These guests, including five from Arizona, who have been invited to sit with the First Lady represent the stories of millions of Americans across the country, who are working hard to better their communities, improve their own economic outcomes and help restore opportunity for all.
Misty DeMars (Oak Park, IL)
Misty DeMars lives in Oak Park, Illinois with her husband and two young sons. At the end of May, 2013 – just a week after purchasing the home they intended to raise their family in – Misty lost her job of eight years due to budget cuts. Misty, who had been steadily employed since high school and who put herself through college, wrote to the President upon the expiration of her emergency unemployment insurance, explaining: “We stand to lose everything we’ve worked for years to build in the matter of months.” Misty is one of millions who is left with limited resources, difficult decisions and an uncertain future as she looks for work without the crucial economic lifeline of emergency unemployment insurance.
Peter Mouskondis (Salt Lake City, UT)
President and CEO, Nicholas & Company, Inc.
Peter Mouskondis is the CEO and President of Nicholas & Company, Inc., a third generation family-owned and operated broadline foodservice distribution company, employing roughly 500 people. Nicholas & Company is known for its culture of mutual respect and care among and for its employees, emphasizing work-life balance and benefits, including maternity, paternity, and bereavement leave, among others. The atmosphere that Peter and the leaders at Nicholas & Company have developed is paying off – the workforce is more productive and the company is expanding. Peter says “Our success at Nicholas & Company is directly related to our family-friendly approach and the work of my grandmother, mother, and wife in making work-life balance an essential part of our culture.” Nicholas & Company has been honored with many awards under Peter’s leadership including: the Sloan Award for Excellence in Workplace Effectiveness and Flexibility, 2013; the Utah Department of Work Force Services Work/Life Award Legacy, 2001-2012; and the Utah Business Magazine, Best Companies to Work For, 2005, 2011, 2013.
Cory Remsburg and Craig Remsburg (Phoenix, AZ)
US Army Ranger Sergeant First Class Cory Remsburg has met President Obama on three separate occasions – once overseas and twice since a roadside bomb in Kandahar, Afghanistan on his 10th deployment left him in a coma for three months, partially paralyzed and brain-damaged. He currently endures six hours of occupational, physical and speech therapy per day, and his father, Craig, along with Cory’s step-mom Annie, is the caretaker by Cory’s side as he continues his recovery. Craig is the Vice President of Human Resources for Telgian Corporation and a retired US Air Force Reserve firefighter. A native of Arizona, Sergeant First Class Remsburg joined the Army on his 18th birthday after Craig refused to sign the papers for the 17-year-old Cory to join on his own. Sergeant First Class Remsburg says “I won’t give up.” Sergeant First Class Remsburg has been awarded the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart.
Estiven Rodriguez (New York, NY)
Student, Washington Heights Expeditionary Learning School
Estiven Rodriguez is the son of a Dominican immigrant, he arrived in the United States when he was nine years old and didn’t speak any English. When he entered Washington Heights Expeditionary Learning School (WHEELS) in the sixth grade, he still spoke and understood very limited English. Now a high school senior, Estiven is one of the top students in his class and will attend Dickinson College in the fall on a Posse Foundation Scholarship, making him a first-generation college student. “At only 16, 17 years old, he, in many ways, embodies the spirit of a life-long learner. He is a model student,” said Erick Espin, Estiven’s 11th grade United States history teacher. Outside of his academic studies, Estiven is also a member of the school’s math club, and soccer and track teams. Earlier this month, Estiven attended an event at the White House on expanding college opportunity. His story underscores the importance of the President’s goal to give all kids a chance to get ahead, regardless of the circumstances of their birth.
John Soranno (St. Paul, MN)
CEO, Punch Pizza
As a child growing up in Milan, Italy, John Soranno fell in love with pizza. He hung out at a local pizzeria and dreamed of one day opening his own. After moving to the United States to finish his schooling, John founded Punch Pizza in Minnesota in 1996 and is currently co-owner with John Puckett, with whom he partnered in 2001. The company has expanded to eight locations in Minnesota. John and John are determined to grow a strong company built to last over the long term. To do so, they’re focused not only on how they treat their customers, but also on how they treat their employees. So last year, John and John raised the company-wide minimum wage to $10 to demonstrate how much they value their workers, and it’s been a good business move, too – the company is set to open a ninth store this summer.
