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An Inauguration for the People

While the rich and well connected clamored for tickets to festivities for this month’s inauguration of President-elect Barack Obama in Washington, Earl W. Stafford Sr. had another idea: Host a series of first-class events for hundreds of underprivileged people from across the country—including the terminally ill, wounded vets and older people.

The 60-year-old Fairfax, Va., businessman, son of a Baptist preacher, says he yielded to the voice of the Almighty and plunked down a check for a $1 million package at a deluxe D.C. hotel to make it happen. “If God tells you to do something, you do it,” Stafford says.

The People’s Inaugural Project will kick off with an ecumenical prayer breakfast on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, followed by a luncheon for 1,000, and later by an inaugural ball and mini-balls for young people. Attendees will have views of the inaugural parade from the hotel’s terrace. Empowerment seminars are planned for the guests, “so that they can take something back to their communities,” Stafford says.

The nonprofit Stafford Foundation, which assists the underprivileged, is funding the events; Stafford is adding $600,000 of his own money. Corporations and individuals—from airlines to hair stylists—also have offered their services.

Participants will be selected and hosted by various national and local organizations for the all-expenses-paid trip to the capital.

So, will the new president stop by? “There’s a standing invitation to the Obamas,” Stafford says.

Barbranda Lumpkins Walls is features editor at the AARP Bulletin.

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