Making our communities better places in which to live is another core value put in action by American Legion Auxiliary members every day across the country. Whether hosting a standdown to bring vital health and support services to homeless veterans or coordinating a send-off or welcome-home event for a deployed military unit, Auxiliary members are continuously at work in their communities, demonstrating the compassion and heart we have for those who serve our country and give so much. Community Service projects focus on enhancing the quality of life for veterans and their families.
In recent years, the Auxiliary has partnered with the Corporation for National and Community Service to make the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday—the third Monday in January—“a day on, not a day off” for service. Units and departments are encouraged to plan special projects that focus on veterans, military families, or children as part of this national day of service. Purpose Statement To strengthen our local communities with uniquely identified opportunities of service by providing volunteer leadership, encouraging the stewardship of its patriotic citizens, acknowledging our country’s military history, and supporting the families that have sacrificed for our freedom.
Hero Packs: Operation: Military Kids (OMK) is a partnership between the U.S. Army and 4-H and is centered around children and youth whose parents are deployed. OMK was launched in 2005 and is a national initiative with local state chapters.
One of OMK’s signature programs is the Hero Pack program. These are backpacks filled with gifts and supplies relevant to children who are missing their deployed parents. One version is for 3- to 8-year-olds, and the other version is for 9- to 18-year-olds. All Hero Packs contain fun and educational items to help kids stay connected with their deployed parents and help take their mind off the deployment. Items such as games, stationery, stamps, journals, disposable cameras, teddy bears, and thank-you notes are included. Hero Packs are provided free of charge to thank these children for the sacrifices they have made during their parents’ deployment. More than 47,000 Hero Packs have been distributed since 2004. Visit www.operationmilitarykids.org for more information and for the contact information of your state OMK office.
Stand downs were started in 1988 by two Vietnam veterans. Named for a military term for a combat unit’s time to rest and recover while at war, today it is a grassroots effort to offer the same services to homeless veterans. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, there are about 131,000 homeless veterans on the street on any given night.
Stand downs typically include food, shelter, clothing, health screenings, benefits counseling, and job counseling and referral services. The philosophy of a stand down is to give homeless veterans a hand up, not a handout. Stand downs are organized by self-appointed community coalitions that take on the task of holding the event. Any group can decide to hold a stand down.
The traditional stand down lasts three days, providing shelter and food throughout the event, and may provide services such as haircuts, healthcare screenings, vision and dental care, VA benefits counseling, substance abuse counseling, and legal services.
Welcome-home/send-off events are a way for Auxiliary units to say thank-you to servicemembers for their service to our nation. These are both celebrations as well as outreach events, often offering resources for OEF/OIF/OND combat servicemembers, veterans, and their families.
These events may include free health screenings, benefits counseling, employment assistance, education support, and an introduction to community service providers.
Community Service National ChairmanSusan BrittonDepartment of New Yorkcommunityservice@ALAforVeterans.org
"Volunteering is the ultimate exercise in democracy. You vote in elections once a year, but when you volunteer, you vote every day about the kind of community you want to live in."—Marjorie Moore, Belleville, Ill.