One Month Later, What's Become Of Melania Trump's 'Be Best' Campaign?

Jun 7, 2018
Originally published on June 7, 2018 9:51 am

Melania Trump waited more than a year before taking a traditional step as first lady, finally unveiling her "Be Best" campaign on May 7. A month later, the initiative itself appears to be off to a slow start.

During a launch for the initiative last month in the White House Rose Garden, Trump said she would promote the well-being of children and work to raise awareness about online bullying and the impact of opioids on young people.

"I will also work to shine a spotlight on the people, organizations and programs across the country that are helping children overcome the many issues they are facing as they grow up," Trump said.

But beyond shining a spotlight, it's unclear what the initiative will involve.

That may be due in part to the first lady's health; one week after the ceremony, on May 14, the White House said she had undergone a procedure to treat what was described as a benign kidney condition. She was hospitalized for nearly a week and didn't re-emerge in public until this week.

On Wednesday, she joined President Trump at a briefing on the hurricane season, where he said she was doing well.

"She went through a little rough patch, but she's doing great, and we're very proud of her," he said.

By way of comparison, in the first month of Michelle Obama's "Let's Move" campaign, she had already visited a handful of schools and youth organizations to promote physical fitness.

At the White House ceremony, Melania Trump mentioned programs like the Buddy Bench, designed to help children who feel lonely on the playground, and Viking Huddle, a course at Orchard Lake Middle School in Michigan. The school's principal, Morrison Borders, who attended the White House ceremony along with some of his students and colleagues, said the program teaches children to connect in person, in a world where human interactions are increasingly moderated through screens.

"You'll see kids sitting right across from each other and, instead of talking, they're texting each other. So it's a way to get kids talking, to get kids learning how to interact appropriately with other people," Borders told NPR.

Borders said he would be pleased to work with the first lady to help other schools develop similar courses. But so far, he said, the school hasn't received details about how the program might be involved in the first lady's initiative.

That has been the experience of several organizations interviewed by NPR that were part of the development and rollout of the "Be Best" campaign.

The National Safety Council has worked with the White House on the response to the opioid epidemic. Kelly Nantel, vice president of communications and advocacy, said she is unaware of any events being planned by the White House. But she is hopeful the campaign will help promote efforts to collect and dispose of unused prescription pain medications.

"The first lady really loved that idea," Nantel said. "And she's very, very interested in ways that we can reduce the supply chain, because she recognizes that having unused opioids in your medicine cabinet presents a tremendous risk."

Another group working on the issue is Lily's Place, a treatment center in West Virginia for infants exposed to opioids; the first lady visited last year.

Executive Director Rebecca Crowder said she, too, has yet to hear from the White House about plans for a follow-up. But Crowder said the initiative already is helping her organization raise awareness and solicit donations.

"It has only been a month, so I figure they're still working out some details, but I do fully expect that we will hear from them again," Crowder said.

The "Be Best" campaign also continues the first lady's focus on cyberbullying. As she has acknowledged, it has provoked mockery from some critics because of the president's notorious Twitter habits. But Melania Trump has insisted on bringing attention to the problem.

"As we all know, social media can both positively and negatively affect our children, but too often it is used in negative ways," she told the crowd gathered in the Rose Garden last month.

On that issue, the White House has worked with the Family Online Safety Institute, whose CEO, Stephen Balkam, was present at the launch. He said his organization has suggested several ways of raising awareness about online bullying, including a marketing campaign or publicity tour. But Balkam said it's not yet clear which, if any, of those ideas the first lady might implement.

"Obviously, she's had surgery and she's been out of the public eye for a while," Balkam said. "So at the moment, I think we're in a holding pattern."

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

It's been one month since first lady Melania Trump unveiled her Be Best initiative in a ceremony at the White House.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MELANIA TRUMP: I feel strongly that, as adults, we can and should be best at educating our children about the importance of a healthy and balanced life.

MARTIN: Since then, the first lady was hospitalized for a kidney condition. And she hasn't been seen a whole lot in public since then. Melania Trump waited more than a year before choosing a platform as first lady. As NPR's Sarah McCammon reports, it's taken a little while to get the program off the ground.

SARAH MCCAMMON, BYLINE: On the afternoon of May 7, Melania Trump strolled into the White House Rose Garden and announced she'd be making children her focus as first lady.

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M. TRUMP: I will also work to shine a spotlight on the people, organizations and programs across the country that are helping children overcome the many issues they're facing as they grow up.

MCCAMMON: But beyond shining a spotlight, it's unclear so far what the initiative will involve. At the ceremony, Trump was joined by leaders of groups working on such issues, including Stephen Balkam of the Family Online Safety Institute. He's been in touch with the first lady's office since then but says he's heard of no specific plans for next steps.

STEPHEN BALKAM: Obviously, she's had surgery, and she's been out of the public eye for a while. So at the moment, I think we're in a holding pattern.

MCCAMMON: On May 14, a week after the Be Best campaign launch, the White House said Melania Trump underwent a procedure to treat what was described as a benign kidney condition. She was hospitalized for five days and didn't appear in public for more than three weeks, prompting questions about her health and whereabouts. Yesterday, she joined President Trump at a briefing on hurricane season where he said she was doing well.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: She went through a little rough patch, but she's doing great. And we're very proud of her.

MCCAMMON: By way of comparison, in the first month of former first lady Michelle Obama's Let's Move campaign, she'd already visited a handful of schools and youth organizations to promote physical fitness. Melania Trump's office has released few details about her initiative since the launch and hasn't responded to NPR's request for an update. So we reached out to several groups involved in the rollout. Kelly Nantel with the National Safety Council says she doesn't know of any events. But she hopes the Be Best campaign will promote efforts to dispose of unused prescription pain medications.

KELLY NANTEL: The first lady really loved that idea. And she's very, very interested in ways that we can reduce the supply chain because she recognizes that having unused opioids in your medicine cabinet presents a tremendous risk.

MCCAMMON: Another group working on that issue is Lily's Place, a treatment center in West Virginia for infants exposed to opioids. The first lady visited there last year. Executive director Rebecca Crowder says she, too, has not heard from the White House about plans for a follow-up.

REBECCA CROWDER: It has only been a month, so I figure they're probably still working out some details. But I do expect, you know - fully expect that we will hear from them again.

MCCAMMON: But Crowder says the initiative already is having an impact. Just mentioning her organization at the White House is helping raise awareness and money.

Sarah McCammon, NPR News, Washington.

(SOUNDBITE OF AFTA-1'S "FACTS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.