Homeless D.C. teenagers visit White House

"It's so big. And important," one of the 15 teenagers said of the White House.
"It's so big. And important," one of the 15 teenagers said of the White House. (Petula Dvorak/the Washington Post)
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By Petula Dvorak
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 2, 2010

There were people on the White House tour Saturday morning who were probably struck by the yellow paint on the Vermeil Room's wood paneling. Or impressed by the portraits of John Adams and Thomas Jefferson in the Blue Room.

The group I came with had a different frame of reference to work with.

"The chair is hard," one of the teenagers said after pressing down on a cushion and comparing it with the pillows that her father had described sleeping on in prison.

Another teen, Kristina Richbow, 17, was stunned by all the space the Obama girls must have for their things.

She's about to lose most of her possessions. Baby pictures, yearbooks, stuffed animals -- everything Kristina couldn't fit under her cot at the homeless shelter was placed in a storage unit when her family lost its home in a foreclosure.

And now, five months later, the family is behind on storage payments, so everything might be auctioned off.

"Look at all that space," she said quietly to the giant windows high above, silk curtains pulled back to let in the light.

She was one of 15 teens from a District shelter who went to the White House for a day-long field trip that included bowling a few sets on the president's lanes and nibbling on crab cakes at the Occidental Grill next to the Willard hotel.

I thought it might be cruel, taking kids whose families are homeless to the grandest home of all. But it turned out to be an uplifting, poignant day.

The kids gathered at the shelter in the morning, dressed in their best. Their mothers took pictures and told them how proud they were before sending them down the dirty corridor to visit the most important house in the nation.

Among them were honor students, a section leader of a D.C. magnet school band, an aspiring linguist who is studying Chinese, a mother of an infant son and a track sprinter.

Some of them, despite being raised in Washington, had never seen the White House.

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