In 2018, Sadie Vander Wal received the American Legion Auxiliary Spirit of Youth scholarship. But according to Vander Wal, that is far from the only significant thing the ALA has given her in her 17 years of membership.
“My first big experience in a leadership position was in the ALA,” Vander Wal said. “I’ve truly grown from those experiences, and now I can say that I got that from the ALA.”
A member of Brentford Unit 242 in South Dakota since 2002, Vander Wal actively participated in unit and department Junior meetings. At the department meetings, her unit’s senior members encouraged her to run for leadership positions. As a young girl, she didn’t feel comfortable speaking in front of people. But her unit members pushed her out of her comfort zone, knowing she could make a difference. She says these experiences, as well as visiting Louisville in 2009 and Minneapolis in 2011 for the American Legion Auxiliary National Conventions, changed her life.
“I remember listening to their [the National Leaders] passion for the organization and I was like ‘this is really cool’”, Vander Wal said. “I was so excited to continue to be a part of it all.”
Vander Wal’s passion for the mission stems from hearing stories from her grandfathers who both served in Vietnam. The Auxiliary, Vander Wal believes, is the best way she can give back.
“There are no words for what veterans have done for us,” she said. “I love the fact that there is an organization that is solely contributing to veterans and making sure they are taken care of. It’s truly a service-oriented organization.”
Receiving the Spirit of Youth scholarship was the culmination of Vander Wal’s Junior membership experience. She is grateful the Auxiliary has invested in her schooling and her future career, and she hopes to pay it forward by continuing her membership for the rest of her life.
“We wouldn’t be able to even go to college if it wasn’t for our veterans, so this scholarship and what the ALA represents is exactly what I want from a scholarship program and an organization as a whole,” Vander Wal said.
With its centennial on the horizon, the American Legion Auxiliary is looking to build a brighter and stronger future for veterans, military, and their families.
“Donating to scholarship programs is an investment in the future,” Vander Wal said. “You’re investing in the youth that are going to be serving with the ALA in the future. You’re truly building upon the foundation of what the future will be.”
To contribute to the Spirit of Youth fund and help more students like Vander Wal follow their dreams, go to donate.legion-aux.org.