From coast to coast, members of the American Legion Auxiliary leave a lasting impact on veterans, active-duty military, military families, and their communities on a daily basis. We share just a few of the stories about how ALA members continue their legacy of making a difference.
From grassroots fundraising efforts to legislative advocacy, American Legion Auxiliary members have been steadfastly working 365 days a year — for nearly 98 years — to make a difference in the lives of our country’s veterans, military, their families, and communities
Although traditions and societal norms have evolved over the decades, the ALA remains committed to fundraising, advocating, educating, and generating awareness — all with the mission of supporting those who served in our military. Those activities, which range from bake sales to distributing poppies, building shelters, and educating youth about our government, are making an impact to the tune of about $2 billion a year.
Auxiliary magazine gathered several stories on the ways ALA members are making an impact in their communities and across the United States of America.
For the homeless women veterans who come to its doors, Cathy’s House in Winchendon, Mass., is not only a place for shelter. It’s a safe and comfortable environment to find healing and hope for a new start. When local American Legion Auxiliary members saw how Cathy’s House aligned with their own mission to serve veterans, they were inspired to help.
ALA Winchendon Unit 193 donated $2,100 to create a therapeutic garden on the grounds of the 2,500-square-foot transitional home. ALA members raised $500 on their own, and applied for a $1,600 grant from the American Legion Auxiliary Foundation’s Veteran Projects Fund to cover the costs of a bench, equipment, permanent plants, trees, shrubs, and a small shed to house gardening supplies.
The home, which is part of the Montachusett Veterans Outreach Center, was founded by Cathy Stallings McWilliams, a military spouse whose husband died at the age of 33. He took his own life while battling post-traumatic stress disorder. Her own grief inspired her to help other veterans and their families.
With suicide rates among active-duty servicemembers reported at 266 in 2015, suicide prevention has become one of the most urgent issues for the U.S. Department of Defense. Suicide rates have remained high for seven consecutive years, according to statistics.
Suicide rates for reserve members rose to 209 in 2015, up from 170 in 2014. Among military veterans, the suicide rate is 22 a day, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
That’s why suicide was among the issues that caught the attention of Paulette Caron, department president of the Maryland American Legion Auxiliary. Caron, who lives in Frederick, has made a commitment to raise $10,000 as part of a campaign to prevent suicides by military veterans.
In an interview published by The Frederick News-Post, a local newspaper, Caron described veteran suicides as an epidemic that’s out of control.
“When our military comes back from serving, whether it was many years ago or whether it was recently, we just have to make sure as a nation that we recognize them,” she said.
Maryland’s Brunswick ALA unit has been hosting bingo games to help raise funds, while the Woodsboro American Legion post put on a white elephant sale and dinner to raise $1,200 for the campaign.
ALA Unit 60 in Laurel, Md., also is stepping forward to honor veterans. The group created more than 550 Veterans Day cards by hand for the residents at Charlotte Hall Veterans Home. It was a heartfelt way to show they are remembered, said Vicki Kunde, who has headed up the project for five years. “It’s an honor to do this for our vets there,” she said.
Although American Legion Auxiliary Emerald Coast Unit 402 was chartered in June 2016, members didn’t waste time kicking off their first major fundraising event. The ALA’s Inaugural 5K Patriot Run/Walk, which received local media coverage, led to the group raising $10,000 in funds to purchase one-year gym memberships for servicemembers recently returning home.
Members were inspired to help them with their transition to civilian life, according to Linda Bowers, president of Unit 402 in Panama City Beach, Fla. The event was promoted online and in the community’s local newspaper, the Panama City News Herald.
In Dunedin, Fla., American Legion Auxiliary members have upheld a tradition to host a fundraiser each month — all with the goal of helping veterans or active-duty servicemembers reach their own goals to become nursing students.
So far, ALA Dunedin Memorial Unit 275 provided $25,000 in scholarships to six students attending the University of South Florida (USF) nursing program. “We consider this a very worthwhile program and plan to continue our monthly fundraisers,” said ALA member Pat Devine.
Recently, five USF nursing students received $2,000 in scholarship funds each to help with tuition and books. The students included Paul Sotelo, Emily Hankins, and Jorge Guzman (pictured on page 47), and graduate students Nicholas Newbold and Laura Stone.
When members of the American Legion Auxiliary in Corinth, Miss., wanted to raise funds to support their mission to help veterans, they turned to one of the master quilters in town for help. Mary Dell Dicks, who has been quilting for more than 20 years, was happy to create a patriotic quilt for a raffle.
