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The Zanesville Times Recorder - Obama Gives Zanesville Kids His Time

News Article

Location: Zanesville, OH

The Zanesville Times Recorder - Obama Gives Zanesville Kids His Time

Staff Writer

Students were busy coloring in an upstairs classroom at Eastside Community Ministry when presidential candidate Barack Obama walked in Tuesday.

They knew he was coming, but at the sight of him, they all stopped and stared, their projects suddenly unimportant.

They knew who he was and he made it a point to meet each one of them. He casually walked from table to table shaking their hands, asking each one their name and ages and commented on their drawings.

Hope Stemm, 11, was caught off guard when he walked straight to her first, put his hand on her shoulder and took an interest in the sun, car and pink and green stick people she had drawn minutes earlier.

"I like that drawing. Did you do this?" Obama asked Dalton Pickens, 8.

He and Stemm's chairs were back to back for their speaking clearly to be a good communicator project they'd been working on up until Obama's visit. In pairs, the oldest in the pair had to describe what they had drawn and the younger child had to draw what the oldest was describing without looking.

Even with several Secret Service agents and dozens of reporters, photographers and videographers in the room, the children managed to keep their attention on Obama.

"Let me see how these guys did," he said as he moved to the next table. "You all are excellent artists."

At the last of the four tables, Zyon Rush, a Zanesville City Schools student, was the first to ask Obama for his autograph.

"In crayon?" He asked, laughing.

But Rush didn't seem to find anything odd about it, her arm extended, offering him the crayon she'd been coloring with. Obama signed his autograph, the B and O the only distinct letters, and handed it to Rush.

"Awesome," she said as she pressed the piece of paper against her cheek.

After the childrens' autographs were signed, there was one last request. Jamie Hoover, a volunteer staff member and Eastside's 4-H advisor, asked Obama to autograph her copy of his book, "The Audacity of Hope."

She planned on voting for Obama before Tuesday, and was still planning on voting for him after meeting him.

"I think I was the most excited of everyone," she said.

She said she thought Obama was fantastic with the children during his 20 minute classroom visit.

"He was very encouraging to them and shook everybody's hand. It was a once in a lifetime opportunity for these kids," she said.

During a group picture with the class, he told them to say cheese and green chilies, which encouraged more giggles.

On his way out the door, he stopped to ask one question.

"Can I ask you a question?" He asked Pickens. "What happened to all your teeth?"

"I pulled them," Pickens said, smiling wide enough to show the empty gaps where he'd lost his baby teeth.

In the morning, before Obama's arrivial, the ministry's summer youth program carried on as usual with games like Simon Says outside in the yard.

This summer 34 students are enrolled in the Monday through Thursday program, according to Joey Osborn, director of youth programs. Students from Zanesville City Schools, Franklin Local Schools and Maysville Local Schools primarily attend the program.

Executive Director Bob Davidson said he thought Obama's press conference that later followed on faith and the community, specifically focusing on expanding faith-based initiatives, was educational, but not really relatable to Eastside's funding situation.

"It's good to explain the programs, but we don't receive federal funding for the programs we do here. I have no objection to federal funding, but all of our programs are privately funded," he said.

Eastside is funded by the United Way, the Muskingum Valley Presbytery, various religious denominations, churches, civic groups and donations. More than 85 percent of the ministry's income is dedicated to helping families, while less than 15 percent is spent on administration and fund raising.

"It's great exposure for what we do here at Eastside," he said of Obama's visit. "The more people know of our efforts to break the cycle of poverty and what we do in the neighborhood is a good thing."

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