Foundation Invites Disadvantaged to Attend Inauguration

January 16, 2009 at 6:30 PM EDT
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'The People's Inaugural Project,' a faith-based charity program founded by Earl Stafford, will bring 400 disadvantaged people to Washington D.C. for Inauguration Day to stay in a hotel and participate in meals, balls, and parties. Mr. Stafford discusses the $1.5 million undertaking.

MARGARET WARNER: Among the hundreds of thousands descending on Washington for the inauguration are some 400 disadvantaged people who are coming as guests of a charity group.

The faith-based Stafford Foundation is spending $1.5 million to put them up at a Pennsylvania Avenue hotel and host a prayer breakfast, a King Day luncheon, and two inaugural balls at the hotel.

Here to tell us more about the People’s Inaugural Project is Earl Stafford, who created the foundation six years ago. He previously ran a Virginia-based defense technology company.

And, Mr. Stafford, welcome.

What you are do something is a very inspiring story. What inspired you to do this?

EARL STAFFORD, The Stafford Foundation: Well, thank you for the invitation.

I was inspired — we are a Christian family. And we were inspired some time ago to do something for the underserved and those who typically wouldn’t have an opportunity to participate in such an historic event to do something there.

Coalition selected participants

MARGARET WARNER: And how did you choose the people? I understand you had thousands of either applications or nominations as soon as you announced that you were going to do this. Who did you choose and how?

EARL STAFFORD: You are correct.

We received over 8,000 requests from across the nation. And we knew that we couldn't decide, we didn't have the ability to do that ourselves. So, what we have done, we have formed a coalition with other socially responsible organizations, such as the National Urban League, the Boys and Girls Club of America, and other organizations, and we allocated slots to them and asked them to pick the individuals and to bring them to Washington, and -- and to be responsible for their welfare.

MARGARET WARNER: So -- so, give us some examples. I mean, are they homeless or out of work or...

EARL STAFFORD: Yes, exactly right.

We wanted a cross-section of those who are hurting in America, if you will. And, so, we have those coming from homeless shelters. We have those coming from battered women's shelters. We have those who are ill. We're bringing in our disabled veterans and soldiers who fought in the wars.

We're bringing in the elderly, and even young people from across America. We wanted a cross-section.

Donations provide some glamour

MARGARET WARNER: Now, I understand they're really going to have quite a kind of first-class experience at this hotel you have chosen. Tell us a little more.

EARL STAFFORD: Right. We are staying at the prestigious J.W. Marriott Hotel right on Pennsylvania Avenue, not far from the White House.

And, from there, we will have a prime location to view the parade. What we decided to do is to have -- on Monday, we're having a 1,000-person invitation-only prayer breakfast, where we are going to have individuals of different religions, races, cultures, background to come together, and we are going to pray for the nation and pray for the people who are hurting in America.

And then we're going to have a Martin Luther King luncheon, a 1,000-person event, where Martin Luther King III is going to speak. The next day, we are going to view the parade from the 12th floor terrace there at the J.W. Marriott Hotel. And then, that evening, we're going to have the big inaugural celebration, a 1,000-person inaugural ball for the adults, and then a 500-person youth ball for those 18 and under.

MARGARET WARNER: And I understand you're also going to help at least the ladies get beautified for these events.

EARL STAFFORD: That's exactly right.

When this first started, my wife and my daughter said, well, listen, if these ladies are going to come in, we should make this an elegant event for them. And, so, we have received donations of gowns and even tuxedos, shoes, accessories.

And we're establishing a boutique in the lobby of the J.W. Marriott Hotel, where these individuals, ladies and men, can go in and to choose a gown or tuxedo, as appropriate. And we have brought in a cosmetologist, we have brought in hairstylists and other professional people to really make this a special event for these individuals.

Some D.C. locals included

MARGARET WARNER: Let me ask you a -- I think hundreds of Washington's own homeless who sleep on the streets normally in this secure area where the hotel is are being cleared off the streets. In fact, I think they were cleared off yesterday. Are any of those folks included in your group?

EARL STAFFORD: Well, again, what we have done, we have allocated those decisions out to other groups.

But I do know of homeless shelters in the Washington, D.C., area who are sending people to this event, yes, they are.

MARGARET WARNER: And -- and, finally, Mr. Stafford, is there something lasting you hope your guests take home from this experience?

EARL STAFFORD: Exactly right.

What we want to do, we're hoping that, through this experience, people, even though their lives aren't perfect, even though they are disadvantaged, even though they are distressed, we want to inspire them a hope of helping themselves, and then going back to their community. And, even when things aren't perfect in their life, we hope that they are inspired to do something good, even for others.

MARGARET WARNER: Earl Stafford, creator of the Stafford Foundation, thank you so much.