FORT POLK, La. -- Last week, Amy Hirata, an interior designer and Fort Polk military spouse, headed to Washington, D.C., as part of the select group of volunteers chosen to decorate The White House for Christmas.
"It was a lot of hard work, but it was so fun," Hirata said. "Just because it's The White House, doesn't mean they purchase everything done. We have to create the vision."
Hirata was encouraged to apply for the opportunity by a friend who knew of her background in interior design and love of Christmas. Months later she got the exciting news that she was one of about 150 volunteers selected from the 7,000 applicants.
"We were in the van and I had my husband check my email because I was driving," she said. "And he said, 'Babe, you got in!' and I was like, 'What?!'"
She started planning for her trip, and she said she received support from family, friends and the community, including Merchants & Farmers Bank in Leesville, Louisiana.
"A lot of people supported me," she said. "It was a good feeling."
Then on Nov. 19, her Christmas White House experience began. Hirata said the work started by first going through all the decorations they had.
"They reused things, unboxed new things and organized it all, just like you would at home," she said. "There was a lot of prep work before the actual decorating part. Even that part was fun because you got to see all the cool things that were going into the project this year and even from past years."
Teams of volunteers were then assigned different decorating tasks. Hirata was on the team that worked on the bows and wires.
"Every single ornament in The White House has a bow and there's a lot of ornaments," Hirata said. "So when I walked through the house, my bows were in every room on every tree and it was pretty exciting."
The decorating concluded with a special reception for the volunteers, in which Hirata got to see the First Lady Melania Trump.
"She came down during the volunteer reception, gave a speech and thanked us for our work," Hirata said. "It was exciting."
Hirata described seeing the finished product and said that, "between the building's architecture and history and all the décor that we made and then the music, it just was magical."
"You walk in and you see the Gold Star Family Tree in honor of all the soldiers and their sacrifices for the nation. It's cool that that's what they start with," Hirata added. "And then you walk through the berry colonnade. It starts the magic, like you're entering this berry forest to get to the other side, and it transports you."
Her favorite parts of the decorated White House were the berry colonnade, the Blue Room decorated with red glass-blown ornaments and ribbon that had all the different state names sewed on it, and the library.
"There were a couple of us who really were main bow people on some of the specific rooms. And the library was my favorite ribbon -- it was this green plaid with a red velvet stripe -- and I made all the large bows for that room," she said. "It was the room I went in wanting to do. I like that room."
Reflecting on her experience, Hirata said one of her most memorable parts was meeting and working with all the volunteers.
"It was getting to know and work with all these talented people that made it even more fun," Hirata said. "We were from all walks of life -- all different people -- but yet we were all there for one purpose and nothing else really mattered. That to me was pretty amazing."
"You think of the White House as this piece of history, and when you're there decorating, it's a home," Hirata added. "It felt comfortable."
She hopes to return to The White House to decorate it for Christmas again in the future.
"It was a really cool experience. It just got better and better as it went on," Hirata said. "I would do it again in a heartbeat. My kids are pretty proud."
Hirata said she also learned a lot about herself during the trip.
"I have more confidence in myself, and a little bit more self-worth," she said. "As a mom, and as an Army wife, it was really good for me to have that time to know that I was important, that I was talented, and that I got this opportunity for a reason."