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Obama Selects Santa Barbaran as White House Fellow

Direct Relief’s COO Taking Off for Year in D.C.


One of Santa Barbara’s finest philanthropists is headed to the capital.

Annie Maxwell, a Santa Barbara High School graduate and the chief operating officer for Direct Relief International, is one of just 15 individuals that President Barack Obama has named to serve as White House Fellows for the 2009-2010 year.

President Lyndon B. Johnson created the program in 1964 to give young American leaders “first hand, high-level experience with the workings of the Federal government, and to increase their sense of participation in national affairs,” according to the White House Web site. The honorees typically act as full-time, paid special assistants to senior White House staff and other government officials, completing an educational program as well as extensive community service. Maxwell is scheduled to start her fellowship on August 31, although she won’t know which office she is working in until she travels back to D.C. for “Placement Week” in mid-July.

Although Maxwell touched on the unpredictability of life, she says she plans to return to Direct Relief after her year in D.C. Direct Relief plans to leave her position open during the year, and Maxwell’s coworkers will pick up her responsibilities.

She described the application process for the fellowship as intense, recounting multiple essays, letters of recommendation, a regional interview in Los Angeles, and finally, a trip to Washington, D.C., for the final interview and review by a national committee.

You start to think ‘this can’t get more difficult,’” Maxwell said. “The application is so involved, and then you reach the finals and the President’s Commission [which evaluates the finalists] is just an incredible group. We started to read the packet, and just on the first page we saw Tom Brokaw, General Wesley Clark, and Tom Daschel. I don’t think anyone wanted to keep reading.”

But Maxwell’s impressive resume wowed the commission. She was a varsity volleyball player at SBHS and went on to play at the University of Michigan, serving as a captain of the Division One team. She said it was during her college years that she began to heavily invest her time in philanthropic work. Through the athletic community, she participated in From the Heart, regularly visiting children’s hospitals to visit with sick children.

Upon receiving a master’s degree in public policy, Maxwell returned to Santa Barbara for what she intended to be a relaxing few months on the beach before heading to Washington, D.C., to “work her way onto Capitol Hill.” Following her mother’s recommendation, she began as an intern at Direct Relief, a local nonprofit dedicated to providing aid for people affected by poverty and disasters around the world. Despite intentions of a short-term stay at the nonprofit, Maxwell fell in love with the organization, and seven years later can say it will be “bittersweet” to leave even for a year.

This is not Maxwell’s first experience working with government officials. From 2005 to 2006, she was a part of the United Nation’s Office of the Special Envoy for Tsunami Recovery, led by former President Bill Clinton. In 2007, she received the Marshall Memorial Fellowship, a grant designed to give emerging American leaders an opportunity to witness European society, people, and institutions.

I’ve been blessed with opportunities to have that year at the UN, and the Marshall Memorial, and to go to D.C. again,” she said. “None of this would have happened without the support of everyone at Direct Relief and the view of what Direct Relief does in the world.”

Despite the fact that Maxwell is not totally sure about her future career path, she says she knows that she will dedicate her life to public service.

Growing up in Santa Barbara had a big impact on her development as an active humanitarian, Maxwell said. Her education-at Marymount, Santa Barbara Junior High School, and Santa Barbara High School-and a strong emphasis on community service in her family, shaped her perception of “how you should approach the world.”

Maxwell said President Obama has made the fellowship program a priority both in his campaign, and during his time in office so far. The fellows will meet Obama, although just like many other aspects of her upcoming year in the capital, other details will be a surprise.

This is a big life change, but I’m excited,” Maxwell said. “Hopefully I’m ready for the challenge.”

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