Nick Chute (Minneapolis, MN)
Kitchen Worker, Punch Pizza
A year and a half ago, Nick Chute started working at Punch Pizza as a cashier to help pay for school and rent. In December, Nick graduated from the University of Minnesota with a degree in philosophy. He is still with Punch Pizza, currently working as a “pizzaioli in training,” learning to cook pizzas in the traditional Neapolitan style -- in an 800 degree wood-fired oven in under 90 seconds. Punch Pizza’s decision to raise their company-wide minimum wage benefitted Nick, who said “I appreciate it, and it makes me feel like a bigger part of the company.” After becoming a certified pizzaioli, Nick hopes to move into a management position at Punch Pizza.
Carlos Arredondo and Jeff Bauman (Boston, MA)
Survivors of the Boston Marathon Bombing
Carlos Arredondo and Jeff Bauman are forever linked due to the attacks on the 117th Boston Marathon. In what has become an iconic image from the day in April of 2013, Carlos – wearing his white Cowboy hat – was captured rushing a badly injured Jeff away from the bombing to safety, thereby becoming two of the faces of ‘Boston Strong.’ From his intensive care hospital bed, Jeff played a vital role in identifying the bombers. After losing both legs in the attack, he is battling back, describing himself as a quick healer and stronger now than he was before the attack. Jeff, 27, and Carlos, 53 and a Gold Star Father, have become close friends.
Aliana Arzola-Piñero (San Juan, Puerto Rico)
2013 Kids State Dinner Attendee
Aliana Arzola-Piñero, from San Juan, Puerto Rico, is in fourth grade at the Colegio Puertorriqueño de Niñas. Aliana is an avid reader and gymnast who loves to cook with her grandma, something she’s done since she was two-years-old. She participated in the 2012 Healthy Lunchtime Challenge sponsored by the First Lady. While she didn’t win, she worked hard, tried again, and her perseverance paid off as she proudly represented Puerto Rico at the 2013 Kid’s State Dinner hosted by the First Lady. Her winning recipe “Yummy Eggplant Lasagna Rolls,” incorporates the “My Plate” guidelines. Aliana has worked hard to translate her experience visiting the White House into concrete steps to benefit her community, championing healthy eating and an active lifestyle for kids.
Cristian Avila (Phoenix, AZ)
DREAMer, “Core Faster” and Voter Engagement Coordinator, Mi Familia Vota
Cristian Avila, 23, was brought to the United States with his younger brother and sister when he was nine-years-old. Though Cristian became an All-American scholar by 7th grade and received a full scholarship to a private Jesuit high school, he was limited by his undocumented status. Last year he received temporary relief from deportation through Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). The 23-year-old Arizona resident started volunteering with Mi Familia Vota, a non-profit Latino civic engagement program, at the age of 16, and he was one of the core fasters in the Fast for Families demonstration late last year at the foot of the Capitol, which the President, Vice President, First Lady and Cabinet and Administration officials visited. After 22 days, he passed on the fast to others but has continued to push Congress to take up comprehensive immigration reform. Cristian is fighting for commonsense immigration reform so he can one day join the US Marine Corps and serve our country in uniform.
Mary Barra (Detroit, MI)
Chief Executive Officer, General Motors Company
Mary Barra was named Chief Executive Officer of General Motors effective January 15, 2014. In this role, she leads the company’s overall efforts to strengthen GM globally as an industry leader in automotive design and technology, product quality, customer care and business results. She is also a member of the GM Board of Directors and the first female CEO in the company’s history.
