Serendipity in D.C.: First Lady's Health Center Visit Generates High-Level Visibility for We Can!

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Posted November 4, 2009

It was a day of celebration at Unity Healthcare's Upper Cardozo Health Center on June 29, 2009, when First Lady Michelle Obama made a short trip from Pennsylvania Avenue to the diverse, primarily Latino, Washington D.C. neighborhood of Columbia Heights where the center runs a number of health programs, including We Can!.

The purpose of her visit was to announce $851 million in grants to health centers through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

First Lady Michelle Obama announces new grants while visiting Unity Health Care's Upper Cardozo Health Center in Washington DC
Photo courtesy of Unity Health Care, Inc.

"Community health centers provide care to the Americans who need it most, and their work has never been more important," said the First Lady. "These grants will help Unity's Upper Cardozo and thousands of centers across the country expand and serve more Americans who simply can't afford insurance coverage anymore."

Prior to making the announcement, the First Lady participated in a roundtable discussion with several healthcare providers and patients to learn about the Center's services. One of the providers present was Jessica Wallace, a Physician Assistant and Project Coordinator of their We Can! program.

"We shared how We Can! is helping families in our community learn lifestyle choices that help them maintain a healthy weight," said Wallace. "We also discussed the importance of conducting program evaluations to demonstrate success; we now know that our families have increased their health knowledge and have made healthy behavior changes at home, and that those changes have affected health outcomes like weight and body mass index (BMI). The majority of our parents and children have been able to maintain or decrease their BMI over time—one woman has even lost over 40 pounds!"

The Center has been running an adapted We Can! curriculum in Spanish for the local community since April 2008; staff have offered a total of 40 classes in the clinic to date. More than 225 participants have learned about how improved nutrition, increased physical activity, and decreased screen time can help control weight.

The First Lady and her staff were so interested in what they learned about We Can! that Wallace and Unity's Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Aysha Corbett, were invited to a discussion at the White House Office of the First Lady's staff to provide more details about their program. During that September 16 meeting, Wallace presented them with a packet of letters from We Can! families, and a framed group photograph. The meeting went well, and further demonstrates the First Lady's commitment to programs that support healthy families, as well as her desire to engage with her new neighbors in Washington, DC.

Last Updated: February 13, 2013