Michelle Obama rolls up sleeves

On her first visit to California as first lady, Michelle Obama on Monday helped volunteers construct a school playground here on a site that has been barren for years.

“Imagine the changes that happen with the creation of this park,” Obama said, speaking at Bret Harte Elementary School. “Kids who were never able to play on a swing set will get the opportunity to play.”

Obama joined California’s first lady, Maria Shriver, at the school to launch the Obama administration’s United We Serve initiative, a national effort to organize service projects throughout the summer.

The administration conceived the initiative as a way to encourage more Americans to address problems in their communities, especially in four key areas: education, health, energy and the environment.


“We have an administration that understands that service is the key to achieving our national priorities,” Obama said later Monday in a keynote address to the National Conference on Volunteering and Service in San Francisco.

A new website,, will allow volunteers to search for service opportunities in their states, cities or ZIP Codes. The site will also help would-be community organizers design service projects.

“Our goals are to get more people to get out and volunteer, use volunteers in unprecedented ways, and get all sectors of society engaged,” said Nicola Goren, acting chief executive of the Corporation for National and Community Service, a government agency involved in the effort.

The initiative will run through Sept. 11, which the administration has designated as the National Day of Service and Remembrance.


The projects at Bret Harte Elementary School embody the administration’s goals, Obama said. Playgrounds promote exercise and could help stem the growing problem of childhood obesity.

“Kids have to be active,” Obama said. “They have to move their bodies in order to get their minds flowing.”