A group of 15 girls from Toronto’s C.W. Jefferys Collegiate Institute will have a chance to meet former first lady Michelle Obama on Saturday thanks in part to the efforts of the leader of a special book club they belong to.
The private meeting comes just a few hours before they go to see Obama at a sold-out speaking engagement at the Scotiabank Arena entitled Becoming: An Intimate Evening With Michelle Obama.
“I wanted you guys to have the best experience ever,” Tanya Lee, founder of A Room of Your Own book club based at Toronto’s Lillian H. Smith library, told the girls during a surprise phone call while they were still at school Friday afternoon.
“I tweeted to Michelle Obama and her team came looking for me and they found me through the library. And you all are going to meet her in person.”
The girls can be seen on video screaming in joy with many clutching their jaws in surprise.
“Thank you, Tanya,” one of the girls said before they start laughing.
Lee had a special message for the teens in advance of Saturday.
“I just want you to know her team believes in you. I believe in you. Your teachers believe in you. We kept this secret for over a week,” she said.
“Live in the moment. Be present. I will see tomorrow and you will be meeting privately with Michelle Obama.”
In an interview with Global News, Lee said the journey to see the former first lady has been in the works for a little while.
“They love Michelle and Barack Obama,” Lee told Global News, adding the girls hoped they would attend the book club.
She said she got a call earlier this year from a representative of First Book Canada, a supporter of the club, asking Lee to arrange for girls to attend an undisclosed event on a Saturday, adding they would get back to her with details.
In mid-March, Lee said she received a call to say they got a block of tickets to attend Obama’s speaking engagement. Determined to get a meeting with Obama, Lee sent a tweet to her.
“@MichelleObama Our book club for at risk teen girls won tickets to see you in Toronto. Please meet with us in person,” he said, linking to a video profiling the book club.
To her shock, a representative from Obama’s office called the library in an effort to get in touch with Lee. She said she received a call within minutes of responding, adding the representative told her they were sorry they didn’t see the touching video sooner. A small meet-and-greet with Obama was then arranged.
Lee said she tried to get all 170 current members of the book club invitations to the meeting, but given the short notice, she was told they wouldn’t be able to accommodate all the book club members. So Lee arranged for 15 female students at C.W. Jefferys and a few of their teachers to attend.
She said the book club is specifically for girls across Toronto who are in at-risk situations and need a setting to feel safe and accepted, noting they read books from authors who come to meet with the teens.
Lee said the book club has been operating without funding since 2017, and that the club is in need of donations in order to help with books and related expenses. She estimated that 600 girls have come through the club, noting many repeatedly attend.
“The security guards block off the downstairs for them so they can meet,” she said.