You signed up for the American Legion Auxiliary to honor a veteran in your life, to attend a community function at the local post home, or because you love the longstanding mission of serving veterans, the military, and their families. But what about the hidden perks of being an ALA member?
For many, membership goes beyond the reason(s) you signed up and has benefited you in your profession/career. All because of the involvement and nominal investment in the Auxiliary, many members have benefited from the training received over the years through ALA events and the ALA Academy, the leadership skills absorbed serving in various roles within the Auxiliary, the confidence gained in public speaking, and more.
Beyond learning skills related to the mission such as poppy making, flag folding, and presenting the Military Child’s Table Setting Ceremony, the ALA can give you lots of skills if you just say, “Yes, I will” when asked to do something. Members have gained a variety of skills from their Auxiliary membership, such as presenting and leading meetings, managing large projects, developing newsletters, confidence in public speaking, and more. Developing yourself more makes you become a better leader. There’s nothing wrong with personal fulfillment and becoming a better person.
The American Legion Auxiliary has more than 100 years of strong women who have used their transferable skills in both their ALA membership and in their job. In fact, two of our founders were doctors!
Auxiliary magazine takes a closer look at a few of these women who have utilized skills that benefit them in both worlds. These members said “yes” and have used the assets from their ALA membership to positively help them in their careers.
Having been a massage therapist for 11 years, Noelle Bonjour was recently approved to be an off-site massage therapy provider for her local U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs hospital.
“It’s because of the Auxiliary that I decided to pursue registration/certification for being an off-site provider,” Bonjour said. “It was a lot of work with many hoops to jump through, but the ALA’s spirit of Service Not Selfhelped me persevere. Now I’m getting a fair number of referrals and expect to get even more once the pandemic subsides. So, you could say that membership in the ALA has actually helped me grow my business!”
For Bonjour, membership in the Auxiliary eventually helped in her career by cultivating a passion for assisting veterans. That passion had been there since a young age — but it didn’t intertwine with her career until later in life.
“I was signed up as soon as the membership chair for the South Dakota Unit 131 — where my maternal grandmother and my mom both had their memberships — found out I had been born a girl!” she said. “As soon as I was old enough, I was given a can of poppies and stood at the door of the Legion hall, pushing poppies to those who came for the Memorial Day program.”
Along with her older sister, the two performed clarinet duets for special music at the Memorial Day programs for many years.
“I have the Gettysburg Address and In Flanders Fields memorized because of giving them so many times at the Memorial Day programs,” she said. “And even though my birthday frequently falls on Memorial Day, it takes a backseat to Memorial Day.”
Bonjour has been an ALA member for 28 years and is eligible for membership through her grandfathers, both of whom were World War II veterans. Sadly, they both passed away when she was 7 years old, before she really had developed an appreciation for the sacrifices of our veterans.
“My initial passion for veterans was probably my desire to remember my grandfathers,” Bonjour said. “But that appreciation and passion for veterans grew as I got older and was able to start talking with other family members who were also veterans.”
Fast forward to 2019 when Bonjour’s business, Noelle’s Therapeutic Massage, was only about a year old. During this time, she was trying to figure out how to grow her clientele and continue being active in the ALA — but the two aspects had not yet come together. At that time, she received a letter from the insurance company that had taken on the billing services for off-site VA-approved chiropractors and various therapists, inviting her to register as a massage therapist.
“I didn’t even hesitate,” she recalled. “It was a win-win situation. I would be able to help veterans while also building my business.”
There were a lot of paperwork hoops she had to jump through, but because of her ALA membership and her deep-rooted Service Not Self mindset, Bonjour persevered.
“If veterans had not been involved, I would have just decided it wasn’t worth my effort and would have given up,” she said. “But that passion for veterans, instilled in me because of the ALA, spurred me to keep going. Because of the veterans, it didn’t matter how many forms I had to fill out.”
It took a couple months, but she was able to register as a VA-approved off-site massage therapist.
Bonjour wasn’t expecting to develop skills in the ALA that would transfer over into her career.
