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How to Become a White House Volunteer

Getting to volunteer at the White House is a rare privilege.
Getting to volunteer at the White House is a rare privilege.
©iStockphoto.com/KentWeakley

For many, getting to volunteer at the White House is a privilege and an honor. It isn't taken lightly, and due to high security measures, the opportunities are rare. Those who work inside the walls of the White House undergo extensive background checks and come highly recommended. As a result, you can't just walk up to the front gate and ask for an application to volunteer.

The White House internship program does provide young people with an opportunity to volunteer their time, but the requirements limit the general population's eligibility. Those applying to the internship program must be citizens of the United States, be at least 18 years old prior to the internship starting date and meet one of the following sets of criteria:

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  • Active student enrolled in an undergraduate or a graduate program at a college, community college or university
  • Recent graduate (within the past two years) of an undergraduate or graduate program at a college, community college or university
  • Veteran of the U.S. Armed Forces who is a high school graduate or GED recipient and has actively served sometime in the past two years

And meeting those requirements is just the first step. The next step involves completing a hefty application [source: White House]. But, what if you're not eligible for an internship? Can you still volunteer?

While your interest in volunteering is appreciated, the current administration suggests that you volunteer outside the White House. On April 21, 2009, President Barack Obama signed the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act into law giving millions of Americans the opportunity to serve their country. In a press release made on the same day, Obama stated,

"This landmark law recruits an army of 250,000 per year to engage in intensive service, and it focuses that work on today's challenges, including clean energy, education, health, veterans care, and economic opportunity. It creates new service opportunities for seniors, baby boomers, and young adults, and improves service learning in our schools."

If you're still determined to donate your time specifically to the White House, there is one other way to volunteer there. Every year at Christmas, the administration opens its doors to a group of volunteers who decorate the White House for the tens of thousands of visitors who take tours each holiday season. Read on to find out how you can help decorate the White House for Christmas.

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The tradition of decorating the White House for Christmas has a rich history that can be traced all the way back to 1889. It was then, during the presidency of Benjamin Harrison, that the first Christmas tree was displayed in the Oval Room. Since then, the simple act of placing a Christmas tree in the White House has evolved into a national tradition much larger in scale.

It was in 1929 that the tradition became an official White House event and since then the First Ladies have been responsible for decorating. Jackie Kennedy was the first to introduce a theme, a tradition that is still carried out today [source: Harris]. Then in 1973, the Nixon's opened the doors of the White House to volunteers who helped decorate for the Christmas season [source: Clinton]. Tens of thousands of visitors tour the White House every holiday season to see the decorations.

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Volunteers come from all over the country and many of them are florists who own their own businesses. One way to volunteer is to contact the White House and find out what florists will be volunteering their time. If there is a florist near you, you can offer your assistance and ask to come along. If that isn't the case, you can also try writing to the White House Chief of Staff or the First Lady, making a strong case for your selection as a volunteer. Don't worry about writing too early either, holiday planning starts getting under way almost a year in advance.

Many Christmas volunteers are lucky in that they repeatedly get to provide their services. For example, florist George Griffith and Tom O'Brien, owners of a florist shop, have been volunteering during the holiday decorating season at the White House for more than 20 years [source: Griffith].

If you still want to try to make your mark inside the White House, you could always design a Christmas tree decoration in the hopes that it will hang on one of the many Christmas trees that grace the White House and its grounds during the holiday season. If not, keep in mind that your time would be equally appreciated by a local organization that is seeking volunteers.

To learn more about volunteering, visit the links on the following page.

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Sources

  • Clinton, Hillary Rodham. "Talking It Over." NARA. Dec. 8, 1999. (Accessed 5/5/2009)http://clinton4.nara.gov/textonly/WH/EOP/First_Lady/html/columns/hrc120899.html
  • Griffith, Randy. "Local florists help deck White House halls." The Tribune-Democrat. (Accessed 5/13/09) http://www.tribune-democrat.com/homepage/local_story_339233508.html
  • Harris, Angela. "History of the White House Christmas Tree." Associate Content. Dec. 16, 2007. (Accessed 5/5/2009)http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/472388/history_of_the_white_house_christmas.html?cat=37
  • NARA. "White House Facts." (Accessed 5/5/2009)http://clinton4.nara.gov/WH/glimpse/WH_Facts/html/facts.html
  • Serve. "Welcome!" (Accessed 5/5/2009) http://www.serve.gov/
  • White House. "White House Internship Program Application." (Accessed 5/5/2009)http://www.whitehouse.gov/assets/documents/application_2009_fillable3.pdf
  • White House. "White House Internship Program." (Accessed 5/5/2009)http://www.whitehouse.gov/about/internships/

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