Barra began her career with GM in 1980 as a General Motors Institute (Kettering University) co-op student at the Pontiac Motor Division. She graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in electrical engineering. In 1990, Barra graduated with a master of business administration degree from the Stanford Graduate School of Business after receiving a GM fellowship in 1988. Barra has held a number of positions with GM, most recently as executive Vice President, Global Product Development, Purchasing & Supply chain – in this role she was responsible for the design, engineering, program management, and quality of GM vehicles around the world.
In 2013, Fortune Magazine named Barra one of the “50 Most Powerful Women in Business” and Forbes Magazine names her one of the “World’s 100 Most Powerful Women.” Barra lives in the Detroit area with her husband, Tony, and their two children.
Governor Steve Beshear (D-KY)
After serving three terms in the Kentucky House of Representatives, and as Kentucky’s Attorney General and Lieutenant Governor, Steve Beshear was elected Governor in 2007. Governor Beshear has worked closely with the Obama Administration to provide affordable health care to the people of Kentucky. In his second term, the Governor extended access to affordable health care coverage to hundreds of thousands of Kentuckians by expanding Medicaid and setting up a new health insurance Marketplace, “Kynect.” If the remaining states that haven’t expanded Medicaid coverage did so like Kentucky, about 5.4 million uninsured Americans would gain access to health insurance coverage by 2016. Governor Beshear is a native of Dawson Springs in Hopkins County, in western Kentucky. He holds a bachelor’s degree and law degree from the University of Kentucky and served in the U.S. Army Reserve. He and his wife, Jane, have been married since 1969. They have two sons and three grandchildren.
Gary Bird (Moore, OK)
Fire Chief Gary Bird represents all of those who rallied together to help the community of Moore, Oklahoma – firefighters, police officers, teachers, neighbors – in its greatest time of need: The immediate aftermath of the EF5 tornado that hit Moore, killing 25 men, women and children and devastating a community of more than 1,000 homes and businesses. Bird and his search-and-rescue crews worked through the path of the storm to rescue survivors. “We will be through every damaged piece of property in this city at least three times before we're done, and we hope to be done by dark tonight,” Bird said in a press conference the evening the tornado hit. Bird began his career in 1981 as a volunteer firefighter in Ninnekah, Oklahoma. After four years as a volunteer, he was hired by the Moore Fire Department, working his way through the ranks. He was appointed Deputy Fire Chief in February 2003, a position he held until being named Fire Chief on June 30, 2012. Bird and his wife, Cindy, have been married for 34 years, and they have a son, two granddaughters, and a six-month-old grandson.
Jason Collins (Los Angeles, CA)
12-Year NBA Player
While at Stanford, Jason Collins was selected as an All American, named the NCAA’s “Big Man of the Year,” and earned an appearance in the Final Four. After graduating in 2001, Collins was drafted into the NBA and has since played for six teams including the Celtics, whose then coach Doc Rivers said of Collins: “He’s the best. He literally is one of the best guys I’ve ever had in the locker room, player or coach.” In his 12 years in the league, Collins’ teams earned 9 trips to the playoffs including 2 NBA Finals appearances. In April 2013, Collins became the first male player in major American team sports to come out openly as gay. The President expressed his gratitude to Collins for his courageous announcement through an article Collins penned himself. The President said he “couldn’t be prouder” of Collins, recognizing this as a point of progress for the LGBT community, and one more step in America’s goal to treat everyone fairly and with respect. Collins is 35 and lives in Los Angeles, California.
Tyrone Davis (Winston-Salem, NC)
Fellow with the Environmental Defense Fund’s Climate Corps
Tyrone Davis, from Winston-Salem, NC, has been legally blind since the age of nine. Despite his vision loss, he ran cross-country and track in high school, and received a political science degree and Masters of Public Administration from North Carolina State University. He developed an interest in environmental issues during his time as an undergraduate, which led to a fellowship with the Environmental Defense Fund in 2010, placing him at Elizabeth City State University, a historically black university. His recommendations showed the school how to achieve savings of more than $31,000 a year, resulting in nearly 200 metric tons of carbon emissions reductions annually. Tyrone’s father owns and operates a small office cleaning service, while his mother is a cost clerk for the county’s school transportation department. He has one younger brother currently attending North Carolina A&T State University. Now in his third year at Elon University School of Law, Tyrone hopes to use his skills to benefit the environment and make communities safer.