“I was aware of my growing passion for veterans, but I did not realize just how deep that passion had gotten,” she recalled. “In February 2019, I finally had to tell a client that I could not continue to submit her massages to her workman’s comp insurance because I could no longer deal with the insurance billing. She graciously took to paying for her massages upfront and getting her insurance to reimburse her instead. I had no desire to deal with insurance and all the necessary coding ever again. But my passion for veterans had grown so strong that I didn’t even give a thought to the fact that I would once again be billing to an insurance company. I never considered that membership in the ALA would ultimately cause me to bend over backwards for veteran clients.”
The benefits of ALA membership to her professional life haven’t stopped just with her VA work. Inspired by the various perks that businesses will offer ALA members, Bonjour decided to offer a perk of her own — a discount on massages to all members in good standing of the various American Legion Family organizations.
For those members who want to utilize skills from their membership into their profession/career, Bonjour advises to go for it.
“Be proud of your ALA membership,” she said. “You may have to think outside the box to find a way to utilize skills from your ALA membership, but I do not believe there is a single profession that cannot use at least one skill that a person would acquire from ALA membership.”
Joining the American Legion Auxiliary helped Jennifer Shaw experience the many benefits the organization provides, which in turn, helped her career. Shaw joined the Auxiliary in 1998 after attending ALA Girls State, eligible through her grandfather, a World War II merchant Marine.
“When I first attended the program, I was timid and not very outspoken,” she recalled. “This program helped me realize there were young women in the state/country that wanted to help others and had strong opinions on how that could be accomplished. It helped me find my voice and realize there was a support system for speaking in front of others.”
This led to her college years. With her continued involvement in the ALA Girls State program, Shaw already knew people when she went to campus, giving her a built-in support system.
The ALA continued to help her beyond college with her career path.
“All of my references for law school came from people I had met through the ALA Oklahoma Girls State program,” she said. “These connections continued to help me when it came time to apply for my career.”
Staying involved in the ALA Oklahoma Girls State program helped Shaw in both her personal and professional lives.
“I learned how to organize large events, present ideas with confidence to large groups, and be able to break down legal and technical areas to help others understand,” Shaw said.
Additionally, her ALA involvement has continued to instill a desire to serve others.
“I feel I get to do this with my career choice and with the different organizations I volunteer with,” she said.
When Shaw signed up for the Auxiliary, developing skills beyond her membership that she could utilize in her career wasn’t exactly top of mind.
“I honestly joined the ALA because I wanted to continue to participate as a staff member for the ALA Oklahoma Girls State program,” she said. “I was not prepared for the many benefits both personally and professionally that my membership would bring.”
At first, Shaw didn’t realize she was developing additional skills, such as public speaking, that took her beyond just basic benefits of an ALA membership.
“As I volunteered and presented at both ALA Oklahoma Girls State events and other smaller meetings, I didn’t really realize I was gaining a valuable asset,” she recalled. “However, looking back, I can see how it helped me become comfortable speaking in front of large groups.”
She added it has been a great asset for both college and her professional career.
“As a part of my job, I go out and speak to groups throughout our state about different aspects of investor education and protecting their life savings,” she said.
For Shaw, it has been life changing that the perks of her ALA membership rolled over into that of her professional life.
“It is a nice benefit of getting to volunteer for the organization,” she said. “I always volunteer for groups/organizations because I support their mission and programs. To get a personal benefit that helps professionally is an unexpected benefit.”
Every year during the ALA Oklahoma Girls State program, Shaw shares with the girls why she joined the organization and the benefits she has received. This talk is usually in connection with encouraging the participants to join the ALA.
With all the added benefits experienced over the years, Shaw offers advice to other members about tying together the ALA and a career.
“I think members should try to use their skills in their profession,” she said. “They should know there is always a built-in support system with the ALA that will help them as they go out and support the community and their profession.”
Real Estate Agent
When asked to share how her ALA membership has helped in her career, Rita Redd immediately had an answer.
“As a realtor who works mostly with VA loans and veterans, sharing that I am with the American Legion Auxiliary helps a great deal in introducing the Legion Family to potential buyers as well as listings,” she said. “Being on the Public Relations Committee for most of my 22 years as a member has also helped with marketing both real estate, as well as the American Legion Auxiliary.”
