen month deployment from 2005-2006 and recent twelve month deployment from 2009-2010. Janell’s husband, Major Michael Hanson, serves with the 32nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team and recently returned home to Wisconsin. During Major Hanson’s deployment, Janell served the 3,200 families of the 32nd Brigade and over 50 volunteers of the 32nd Brigade with dedication. Janell was honored for her service with a 2009 Wisconsin National Guard Volunteer of the Year award by the Wisconsin State Family Program. Under Janell’s leadership, the 32nd Brigade was selected for the prestigious Department of Defense Reserve Family Readiness Award in December 2009 for the Army National Guard. Additionally, Janell served as the Battalion Volunteer for the 2nd Battalion, 128th Infantry when it received the same award, the Department of Defense Reserve Family Readiness Award, in 2006. Janell and Michael have two children, Jaclene and Lucas.

Rebecca Knerr (Chantilly, VA)
Rebecca is representing her husband, Captain II Joseph Knerr, the Task Force Leader of Fairfax County’s Virginia Task Force 1 serving in Haiti. Having worked as a Fairfax County Firefighter for 15 years, Joe currently serves as Station Commander at Fairfax Fire and Rescue Station 18. He initially joined the USAR team in 1998 serving in a variety of operational capacities and now in leadership positions. Joe is also involved in the coordination, teaching and training of other international rescue teams. A former Fairfax County Firefighter and Paramedic herself, Rebecca works as an Emergency Physician’s Assistant in a Northern Virginia Hospital and for Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department developing and delivering emergency medical services education to uniformed personnel. Rebecca, 24 month old son Jackson, and 12 week old daughter Grace are eager to welcome Joe home.

Chris Lardner (Albuquerque, NM)
Chris Lardner is a patient service manager at the New Mexico Heart Institute and her husband, Scott, owns a small family business. Together they have three children, two daughters in college at Regis University in Denver, Danielle and Caitlin, and a son in 7th grade, Sean. As a result of the economic downturn they resorted to paying for some of their daughters’ education with a credit card. Lardner realized she was close to reaching the card limit, so she contacted the college to change the card on file. The school mistakenly charged another payment to the original card, which then put her above the limit. In response, the credit card company more than tripled her rate to nearly 30 percent, despite of record of responsibility with her finances and payments. Lardner submitted a letter to the President online expressing her frustration with the rate hikes leveled as a result of the mistaken charge.

Chris shared her story when she introduced the President at a Town Hall in May 2009 – since that time her issue with the credit card company was eventually resolved; their rate was lowered to 7 percent and the company returned the over-the-limit fees that had been charged.

In May 2009, President Obama signed the credit card reform bill that bans credit card companies from unfairly raising interest rates on existing balances, protects against unfair fee traps (including requiring the consumer’s permission before processing an over-the-limit transaction), and increases accountability and transparency from credit card companies.

Anita Maltbia (Kansas City, MO)
Anita Maltbia is a native of Kansas City, Missouri, and has over 30 years experience in city government, and community activism. In August 2009, at the request of Congressman Emanuel Cleaver II, Anita assumed the director position of the Green Impact Zone. This initiative works with the residents of a 150 square-block area in the urban core of Kansas City to raise the quality of life environmentally, economically and socially. Energy efficiency and environmental conservation, including home weatherization and energy upgrades are critical goals as is job training and acquisition.

The Green Impact Zone in Kansas City, Missouri is an urban success story that reflects President Obama’s national urban policy vision of breaking down silos and building strong communities of opportunity that will, in turn, contribute to the economic prosperity and the sustainability of cities and metropolitan areas.

Kimberly Munley (Killeen, TX)
Kimberly was born and raised in North Carolina. In 1999, she completed Basic Law Enforcement Training and began her career in law enforcement. Kimberly spent the next 11 years working as a University of North Carolina, Wilmington undercover vice/narcotics agent, a Wrightsville Beach uniformed patrol officer and beach patrol officer, a Special Police Officer for New Hanover County Regional Medical Center, a Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear Operations Specialist Soldier in the United States Army, and is currently a federal police officer serving on the Special Reaction Team for the Fort Hood Police Department in Fort Hood, Texas.

Cindy Parker-Martinez (Belle Isle, FL)
Cindy is a mother of two young children, who shared her story of the problems her family faces with the current health care system at a Health Care Community Discussion held at the University of Central Florida in Orlando, one of thousands of discussions held nationwide in December 2008. In April 2008, Cindy, her husband, and her son were all denied insurance coverage on the individual insurance market because of pre-existing conditions. Her 11-month old daughter was also denied coverage due to an insurance company age requirement of 12 months. Both Cindy and her husband are currently uninsured because they cannot afford the insurance offered at her husband’s employer. Although they previously paid their premium, they could not afford to keep up the monthly payments after receiving thousands of dollars in medical bills from her husband’s unexpected 6-day hospital stay for pneumonia. Their family’s income is too high for them to qualify for Medicaid. Cindy and her husband currently have no insurance and have thousands of dollars in medical debt.

Deborah Powell (Hugo, OK)
Deborah Powell is a Native American Development Specialist for the Housing Authority of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma. Having earned only a high school diploma, Powell built her experience outside of college and soon became interested in accounting and finance. After spending 43 years of her life in her hometown of Flagstaff, Arizona, she moved to Oklahoma in April 2004 for a change of pace and is currently working on a project funded by the Recovery Act. A member of the Choctaw Nation, she is currently helping to track budgets and ensure bids for independent elderly homes. This project, which is still under construction, will provide homes for more than 86 elderly people in the Choctaw Nation. Powell is recently remarried, and enjoys hunting, fishing, and spending time with her family.