The quilt, which was raffled off Veterans Day, featured a scenic image with the names of the different branches of the Armed Forces. “This is our third year to do this, and every year Mrs. Mary does a wonderful job,” ALA Unit 6 President Carlean Parker told the Daily Corinthian, a local newspaper. “We always think she can’t outdo the one she did the year before, but then she does.”
Like many other ALA members across the nation, ALA Unit 231 in Rogersville, Tenn., reminded first responders of their appreciation for what they do. During their 9/11 Remembrance efforts, ALA members surprised firefighters, police officers, and other rescue personnel with cinnamon rolls for breakfast. “We commend these ladies and gentlemen for their selfless service,” said ALA member Charlotte Charles.
ALA Unit 231 also raised awareness about the needs of veterans by distributing poppies as part of a roadblock fundraiser in the community and collected and donated school supplies for a local school.
The local newspaper, The Rogersville Review, published an article about the unit’s activities in which Charles encouraged readers to “remember to thank a veteran, an active military personnel, and first responder for their service.”
The American Legion Family in Palatine, Ill., often remembers the sailors at nearby Great Lakes Naval Station. Realizing that many of them do not have the opportunity to see their families during Thanksgiving, American Legion Family members annually host a meal as part of their Adopt a Sailor Dinner.
“This year, we are once again opening The American Legion on Thanksgiving Day to those who are actively serving our country,” Daphne Matthews, commander of American Legion Post 690, told The Chicago Tribune. “With Great Lakes Naval Station being so close, we are bringing a busload of recruits to the Legion and providing them with a day of thanks.”
They asked the community to help by financially supporting the event. “It is our goal to provide to these young men and women a memory that will stay with them their entire lives,” Matthews said.
As part of its first community outreach efforts, the newly formed ALA Unit 9 in Eureka Springs, Ark., hosted a food drive that resulted in $3,500 worth of goods being donated to a local center. The members said they were committed to making it an annual event.
Peggy Duncan, an organizer of the new unit, said the members used donations to purchase groceries, toiletries, and other items that people may not think about donating. “I was more than excited about the outcome,” she told local media. She said it’s important to remember how much food pantries can help people, especially veterans, who make up nearly 9 percent of the nation’s homeless population.
Pat Kasner, president of Flint Street Fellowship, said food drives are essential in making sure needs are met, especially during busy seasons. “It’s just a relief to know that we’re going to have a delivery and it’s going to fill up our shelves and we don’t have to scramble and worry about the next delivery date,” Kasner told the Lovely County Citizen newspaper.
Not that she was looking for recognition, but Gloria Shiflet-McBeth recently earned the praise of her community. The member of ALA Unit 331 in St. Robert, Mo., was nominated as a Hometown Hero for her dedication and hard work for veterans, and for the Missouri Veterans Cemetery.
“If there’s a need for veterans or a reason to organize a ride, Gloria is on top of it,” a person wrote in an anonymous nomination. “She’s just a sweet, wonderful lady and deserves recognition for all she does.”
In an article for the Waynesville Daily Guide, Shiflet-McBeth said, “I want every veteran to know there are people who care about the sacrifices they have made. I don’t want any veteran to be laid to rest with no one standing there in gratitude for their service, to witness the military honors on their behalf. I don’t want them to be forgotten.”
Shiflet-McBeth also is a member of the American Legion Riders. She and her husband, Sgt. 1st Class Richard McBeth, are Missouri State Ride Captains for American Legion Riders.
When temperatures dropped in Crookston, Minn., signaling the arrival of winter, ALA Unit 20 members scheduled a special presentation to raise awareness about the needs of homeless veterans. They enlisted the help of Ellen McKinnon, a case manager for Supportive Services for Veterans Families.
“Veterans deal with things we don’t want to think about,” said McKinnon, while encouraging residents to join The American Legion Family in helping veterans. “We have to keep groups like The American Legion, the Auxiliaries, and VFW open for our vets. There are far too many homeless veterans out there who need our help. It’s easy to offer them a place to stay and get them to come inside, but if you’re not in the right state of mind, it’s hard.”
ALA Unit 20 also made sure the media was notified. Crookston Times, the local newspaper, wrote an article about the event — which helped spread the message even more.
Attendees also responded to the ALA’s request to donate funds or household items, which led to dozens of boxes and bags of donated items for veterans, according to event co-chair Margee Keller.
When it comes to college expenses, every single dollar helps students achieve their dreams. Many American Legion Auxiliary units include scholarships as part of their fundraising activities.
