Michelle Obama cited the "transformative power of the arts" Monday as she presented national arts and humanities awards to 12 community-based, after-school programs that reach underserved youth.
The programs- including some that focus on at-risk kids- use music, dance, poetry, theater, history, digital arts and other outlets to inspire creative development among young people.
The first lady said at a White House ceremony that the programs teach kids skills such as problem solving, teamwork and self-expression that are also critical in the classroom and workplace.
Mrs. Obama thanked educators, artists and leaders for working with tight budgets and putting in late hours.
"You are pushing and inspiring our kids. You're revealing their boundless talents and teaching them to believe in themselves," she said.
Starr Arroyo, 15, of the New York City Urban Debate League, said the program has given her the confidence to speak up.
"It helps me and teaches me that I can speak my mind and no matter what, if I have a point, I'll make sure to express it because people want to listen to it," she told the crowd.
The ceremony also included a musical performance by the City of San Fernando Mariachi Master Apprentice Program.
Other honorees include the African Cultural Connection in Omaha, Neb.; Arts Education Program for Youth in Seattle, Wash.; AS220 Youth Studio in Providence, R.I.; ICA Out-of-School Teen Programs in Boston; Myth and the Hero in Copley, Ohio; DreamYard's Out of School Programs in the Bronx, N.Y.; Paso Nuevo/Next Step in Washington; RISE! (Rhythm in Setting Expectations) in Norfolk, Va.; Student Historians High-School Internship Program in New York; and Youth Radio in Oakland, Calif.
The 2012 National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Awards are hosted by the President's Committee on the Arts and the Humanities in partnership with three national cultural agencies. This year's winners were chosen from more than 350 nominations.