After more than 20 years as an American Legion Auxiliary member, Lucille Wolfe, of Unit 143 in Cherokee, N.C., said she started to feel that she wasn’t close to anyone in her post home. For that, and other personal reasons, her participation in the unit slowly but steadily decreased to nearly zero.
Then, Wolfe got something special in the mail: a birthday card containing a sincere, heartfelt message from her fellow unit members. Wolfe said she started to reconsider her place at her post home. Maybe those close relationships she had there remained. She was reminded of her passion for honoring and helping veterans, servicemembers, and their families; and how her personal values are closely aligned with the ALA and its mission of service and promoting patriotism.
This birthday card became the catalyst for Wolfe’s mindset change and her eventual return to the unit as a member who participates in activities as often as she can, in any way she can, as she once did.
“It just touched me that they thought enough of me to send me a birthday card, especially since my birthday is on Christmas Eve — when people’s minds are elsewhere. It also got me thinking about my passion for helping veterans because it came from Unit 143. Knowing that they cared made me come back to our unit and post home. Now, we’re as close as families are,” Wolfe said.
Wolfe was one of numerous Unit 143 members who, each with her own reasons, allowed her ALA participation level to plummet. Sending birthday and anniversary cards with sincere messages to members who became inactive and who still lived in the community was the idea of Patsy Ledford of Unit 143. She wanted them to know that their fellow members still cared about them, and that the unit would get more active in helping veterans.
It was just one of several ways the unit attempted to appeal to non-participating members, as they tried to recruit new members. All of this happened a few years ago.
Today, Unit 143 has about 43 members, with a core group of about 15 women who participate all or most of the time. Among the 43 are some of the previous members who returned and are actively participating again.
Ledford worked along with several of her fellow ALA members who wanted to revitalize their unit. An outsider looking in might wonder how Ledford — one of the few Caucasian Americans belonging to this predominantly Cherokee Native American unit — was able to help pull the unit together despite having a different cultural background than most of the members.
But Ledford and other Unit 143 members say they value the differences among their group while rallying around their common cause of fulfilling the ALA mission. These women know that each has something to offer.
No matter their race, religion, nationalities, or other differences among them, ALA members stand united in their desire to support The American Legion; assist and pay tribute to veterans, military personnel, and their families; mentor youth; and encourage good citizenship and patriotism.
They also know that working as a team is part of what makes their team work, Ledford explained: “These are the most awesome bunch of ladies I have ever had the privilege of working with! I said ‘working with’ — not ‘working around’ or ‘working without.’ We jelled as a group.”
Unit 143 member Carol Long, an enrolled member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, agrees with Ledford.
“Working together as we do for the same cause creates a bond that I don’t think anything can break. We’re not perfect. We do have our issues at times. But we talk about it. We need to show our unity. The focus is doing things for our veterans, and doing the best we can for them,” Long said.
Ledford serves as president of Unit 143. Long is vice president.
Remember: There is no one-size-fits-all-units solution to low participation among members because each woman may have different reasons for pulling away. Find strategies that may work for your unit; customize them accordingly and implement them continuously to create and maintain an inviting and welcoming atmosphere. Attaining, maintaining, and regaining members usually takes ongoing efforts to achieve.
Looking for Suggestions?
Below are some strategies that may help you revitalize your American Legion Auxiliary unit:
1) Ask unit members to wear ALA branded clothing while doing mission-based activities.
Inquiries about the branded clothing are opportunities to discuss the American Legion Auxiliary: who we are, what we do, and why we matter. If the inquiring individuals seem interested, the unit members will ask questions to help determine their eligibility and then invite them to join, or to come learn more about the unit and then decide whether to join.
2) Set up information booths at popular community events. Make sure you have plenty of ALA and Legion Family material on hand, plus applications and information about membership eligibility requirements. If you have no literature available for distribution, refer prospective members to www.ALAforVeterans.org.
1) Invite and welcome all members in your unit to share suggestions and opinions for ways to fulfill the ALA’s century-old mission of serving veterans, the military, and their families. Keep members engaged in ALA mission-based activities and outreach programs.
2) Encourage a teamwork environment.
3) Determine, as a unit, how to address conflict or differences of opinion among members so when those issues arise, a plan for dealing with them will be in place already.
1) Consider a personalized approach to let those members who have become inactive know that you want them working with the unit to fulfill ALA’s overall mission. Whether it’s a phone call, a face-to-face visit, or a birthday card, be sincere in what you say to each of those members — and personalize every note when possible.