There were people on the White House tour Saturday morning who were probably impressed by the portraits of John Adams and Thomas Jefferson in the Blue Room.
The group I was 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.
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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.
Kristina was one of 15 teens from a Washington, D.C., shelter who went to the White House for a daylong field trip that included bowling a few sets on the president's lanes and lunch at a nearby fancy restaurant.
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.
They are members of 192 homeless families living in shelters on D.C. General Hospital's campus, according to the Community Partnership for the Prevention of Homelessness. It is over capacity this winter, full beyond anything the city had planned for, and grew by 50 families in the past month alone.
Jamila Larson, the social worker who runs the Homeless Children's Playtime Project, said she is haunted by the teens, who are far more aware of their plight than their younger siblings. Many wanted to tell me their stories. But not all of their friends at school know they are homeless, so few wanted their names in the paper.
The trip was organized and funded by the project and its volunteers, who have Washington connections and generous friends. To get on the tour, the kids had to write essays explaining how they are similar to three U.S. presidents. Most of them said they can relate to President Obama, but their observations were complex and moving. One boy said it's not because of "my skin color or anything like that, but that we both strive to what we need and not what we want."
At lunch, they took pictures of the cloakroom and the restrooms.
"I've never seen a bathroom like that — could you believe that?" said Bianca Root, 18.
They unfolded napkins and held up their stemmed water glasses for a toast: "For stepping out of the shelter and into the White House!"
I just wish they didn't have to step back into the shelter.