Kathy Hollowell-Makle, (Washington, DC)
2013 DCPS Teacher of the Year
Kathy Hollowell-Makle was named 2013’s District of Columbia Public School’s Teacher of the Year after more than 15 years teaching in the District. Kathy began her career in AmeriCorps as a Teach for America corps member in the District in 1998 and currently teaches at Abram Simon Elementary in Southeast Washington, DC. By the school year’s end, more than 90 percent of her students demonstrate early literacy at proficient or advanced levels and last year, more than 80 percent of her students advanced two or more reading levels. Kathy contributed some of her experience and expertise to a roundtable with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan regarding early childhood education. Kathy emphasizes a positive attitude and focuses on fluency in reading, writing and counting, explaining: “The best part of teaching is having former students recognize me, and being able to see how wonderful they turned out to be.” Kathy lives in Washington, DC with her husband Stephen and two sons Amir and Ian. She is originally from New Orleans, Louisiana.
Vice Admiral Michelle Howard (Washington, DC)
Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for Operations, Plans & Strategy
This year, Vice Admiral Michelle Howard will become the first female four-star Admiral in the 238-year-history of the United States Navy, and the first African-American female to achieve four-star rank in the history of the military. She was nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate in December. Howard’s initial sea tours were aboard USS Hunley (AS 31) and USS Lexington (AVT 16). While serving on board Lexington, she received the secretary of the Navy/Navy League Captain Winifred Collins award in May 1987. This award is given to one woman officer a year for outstanding leadership. She took command of USS Rushmore (LSD 47) on March 12, 1999, becoming the first African American woman to command a ship in the U.S. Navy. In 2010, she was the Maritime Task Force commander for BALTOPS, under 6th Fleet. Her shore assignments include: J-3, Global Operations, Readiness and Executive Assistant to the Joint Staff director of Operations; Deputy Director N3 on the OPNAV staff; Deputy Director, Expeditionary Warfare Division, OPNAV staff; Senior Military Assistant to the secretary of the Navy; Chief of Staff to the director for Strategic Plans and Policy, J-5, Joint Staff, and Deputy Commander, US Fleet Forces Command. Vice Admiral Howard is a 1978 graduate of Gateway High School in Aurora, Colo. She graduated from the United States Naval Academy in 1982 and from the Army’s Command and General Staff College in 1998, with a Masters in Military Arts and Sciences.
Joey Hudy (Anthem, AZ)
“Maker” and Intel Intern
Joey Hudy is a self-described “Maker,” part of a growing community of young people, adults, and entrepreneurs who are designing and building things on their own time. Joey first shot to fame in 2012 when, at 14-years-old, he attended the White House Science Fair where the President took a turn using the contraption he had made -- the “extreme marshmallow cannon” – and launched a marshmallow across the East Room. Joey then handed the President a card with his credo: “Don’t be bored, make something.” Now 16, he has continued to live by his motto, appearing at Maker Faires all across the country. Joey, a proponent of STEM education, is determined to teach other kids about how they can make and do anything they want. Joey lives in Anthem, Arizona with his mom, dad, and older sister. Earlier this month, he started as Intel’s youngest intern, a position Intel CEO Brian Krzanich offered him on the spot at his Maker Faire exhibit.
Sabrina Simone Jenkins (Charleston, SC)
Sabrina Simone Jenkins – through obstacle after obstacle – has persevered in getting herself educated, determined to make a better life for herself and her family. Sabrina is a single mother to her teenage daughter Kenya. After serving in the Air Force, Sabrina took classes at DeVry University while working full time, graduating with a 3.7 GPA at the age of 42 – all while caring for ailing family members and becoming seriously ill herself. Sabrina then earned her master’s degree in human resources in 2012. Sabrina is currently saddled with nearly $90,000 in student loan debt, something that will only worsen as she pays for Kenya to go to college. Sabrina’s remarkable resolve through incredibly difficult circumstances brought her to the attention of The Shriver Report, which seeks to highlight the 1 in 3 American women living on the brink of poverty. The President is determined to help people like Sabrina – Americans who are working hard and doing the right things – get ahead.