Redd has been a member of the Auxiliary since 1998, eligible through her father (U.S. Army, World War II) and her husband (Air Force, Vietnam).
As president of her unit, skills Redd acquired through membership went hand in hand with her professional career.
“I have sold homes for many of my members and have sold several of them their current homes,” Redd said. “I have recruited over half of our current membership through being a realtor, either getting them to join when I sold or listed their home, or have sold or listed homes for current members who have moved.”
When Redd moved to the Lufkin, Texas, area in 2000, there was not an active unit in the city. It took about five years to find out that the original unit had lost its charter in 1998 due to not being able to keep the minimum requirement of 10 members. Redd further found out the post was active, but not as far as meetings or promoting programs — they just had the required member numbers.
“When I finally found 10 charter members so I could transfer my membership, most of them I knew through the real estate business even though I was not a licensed realtor at the time,” Redd recalled.
She didn’t realize right away that the combination of her profession and involvement in the ALA was helping her develop skills beyond her Auxiliary membership.
“I think it pretty much all came together about the same time,” she said. “As I built my real estate business, I also built the unit. The biggest benefit to most of our members was the ability to work together as a group to help our veterans, their families, and our community. The other benefits were not really an attraction at first.”
In time, though, those benefits of her ALA membership have shined through into her professional life.
“It means a great deal the benefits have rolled over,” she said. “Due to my husband’s health and the fact I am 71, I have started slowing down in the real estate business to give me more time with him and the ALA.”
Redd encourages her fellow Auxiliary members to utilize skills learned across both their membership and careers.
“I have always urged them to use their skills or work to enhance their ALA membership and vice versa,” she said.
Customer Service Representative
“Being an American Legion Auxiliary officer has created a new sense of listening skills, patience, teamwork, and family that I never had before,” Debra Rumery said. “I cannot imagine my life without the Department of Maine Auxiliary.”
Rumery has been a member since 2018, eligible for membership through her father, who served in the Air National Guard during Vietnam.
Initially, Rumery didn’t expect joining the Auxiliary would help her develop skills both useful for ALA membership as well as her career as a customer service representative for a communications company. She was a volunteer for five years before becoming a member. After joining, she became president of her unit within six months, and later, after a year, became the district president.
“Being a district president for 23 units has taught me listening skills, patience, compassion, integrity, family values, and teamwork that I bring to my career and personal life,” she said. “The ALA spirit of Service Not Selfis not something you can’t just turn on and off. It is a lifestyle I will continue for the rest of my life.”
The American Legion Auxiliary’s legacy of Service Not Self is something we can all benefit from and means a lot to Rumery as a customer service representative, she said.
It took time for Rumery to understand her ALA membership was helping her develop leadership skills she could use in her professional and personal life.
“I did not realize it right away, but my mentors did,” she said. “They saw things in me that I did not see in myself. At first, I did not believe I could be president because I had no experience and held no other officer position, but my mentors thought otherwise.”
The benefits to an ALA membership that go beyond the mission while also serving a purpose professionally have helped Rumery recruit potential members.
“Knowing what the organization is all about and speaking with passion to people really is the key,” she explained. “The American Legion Auxiliary’s track record speaks for itself at our post home. The community sees what we do for our veterans, and they want to be a part of it. We have so many fundraisers that we get the community involved and they see that we really are a family and want to be part of that.”
Sharpen your skills through online courses
For members who may want to learn the different ways their ALA membership can help in both this organization and their profession, the ALA Academy is available for free to members.
The online courses are a great way to think outside the box on ways you can utilize skills as a member, while also sharpening skills that are applicable in your profession/career. Although the classes are designed and geared toward your ALA membership, there are useful tips that can be applied to your job as well.
The online courses will help you learn a variety of skills for both areas of life such as how to use social media, more about leadership, goodwill toward others, and dealing with conflict. To take an ALA Academy class, visit www.ALAforVeterans.org.
By Sara Fowler, Staff Writer
This article was originally published in the August 2020 Auxiliary magazine.