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Two Arizonans join first lady for State of the Union address

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WASHINGTON – When 12-year-old Tucson resident Haile Thomas got home from school Thursday, her mother told her she had received an invitation.

To come to Washington. From first lady Michelle Obama.

Haile was one of two Arizonans, along with Avondale Mayor Marie Lopez Rogers, who were invited to join the first lady in the Capitol for the delivery of President Barack Obama’s State of Union address Tuesday.

The two joined about 20 other guests from around the country whose backgrounds touch on elements the president is expected to address in his speech, including gun control, job creation and immigration reform.

Immigration reform is why Rogers believes she was invited.

Rogers grew up picking cotton with her family in fields in Arizona. Her grandparents came over from Mexico and she said her parents told her that unless she wanted to be in the fields the rest of her life, she needed to stay in school.

Rogers, who went on to become the first Latina mayor of Avondale and the first Latina president of the National League of Cities, said she now tries to help other people succeed as she has.

“I’m just following my passion for helping people,” she said.

Rogers has told her story to the president before, and he has used her as an example of the promise of the American dream.

She received a call Friday asking her to be a guest of the first lady’s at the State of the Union address. She was already going to be in Washington this week for a National Association of Regional Councils conference.

“I was so excited,” Rogers said. “I was honored to be recognized by the first lady.”

Haile has also met the president and first lady before – more than once. She said she has been to the White House several times before for her work advocating for healthy eating, which is in line with the first lady’s “Let’s Move!” campaign to reduce childhood obesity.

But Haile – who flew to Washington Monday night and plans on returning to Arizona Wednesday evening – said this week’s trip will be different than her previous visits because of the president’s address.

“I was really excited, definitely excited to be a part of this historical event,” she said Tuesday in Washington.

Haile, who is on the advisory board of the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, also created Healthy Girl Adventures Club to motivate young girls to take an active lifestyle. She also produces cooking videos, according to a statement from the White House.

In addition to hearing the president talk about his plan for dealing with issues that most affect the country, Haile said she is excited about meeting “amazing people” and trying to build partnerships and connections with them.

“I was really honored to be a part of this,” she said. “I’m really looking forward to the speech.”