In Hugo, Minn., members of the Hugo American Legion Post and Unit 620 awarded two scholarships in 2016 to two local high school seniors in keeping with that commitment.
Mia Peloquin received a $1,000 scholarship to attend Anoka Ramsey Community College in Cambridge, where she is pursuing a degree in nursing. Amanda Parsons also received a $1,000 scholarship. She is pursuing a business degree at the University of Minnesota-Duluth.
Members of Charles R. Doman American Legion Auxiliary Unit 131 in Valley Springs, S.D., gave first-graders a firsthand lesson about the American flag. During a 15-minute presentation, ALA members Gloria Bonjour and Noelle Bonjour gave their captive audience advice on how to treat the flag — sharing a list of do’s and don’ts. They also taught them about the symbolism of the flag.
As an award for their attention, each student also received a patriotic pencil and small American flag.
With no brick and mortar building to generate a steady stream of revenue, American Legion Auxiliary Chris Kyle Unit 388 in Midlothian, Texas, found itself in a constant state of fundraising. “This can become tedious to both members and the general public from which we were seeking donations,” said Janice McAda, president of ALA Unit 388. “Cookbooks, raffles, and garage sales have been the unit’s primary sources of fundraising since being revitalized in 2014.”
The group decided to get creative. “As Pam Long, our secretary/treasurer, likes to say, ‘Make it fun and people will want to join in,’” said McAda, who came across a fundraising idea involving plastic pink flamingos.
“Picture this. You come home from work or school only to find that a dozen or more pink flamingo whirly-gigs sporting red, white and blue ribbon around their necks have been placed in your front yard,” McAda said. “Not your everyday scene since we are no longer in the 1960s when this type of yard art was quite popular.”
That was the scenario for ALA Unit 388’s “Stick Your Neck Out for Veterans” program. For $10, residents in the community could have ALA members flock the yards of their neighbors and friends with the flamingos. If they didn’t want birds in their yard, they could pay $10 for insurance. Community members also were invited to make nominations of their “victims” at an ALA-sponsored booth at a community fall festival. The event also was publicized in the Midlothian Mirror newspaper. Some residents used the mobile app Next Door to donate.
“It was all in good fun, and we were able to raise money for a great cause — honoring our veterans,” McAda said. The fundraising event was so popular that residents continued to request them beyond the original three-week schedule.
The American Legion Leonard Whitehill Post and Unit 189 in Butler County, Kan., joined forces to boost attendance at an annual “Government Day” program designed to teach high school students about the inner workings of local and federal government.
The event was a success, with a record number of 226 area high school students attending in 2016. Under the program, students received copies of the Constitution and bylaws and toured government facilities.
ALA member Myrna Rodgers told the Butler County Commission that she was excited to announce they “have growing pains in the attendance from the schools” because of the widespread interest.
The group was commended for bringing new life into Government Day. “At one point in time, this program was on a downward spiral,” said Commissioner Dan Woydziak. “We’re getting those schools back. You guys have gone above and beyond. Thank you for the work you have done to revitalize and make the event exciting.”
Since 9/11, the senior and Junior members of American Legion Auxiliary Unit 180 in Keenesburg, Colo., have not let a year go by without hosting a Walk of Remembrance in honor of those who lost their lives as a result of that fateful day.
In 2016, more than 100 people participated in the walk, which ended with a short presentation at American Legion Post 180. At the request of the ALA, fire officials talked to the audience about what it means to be a first responder.
At the end of the walk, the participants also were invited to pay respects at a park covered with small American flags — representing the nearly 7,000 servicemembers who have lost their lives since 9/11. Each flag was personalized with a color-coded tag indicating branch of service as well as the person’s name, the date they died, and the location of their death.
“It was quite moving,” said local newspaper publisher Bob Grand. “Not enough thanks can be given to the Auxiliary for this wonderful effort to remember our lost service personnel.”
The American Legion Auxiliary is committed to spreading the good news in communities all over the country, especially when young people step up to make heroic acts.
That’s why the members of ALA Unit 44 in Elephant Butte, N.M., thought 10-year-old Ben Daley was deserving of an American Legion Auxiliary Youth Hero Award. After a local TV station covered a story in which Daley saved his family’s lives, the ALA unit made arrangements to recognize him.
Daley was in an SUV with his mother and younger brother when he noticed she was suffering from a seizure. He was able to grab the wheel and steer the SUV to safety. After receiving a certificate, medal, and $50, Ben said, “I don’t really think that I’m a hero; I just think that ... I’m like a very nice person.”