Mayor Ed Lee (San Francisco, CA)
Mayor Edwin M. Lee is the son of Chinese immigrants and the first Asian-American Mayor of San Francisco, a position he’s held for more than three years. He previously served as San Francisco’s City Administrator and Director of the Department of Public Works. In 2013, he hosted a series of town halls to mobilize the Silicon Valley business community in support of immigration reform. Mayor Lee is also working on a proposal to significantly increase San Francisco’s minimum wage. In 2012, the U.S. Department of Education awarded a five-year, up to $30 million Promise Neighborhoods implementation grant to support school improvement and revitalize the Mission neighborhood in San Francisco. Originally from Seattle, Washington, Mayor Lee graduated Summa Cum Laude from Bowdoin College in 1974 and Boalt Hall School of Law at the University of California, Berkeley in 1978. He and his wife, Anita, have two daughters, Brianna and Tania.
Andra Rush (Detroit, MI)
Founder and Chairperson, The Rush Group, Detroit Manufacturing Systems
Andra Rush is a descendant of the Mohawk Tribe from the Six-Nation Reservation, and the founder and chairperson of the Rush Group family of companies, which include Rush Trucking, Dakkota Integrated Systems, and Detroit Manufacturing Systems. This consortium of manufacturing, trucking, assembly, and distribution is one of the largest Native American-owned businesses in the country. Rush started her first company, Rush Trucking, in 1984 with only three trucks and successfully grew the company to include 800 tractors and 1,350 trailers. In 2012, Ms. Rush launched Detroit Manufacturing Systems Ltd., LLC (DMS), a joint venture between Rush Group Ltd, LLC and Faurecia. DMS manufactures and assembles automotive interior components in the City of Detroit and grew to more than 600 employees in its first year of operations, the largest new manufacturing employer in the City of Detroit in decades. The company’s first customer was the Ford Motor Company, building interior components for the Mustang and F-150 pickup truck. In 2012, she was appointed to the U.S. Manufacturing Council, which is the principal private-sector advisory committee to the U.S. Secretary of Commerce on manufacturing matters. She was also appointed by Governor Rick Snyder to serve as a trustee for Michigan’s Children’s Trust Fund. Ms. Rush has a Bachelor of Arts in Nursing (1982) from the University of Michigan. She has three sons.
Amanda Shelley (Gilbert, AZ)
For years, Amanda Shelley, a 37-year-old physician assistant from Gilbert, Arizona, was unable to get insurance due to a pre-existing condition. That all changed on January 1, thanks to the Affordable Care Act. Two days later, Amanda began having severe pain in her abdomen, which at first she ignored – something she was used to doing because she was previously uninsured. The next day, when the pain became too much to bear, she went to the emergency room and eventually had emergency abdominal surgery. Amanda is one of millions of Americans who now knows the security that comes with quality, affordable health insurance.
Antoinette Tuff (Atlanta, GA)
DeKalb County Bookkeeper
On August 20, 2013, the world learned of the compassion and heroism of Antoinette Tuff, the DeKalb County bookkeeper who prevented a shooting at Ronald E. McNair Discovery Learning Academy, an elementary school in the suburbs of Atlanta. Tuff, a mother of one daughter and one son, talked the would-be shooter down, sharing her personal struggles, discussing love and doing her best to connect with him until he surrendered before harming anyone. Now, instead of being known for another tragic school shooting, August 20, 2013 is remembered for one woman’s grace under pressure. The President called Tuff after the ordeal and has said what she did was “remarkable.” Antoinette has been nominated for the Carnegie Medal for civilian heroism.