Jeffrey Brown (Philadelphia, PA)
Jeffrey Brown is the founder, President and CEO of Brown’s Super Stores, Inc., a growing ten-store supermarket chain trading under the ShopRite banner. As one of the leading supermarkets in the Philadelphia area, the company employs 2,300 associates who are committed to making a difference for their customers and the local communities they serve.
Brown graduated from Babson College, Massachusetts with a degree in entrepreneurial studies. He resides in southern New Jersey with his wife Sandy and their four sons Joshua, Alex, Lenny, and Scott.

Sergeant First Class Andrew Rubin (Savannah, GA)
Sergeant First Class Andrew Rubin entered the Army in 1997 from Boston, Massachusetts and completed One Station Unit Training, Airborne Training and Ranger Assessment and Selection at Fort Benning, Georgia before becoming a Ranger assigned to the 75th Ranger Regiment.

Andrew has spent his entire military career serving in the 75th Ranger Regiment in positions of increasing responsibility. He is currently assigned to 1st Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, headquartered in Savannah, Georgia, which recently redeployed from a combat tour supporting operations in Iraq and Afghanistan in December 2009.

SFC Rubin currently leads 45 Rangers as a Rifle Company Platoon Sergeant. In the Regiment, he has also served as an anti-tank gunner, sniper, sniper team leader, sniper section leader, and rifle squad leader, Ranger Assessment and Selection Instructor, and Rifle Platoon Sergeant.

SFC Rubin has served four combat tours in Iraq and two combat tours in Afghanistan. He has been involved in countless fire fights, was wounded on two separate occasions and has received two awards for Valor. During his recent deployment to Iraq, he was shot by enemy forces while risking his life to save one of his Rangers who lay wounded and immobilized in the streets of As Sadiyah, Iraq during an intense firefight. For that action, he received the Bronze Star with Valor and the Purple Heart. Previously, he was wounded in Afghanistan when he was hit by a rocket propelled grenade during an enemy ambush. SFC Rubin and his wife Megan have three children, Michael, Joseph and Kendal.

Mark Todd (Killeen, TX)
Mark Todd was born and raised in San Diego, California. Todd enlisted in the United States Army as a Military Policeman in 1985. He was selected to attend Military Working Dog Handlers Course and later assigned as a K-9 handler at Fort Devens, Massachusetts, Fort Polk, Louisiana, and Wurezburg, Germany. Later he was assigned as a K-9 Trainer and Instructor at Lackland Air Force Base Texas. Todd earned an Associate in Applied Science – Instructor of Technology and Military Science from the Community College of the Air Force in 1997. His last two assignments were Grafenwoehr, Germany and Fort Hood, Texas. In 2007, he joined the Directorate of Emergency Services and is currently the Lead Police Officer, Military Working Dog Branch – Acting Chief at Fort Hood Texas. Todd is married to Lisa Dalton and together they have three children; Jennifer, Mark Jr., and Kristyn; and two grandsons.

Army Specialist (ret.) Scott Vycital (Ft. Collins, CO)
Specialist Scott Vycital served as a paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne Division. Vycital spent 8 months deployed in Iraq as a Specialist with 2nd Platoon, Bravo Company, 3-505 Parachute Infantry Regiment and was medically retired due to injuries received in defense of Operation Iraqi Freedom. On February 15, 2004, while on patrol of suspected mortar sites, his fire team was engaged by enemy fire and he sustained gunshot wounds on the right side of the face, neck, and shoulder. As a result of his injuries, the right side of SPC Vycital’s face has been paralyzed and he lost the hearing in his right ear. After spending some time rehabilitating from injuries, SPC Vycital returned to school and with the assistance of the VA and the Army Wounded Warrior (AW2) program. He completed his degree in Business Administration with an Accounting concentration from Colorado State University in December 2008. Following graduation, with the help of his AW2 advocates SPC Vycital landed a position within the Federal Highway Administration. He has since been promoted to the position of Programs & Planning Financial Specialist and will have been with the Agency for one year in March. The President's executive order on employing Veterans in the Federal Government has made employing Veterans like Vycital a priority. Vycital resides in Fort Collins, CO with his wife of 7 years, Jarah, and has a 4 year old son, Breccan, and a 17 month old daughter, Micah.

Trevor Yager (Indianapolis, IN)
Trevor Yager began his career in 1995 while in college by founding TrendyMinds, a full-service advertising/public relations firm. He earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in psychology from Anderson University and went on to work with various motor sports sponsors, team owners and sanctioning bodies. Today, at TrendyMinds, Yager provides strategic planning, business development, marketing and technology guidance and support to various local, national and international clients. In 2009 the agency grew by more than 200 percent, doubled the number of employees and gained 15 new accounts. Yager credits President Obama’s welcoming climate for small businesses, including the many initiatives under the Recovery Act, for this success.

He is also passionate about helping non-profits and TrendyMinds is committed to giving back to the community by donating in-kind services to organizations throughout Indiana.
Yager resides in Indianapolis with his partner of seven years, Tyler Murray. The two have recently started the process of adoption and look forward to adding a new member to their family.

Juan Yépez (Lawrence, MA)
Juan Yépez, and his brother Luis, are Ecuadorian-natives, who in ten short years, have built a successful and growing commercial real estate company in addition to growing Mainstream Global, a worldwide distributor of computer products, consumer electronics, and electronic components, in mills once inhabited by earlier generations of immigrants.

The Yépez brothers were the recipients of the 2009 Small Business Administration Phoenix award for recovering from a major flood that destroyed almost $400,000 of inventory while still managing to flourish in the midst of an economic downturn. They believe that doing business in an area hit by 17 percent unemployment is more than just giving back and that hiring first generation Americans like themselves who want to work and contribute to society is the cornerstone of long-term success.