Pharmacy Tech student meets First Lady

by Nyla on October 20, 2014 · 10:00 am

SJVC student Sonia Whipp meets First Lady Michelle ObamaNo one could have been more surprised than Ontario campus Pharmacy Technology student Sonia Whipp when she learned she had been selected, along with four other female military veterans, to meet Michelle Obama, the nation’s First Lady.

Redbook magazine and Business and Professional Women (BPW) worked together to identify five deserving female veterans to participate in their effort to bring public attention to the plight of female vets trying to find a place in the job market. Their November issue will include an article honoring women veterans for a special Veteran’s Day tribute.

It seemed natural to connect with Michelle Obama, who is also spearheading “Joining Forces,” which creates opportunities for civilians to support military families.

It all came together pretty quickly for Sonia, who barely made the nominations deadline in early July for the July 12th visit to the White House. Once she was selected as one of those women to help put a face and a story to the issue of unemployable female veterans, a background check for security clearance was performed…and she and the Redbook magazine crew were on their way to D.C.

The five veterans and their benefactors spent July 12th touring the most prominent sites of the Capitol before their special meeting with the First Lady. Treated like honored guests, the women enjoyed some time in the hair and make-up chairs and wardrobe fittings before the short walk to the White House.

“It was pretty amazing,” says Sonia, who had joined the Army as a small arms and artillery repair person right out of high school. “We were there for awhile, touring the White House, then meeting Michelle Obama and the photo shoot,” says Sonia.

It wasn’t all fluff and posing for the camera, though.

“We had a very intimate sit-down, as we all went around and told our stories,” says Sonia. “It got pretty emotional, and we cried a little bit about what we went through.”

Sonia found the First Lady to be very easy to confide in and was happy to know her strong position that no veteran should be hungry, homeless or unemployed.

Sonia, who deployed three times to Kuwait, Afghanistan and Iraq, and rose to sergeant, declared herself to be a “bad Mama Jama” to Mrs. Obama, who laughed and confirmed she was, indeed, a bad Mama Jama. “She was very affectionate and likes to hug,” says Sonia.

“I told her, when they want you to join the Army, they’re always, ‘Want to join; want to join?,'” says Sonia. “But, now that you’re out, nobody’s calling you. She told us, ‘You haven’t been forgotten, and we’re going to give some life to this issue.'”

None of the women who participated in this Redbook article were allowed to bring their cell phones to the meeting or photo shoot, neither were they allowed to take pictures. In fact, they were instructed to keep the entire magazine story confidential until publication.

“I’m just now putting it out there on Facebook,” says Sonia, who is released from its secrecy since the November issue of Redbook just came out.

“Mom is super proud of me and wants to buy ten copies!” says Sonia, whose husband, Jefferson, and their young daughter and son share the excitement.

Michelle Obama’s “Joining Forces” suggests a few ways the public can get involved in helping female vets in the job market*:

  • Mentor a female vet
    Offer help directly or become a mentor through the Business and Professional Women’s Foundation.
  • Find the veterans in your community
    Ask schools, congregation, and professional organizations if they have programs for veterans or military families.
  • Reach out to local military bases or publications if you are putting together an event to help vets

For female vets:

  • Stay tuned for information on events in D.C. regarding “Joining Forces”
  • Go to a career event
    “Hiring Our Heroes” hosts job fairs all around the country; stay connected
  • Get help online
    Join the Linkedin group “Military-Civilian Career Coaching Connection” to get valuable feedback on your resume and connect with a coach to help with your job search
  • Find a mentor
    Sign up with the Business and Professional Women’s Foundations “Joining Forces Mentoring Plus”’ program to be matched with a mentor who can help you navigate the civilian job market.

See Sonia’s story in Redbook’s November issue or by clicking here.

*”Joining Forces” excerpt from the Redbook website.



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