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- 46th and current president of the United States
In February, when third grader Layla Salas accompanied her mom to downtown Milwaukee for a nationally televised town hall with President Joe Biden, she had a lot of fears on her mind.
She was still too young to get vaccinated against COVID-19 and worried what might happen if she caught the virus. Would she die? Her mom, Jessica Salas, posed a question to the president on her behalf: "When will kids be able to get the vaccine?"
Biden responded directly to Layla, explaining that kids were not at a high of a risk of getting severe COVID-19 infection and that the vaccine for children wasn't ready just yet.
"Don't be scared, honey. Don't be scared. You're going to be fine, and we're going to make sure mommy's fine, too," Biden said.
“I felt really, really, really happy when he said that I was going to be OK,” she told the Journal Sentinel in February.
Layla, 9, went home thinking more positive thoughts about her future. In addition, the president talked with her after the town hall. She told him she wanted to be president so she could fight climate change and help the world. And in the shorter term, after she finally got her vaccine, she mused, "It would be cool to visit the White House."
This week, one of those dreams came true.
Once she and her little brother, Mateo, were both fully vaccinated, the Milwaukee family sent a note to the president's staff, thanking them for their part in making it possible. The White House responded with an invitation to its holiday open house Saturday. So, the Salases hit the road to D.C.
"It was better than a cookie on a hot summer day!" Layla told the Journal Sentinel Saturday after the visit, adding her favorite part of the tour was seeing the Green Room filled with Christmas trees decorated with purple.
Layla got her second shot about two weeks ago. She said she feels better and safer having gotten the shots, even though she still is nervous about the new omicron variant spreading. She said it was important to her to do her part by getting vaccinated and encouraged other kids to do the same.
"It's not scary," she said. "It's better to be safe than not."
Jessica praised the White House staff and the president for their kindness and follow-through ever since they first met at the CNN town hall at the Pabst Theater. Biden had written Layla two letters since that day: once after the town hall and again after she got vaccinated. The cherry on top was when his staff made Layla's wish to visit come true.
"The follow-through is just incredibly impressive and it means so much. It's just those small gestures of kindness and of humanity, of making connections with people, that is so refreshing these days," Jessica said.
Layla and Mateo's classmates at Milwaukee Spanish Immersion School sent letters for the president with them. The family didn't see Biden, but the visit to the White House included a chance to walk through all the decorated rooms and listen to live music by military band members. It was the kids' first visit to D.C., and the Salas' second family trip since the pandemic started.
As they left, they were handed turtle dove-shaped sugar cookies packaged with the presidential seal. They also earned this future president's seal of approval.
"The cookies at the White House were good," Layla said.
Mary Spicuzza of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel contributed to this story.
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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Milwaukee student who met Biden at town hall visits White House