Local teacher heading to Washington, D.C., to decorate White House


The fourth time was a charm for a Seymour schoolteacher.

Debbie Atchison had applied the past three years for an opportunity to visit the White House and help put up Christmas decorations during the holiday season, but she never got chosen.

The Seymour-Jackson Elementary School English as a Second Language teacher of 13 years decided to apply again this summer.

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This time around, the odds were in her favor.

“This is my fourth year to apply, and I had originally heard about it on Fox News that the Trump administration was seeking volunteers to help decorate the White House,” Atchison said. “I honestly don’t know if other administrations did it this way, as well, or if this was something new.”

Atchison was on the computer one night, and her husband of 39 years, Mark Atchison, asked her what she was doing.

“I told him I was filling out my White House application, and he said, ‘Again?’ and I said, ‘Yes, because they can’t pick me if I don’t apply,’” she said. “So I sent it off, not really expecting a lot because I think probably a lot of people apply, and I think it might go by a point system.”

The point system consists of things like being an American Gold Star Mother or a disabled veteran or having other military affiliations, among other criteria.

“My husband is a retired lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Air Force and served for 24 years, so I put that in the application,” she said. “I also mentioned that I am a teacher at a Title I school and also an entrepreneur and created my own line of salt scrubs and body butter years ago.”

Atchison said she opened up another small business this year two weeks before the COVID-19 pandemic started called Tada Clothing Boutique, which might have made a difference in her applying.

“You also have to write an essay to go along with the application, and I spent a lot of time writing and revising the essay,” she said. “The email said they review every application, and so this was my lucky year.”

Atchison’s essay was a letter to First Lady Melania Trump, saying that going to the White House would be a way she could serve her country since she was not in the military but a military wife. She also added how much she absolutely loves Christmas and loves to decorate.

The process is very competitive, and Atchison doesn’t know the number of people who applied or exactly how many were chosen, but she will know more about it when she gets there.

She recalls the day she received word she was going to Washington, D.C.

“It was a rainy day over fall break, and we had been looking at furniture all day, so we came home and had dinner, and we like to play family games together,” she said. “So my husband was getting the board game, and we were going to also watch President (Donald) Trump and Vice President (Joe) Biden town halls that night.”

Atchison ran upstairs to check her email first, and after she opened the email about being chosen as a volunteer, she read it two or three times to make sure she was seeing it correctly.

“I went zooming down the stairs to tell my husband, and I had tears streaming down my face,” she said. “I told him I was going to get to go to the White House, and he didn’t believe it at first, so it was fun to get to tell everyone.”

Atchison said she told one of her friends she had the most amazing news but wasn’t going to say what it was until Monday when they were back in school. Some of her friends thought maybe she was going to be a grandma, but she told them it wasn’t that.

“Everyone has been super excited for me, and my son didn’t even know that I had applied again since I had really only told my husband and one of my best friends, who is fighting leukemia,” she said. “My friend said I should go for my dreams and was praying for me, and she’s one of the first people that I called to let her know I made it.”

Atchison said their son, Mitch Atchison, works at Eli Lilly and Co. and just got married this summer to Hannah, a bridal consultant at B.loved in Seymour. They were all thrilled for her when they learned of her good news.

The students at Jackson Elementary School have been really excited about it, too. Atchison said she will show them the video that Melania always has showing the Christmas decorations after it’s done.

“One of my students said, ‘Wow! You’re going to be famous,’ and I said, ‘No, I’m just one of the helpers,’” she said.

Atchison said she never thought for a second about not going since there is a pandemic.

“I’ve just been super cautious and trying to stay healthy, and I pray daily for a hedge of protection and that I don’t catch anything,” she said. “Never going ever entered my mind.”

The only other time she has been in Washington, D.C., was during her eighth grade class trip when she was a student at Immanuel Lutheran School in Seymour. She said they were the first class to go there for what is now an annual class trip for eighth-graders.

Atchison will be spending a total of three days decorating the White House.

“I’ll be getting my assignment when I get there, but I believe we’ll be decorating for about 11 hours each day,” she said. “We’ll be picked up by a shuttle each morning from the hotel to the White House, where we’ll go through a security checkpoint each time.”

One of the best things is the volunteers will get to have breakfast and lunch at the White House.

“I’d planned to fly back on the morning of the fourth day but just received an invitation from Melania Trump for a reception that day,” Atchison said. “There’s no way I’m missing that, so I’ll see about changing my flight. I’m just over the moon about all of this.”

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