White House honors Edmonds woman’s work

  • By Mina Williams Herald writer
  • Tuesday, April 17, 2012 7:15pm

EDMONDS — Few South County residents can claim an invitation to the White House among their life accomplishments. Edmonds resident Maria Montalvo can.

Montalvo was asked to attend a White House ceremony April 11 to accept an award on behalf of the foundation for which she is executive director, Our Family for Families First Foundation. The award was given by first lady Michelle Obama and Jill Biden, the vice president’s wife, to “recognize citizens and organizations with a demonstrated, genuine and deep desire to be of service to military families.”

The foundation, which supplies grants and scholarships to children and spouses of active-duty military, was honored by the White House’s Joining Forces Community Challenge as a Top 20 finalist and the People’s Choice Award Winner. It qualified as a finalist for the award after being evaluated by a panel of representatives from the service branches, Department of Defense, experts on family well-being and community organizations. It earned the “People’s Choice” distinction after receiving nearly 17,000 votes during a seven-week public voting period.

“Mrs. Obama created this recognition program to raise awareness of the charities that are accessible to help military families,” Montalvo said. “If nobody knows about it, what good will it do? The idea of the award is brilliant.”

Humbling Montalvo were the other recipients. One offers a free 24/7 lounge at the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport. Others provide free recreation opportunities for families to reconnect. Another connects mental health providers with military families.

“We are thrilled that first lady Obama and Dr. Biden have brought this issue to the forefront of people’s minds and have engaged our nation in this important cause,” said John Picerne, foundation founder and chief executive officer of Picerne Military Housing. He also attended the ceremony.

Picerne founded the foundation as an outgrowth of his business. The Rhode Island-based company develops, constructs and manages properties for military families.

A 2009 scholarship recipient, Jada Salahuddin, and her father, Army Master Sgt. Majid Salahuddin, of Fort Bragg, N.C., also attended the White House event. Jada Salahuddin is studying journalism at Hampton University in Hampton, Va.

“I didn’t think of the honor, until I walked under the Presidential Seal as a guest and entered the Blue Room,” Montalvo told The Weekly Herald.

“It was quite an experience to overlook the South Lawn with the Washington Monument in the distance from the inside the White House.”

For Picerne, the gravity of the moment came when he was standing on the lawn and realized that the little foundation he set up does such amazing things that it would be recognized by the White House. Being the first class of awardees of the challenge, the foundation is a standard-bearer.

The distinction of Our Family for Families First Foundation is that it is an integrated higher education scholarship and grant program, Montalvo said.

“It’s not enough to give money,” Montalvo said. “You have to create a commitment with the foundation.”

Grant recipients, on average, attain a GPA higher than 3.0. Constant counseling, peer support and mentoring keep students successful, she said.

“Graduating from college is relatively easy. We help our kids to reach higher,” Montalvo said.

Since 2006 the foundation has awarded more than $3 million in $50,000 college scholarships and $5,000 educational grants.

Montalvo met Picerne while collaborating on a pilot housing program in 2000. The success of that project let to Picerne taking over the program and he enlisted Montalvo’s help six years ago.

Montalvo bases her foundation work in Edmonds. She is married to Strom Peterson, owner of the Resident Cheesemonger and the City Council president.

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