At age 12, pint-sized chef Haile Thomas already has a resume jam-packed with child health initiatives and a high-profile professional endorsement for Hyatt Hotels, and she will be seated with First Lady Michelle Obama on Tuesday night at the US Capitol to watch President Obama deliver his State of the Union address. The young activist from Tucson, Arizona, is being honored as a champion of Mrs. Obama's Let's Move! campaign for her work. She last visited the White House in August for the Kids' State Dinner luncheon, when she was selected as the Arizona winner for the First Lady's Healthy Lunchtime Challenge, a Let's Move! recipe contest. (Above, meeting the President during the lunch)
"For the First Lady to invite me is such an honor," Haile told Obama Foodorama. "I'm really excited to hear President Obama's speech and learn from what he's saying."
Haile will join Mrs. Obama's 23 other guests as well as Dr. Jill Biden in the First Lady's Box. A sixth grader at Saint Gregory College Prep School in Tucson, Haile has been teaching her peers--and adults--cooking and gardening skills since she was knee-high to a cornstalk, in her hometown and at events around the US. She is a Youth Advisory Board member with President Bill Clinton's Alliance for a Healthier Generation, and created the Healthy Girl Adventures Club to inspire girls to embrace healthy habits. She also produces online cooking videos aimed at encouraging kids to get cooking, and is a Board member for ChopChop magazine, a non-profit publication devoted to kids' cooking.
Haile is also the paid Youth Spokesperson and Jr. Chef Consultant for Hyatt Hotels, which has joined the Let's Move! campaign with a pledge to offer healthier menu options across the company's holdings. She's in heady company: Legendary chef Alice Waters is her adult counterpart for the project. As if that's not enough, Haile recently co-founded the HAPPY Organization in Tucson, a nonprofit she's directing that was created to boost "the health and wellness of youth through education, outreach, and advocacy about proper nutrition and healthy lifestyle choices."
"To know that the First Lady recognizes my efforts means a lot to me," Haile said.
The invitation to join Mrs. Obama for the President's address came in a phone call from the First Lady's office last week, said Charmaine Thomas, Haile's mom. They arrived in Washington, DC, on Monday night, and spent the early part of Tuesday visiting with new staffers at Alliance for a Healthier Generation's DC headquarters. (Above, Haile, second from r, with Mrs. Obama at the Kids' State Dinner, watching the band Big Time Rush perform)
Since she's already an old hand at visiting the White House, Haile said she's not so much nervous as she is thrilled about joining Mrs. Obama at the Capitol. Still, she didn't quite believe it when she first got the invitation.
"I was shocked and excited," Haile said. "I really had to figure out if it was reality or not."
Mrs. Thomas will be watching the President's address from the Family Theater at the White House while her daughter is with Mrs. Obama, she said.
"We'll get to the White House around five, and then they'll take Haile to the Capitol, and bring her back to me at around 10:30 PM," Mrs. Thomas said. She's also thrilled, she said.
The political glamour of being one of Mrs. Obama's special guests aside, Haile will be getting right back to work with HAPPY when she heads home to Tucson.
"We're planning on how to implement programs that will benefit the Tucson community," Haile said.
Also joining Mrs. Obama in her Box will be Kaitlin Roig, a first grade teacher at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut; 102-year-old Miami resident Desiline Victor, a Haitian immigrant who waited in line for hours to vote during the General Election last November; Gov. John Kitzhaber (D-OR); Apple CEO Tim Cook and Bobak Ferdowsi, the Flight Director for the Mars Rover who is known as the 'NASA Mohawk Guy,' thanks to his American flag-inspired hairstyle during the August landing--a red-and blue-streaked mohawk set off by white stars on the side of his head.
Cleopatra Cowley-Pendleton and Nathaniel A. Pendleton Sr, parents of slain Chicago teen Hadiya Pendleton, will also join Mrs. Obama. The First Lady attended Hadiya's funeral in Chicago last Saturday. The full guest list.
*Top two photos courtesy of Haile Thomas/Healthy Girl Adventure Club; second by Sonya N. Hebert/White House