It was happening right in front of Margaret “Margie” Erskine’s eyes: American Legion Auxiliary (ALA) Unit 230 in Spring Lake, N.C. — the unit to which she belonged — was experiencing substantial membership inactivity.
Erskine grew concerned about what that meant for the future of Unit 230, and for fulfilling the ALA’s mission of honoring and helping veterans, servicemembers, and their families, and promoting patriotism and mentoring youth.
She didn’t want to see Unit 230 fall by the wayside, so she did something about the situation —with the help of her husband, American Legion member Mark Erskine. The Erskines visited the inactive ALA members and asked each of them to return to the unit. At that time, Mark was commander of Post 230. He and Margie were, and still are, equally committed to having a strong Legion Family at the post.
“We went door-to-door whenever we could; not every day though. We told them we were about to lose our unit. And if they wanted to keep the unit and keep helping our veterans, we needed people to come to the [unit] meetings and get it going again,” Margie Erskine said. “We managed to get 10 members to come back. That took about nine months.
“Even though I look different, and I say things differently than the people here [in North Carolina], they still listened to me,” noted Margie, an Alaskan Inupiaq Native (also referred to as Inuk). There are different native tribes in Alaska. Margie belongs to the tribe of Inupiat, also known as the Inuit tribe.
Margie has lived in Spring Lake, N.C., for eight years. She said she has always felt welcomed and appreciated by her fellow Auxiliary members and among the Legion Family at Post 230, as they worked together to help others in the community. She wasn’t about to let Unit 230 become completely inactive without trying to revitalize it. And she didn’t stop at face-to-face home visits.
“I made phone calls, put out newsletters, and sent out emails. I started writing letters to members since I was starting to feel like the Lone Ranger,” she joked. “What encouraged me to keep on with all of this was keeping in contact with the department and getting the department’s newsletters. Also helpful was keeping in touch with, and getting encouragement from, the [department-level] committee chairmen and reading their newsletters. I stopped feeling so all alone.”
At the same time, Margie attempted to recruit members. Stocked with ALA pamphlets and other informational items, she would set up booths at various community events and talk to everyone she could about the American Legion Auxiliary: who we are, what we do, and why we matter. She had some success with recruitment.
All of this happened about three years ago.
Unit 230 has been back on its feet for a while now and has many noteworthy achievements. With much pride, Margie (now president of Unit 230) shared the news about the unit following the Annual Convention of the Department of North Carolina this summer:
“American Legion Auxiliary Unit 230’s membership continues to reach its goal. For the 2017-2018 fiscal year, we received a certificate of appreciation of 115.5 percent membership goal, including a membership certificate for ‘completing its membership quota equal to or exceeding the previous year.’ We received a certificate of participation for updating our unit constitution and bylaws.
“Also, we received a certificate of participation in appreciation of and recognition for Active Participation in Outstanding Legislative Program. One of our members received a citation for Meritorious Service for her hours of helping veterans and soldiers with PTSD, case-management and aftermath,” Margie also said.
The ALA — the world’s largest women’s patriotic service organization — has close to 8,000 units throughout the United States, in some U.S. territories, and in a handful of other countries. Units are ALA’s local entities where members join the Auxiliary to promote patriotism in their communities, mentor youth, and do mission-based outreach work that serves veterans, servicemembers, and their families.
The time and effort put forth by ALA members in outreach service continues to have a massive impact on those whom we serve. However, widespread inactivity among ALA members can diminish that impact.
Take a cue from ALA member Margie Erskine: Find ways to gain and maintain members. Perhaps you, too, can bring inactive members back into the fold.
Find out why your fellow members have become inactive and see if those issues can be resolved. If so, address the issues and then let the inactive members know they’re welcomed to return to your unit if they still want to serve and honor veterans, servicemembers, and their families. Sometimes, it takes face-to-face visits, phone calls, newsletters, and emails. Communication within your unit can work wonders.
Keep members engaged in mission-based activities and outreach.
Also, find ways to recruit more members — making sure that women eligible for membership understand, and feel, that they are welcomed in the American Legion Auxiliary.