ALA member Mary Lou Lopez told the TV station, “The calmness that he had, the presence of mind to know what to do without any hesitation whatsoever...I’m just sitting there in awe!”
Balloons, miniature American flags, and other patriotic symbols are often used to celebrate the sacrifices made by our veterans. The American Legion Auxiliary in Peoria, Ariz., took it a step further by adorning a restaurant with strings of poppies.
In a partnership with a local Chick-fil-A restaurant, John J. Morris ALA Unit 62 draped poppies throughout the restaurant as part of its “Thank You, Soldiers and Veterans” program. They also set up a POW/MIA table, handed out poppies, and gave police officers and firefighters a free meal on Nov. 10, the American Legion Auxiliary’s birthday.
Veterans, military servicemembers, and public service personnel who visited the restaurant during the week of Veterans Day also were offered two free tickets to a major league baseball game. Visitors to the restaurant received one of the poppies, which has been used since World War II as a symbol to honor fallen servicemembers.
The restaurant owner committed to donating 11 percent of its proceeds on Veterans Day to the Auxiliary. As a result of that collaboration, ALA Unit 62 raised $2,700 for veterans. Those funds, along with an additional $1,300 in unit funds, will allow them to provide a rescue dog to a veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder or a traumatic brain injury, said Marge Christianson, public relations chairman for the unit. “Teamwork all around!” she said.
Every year, ALA members throughout the nation dedicate themselves to sending about 16,000 young women to ALA Girls State as part of programs to educate them about U.S. government and patriotism. Out of those students, a select few — two from each state — are sent to ALA Girls Nation, a conference held in Washington, D.C., where they learn more firsthand lessons in government.
In 2016, representatives from Hawaii were among the elite group for the first time since the early 1980s. Kiana Stewart, a high school senior living in Honolulu, was among those who helped spearhead the resurrection of the ALA Aloha Girls State.
“I was disappointed when I discovered that Hawaii didn’t offer the ALA Girls State opportunity, and that it was the only state in the nation to not have a place in the 78-year-old program,” said Stewart, who had previously attended the program in Oregon.
With the help of her government teacher, local ALA members, and community leaders, she was able to revitalize the program.
“We are a small department that seems to get smaller every year,” said ALA Department of Hawaii President Laura Hashimoto. “We are honored to have ALA Girls State return to Hawaii and hope that it will also serve as a tool to broaden our membership.”
In 2016, members of the American Legion Auxiliary ...
• served veterans with 5.1 million worth of volunteer hours
• spent $5.9 million on veterans
• collected $13 million worth of in-kind donations
• assisted 833,889 veterans
• distributed 16.8 million poppies
• raised $2.5 million from poppy distributions
• volunteered 1.9 million hours for active-duty military
• volunteered 372,056 hours on behalf of military families
• presented 2,673 scholarships in the amount of $1.1 million
• committed 194,963 volunteer hours to ALA Girls State
• spent nearly $3 million on 4 ALA Girls State
• volunteered 475,338 hours to help military and non-military children
• raised $2.65 million to benefit children, including military children
• gave $2.3 million in direct aid to children
• served 597,030 children
But this is only half the picture! In 2016, we only heard from 56 percent of our ALA units. More than likely, our numbers would be twice as large if all units reported on how they’re making an impact.
Want more information on how to report the impact you’re making in your community? Go to the Members Only area of www.ALAforVeterans.org. Look for Membership Reports under Resources.
“I publish a couple of newspapers in Weld and Morgan counties in Colorado that hit about 40,000 homes each month. I have a long record of support for our veterans. My dad, who passed a few years ago, was a World War II Navy veteran who served at Pearl Harbor. Recent issues have included extraordinary events that I believe are of national recognition.
One event was the effort by the Auxiliary for American Legion Post 180 in Keenesburg, Colo. The American Legion Family has a long record of promoting the Legion’s principles in the community and surrounding area. But the ladies outdid themselves with their honoring of the lost 6,846 servicemembers since 9/11.
We are proud to support our veterans, and proud to support our local service organizations. Once in a while, though, there should be special recognition for a special job well done.”
— Bob Grand, Publisher, Lost Creek Guide
Your American Legion Auxiliary unit could appear in a future issue of Auxiliary magazine! We accept original submissions of pictures and articles of national interest that support the American Legion Auxiliary’s mission of serving veterans, military, and their families. Learn more at www.ALAforVeterans.org/Media/Magazine-Submissions.