Boys State volunteers give of their summer to give back to the program
Peter Dirga, post commander for Post 18 in Claymont, Del., chats with Boys Nation Delaware Federalist Steven Ferrandino at Greenbelt, Md. Post 136 on Sunday, July 23, 2017. Photo by Clay Lomneth / The American Legion.

Boys State volunteers give of their summer to give back to the program

William Hogan wouldn’t say he’s “giving up” part of his summer.

“Yes, Boys State is a volunteer program, but we don't necessarily view working the program as ‘giving up’ part of our summer,” said Hogan, external affairs and production staffer at Louisiana Boys State. “While it's not necessarily a vacation, Boys State is definitely something we look forward to each year. Aside from working to accomplish its educational components, we genuinely enjoy working with one another and the other members of our counselor and staff team. Louisiana Boys State, as trite as it may sound, functions as a family and a brotherhood.”

It’s that sense of family that keeps Jim Vaughn coming back to Buckeye Boys State in Ohio each year, too.

“This is all family. We love each other just as much as we love our own brothers and sisters,” Vaughn said.

Also bringing back the hundreds of volunteers who staff the Boys State programs each summer is the chance to shape the leaders of tomorrow.

“They really want to see the youth of today progress and rise to the top. They want these top kids that we get here to become governors and lawyers and judges, whatever, to lead this country in the right direction,” said Buckeye Boys State Program Director Mike Kennedy.

“By helping develop these young men into the positive leaders we know they have the potential to be, we can help shape a more positive future for our state and communities,” Hogan said. “Whether it is simply teaching how government in the state works or helping shape conversations about positive and constructive political dialogue, we are dedicated to making sure these future leaders of Louisiana are critically examining what it means to have good leadership and government.”

“Volunteerism is critical to these programs; in fact, we had a guy on staff who did the math, and we would have to charge an extra $200 per kid just to pay each of our staff members minimum wage for the hours that they work during Boys State. You can’t afford that,” said Corey Brooks, assistant program director at Oklahoma Boys State.

“These guys come and give up their time, and these aren’t just guys with nothing better to do. We’re talking about people in government, people in business at the executive level, people in the military. People are giving up holiday weekends and taking leave to come here and be here with these kids, and I think that works with you on a real primal level when you get to go do that. You get to experience the joy of volunteerism, of giving back. And for so many of us on staff, we were delegates. We have a former association with the program. And for a lot of us, it’s almost an obligation. I mean, the impact that Boys State made on us, and the flow of our lives, we feel like it’s just our duty and obligation to be here to pay that forward to the next generation. And when you get a group of guys together like that, it makes an absolutely incredible program.”

That “obligation” extends to those volunteers who also serve at Boys Nation in July.

“To me, there’s almost no greater honor as a Legion member than to be able to participate as a staff member at Boys Nation. It’s a huge honor, and to get to affect even more young men in that respect like at Boys State, to get to carry that on at a national level, is, I almost don’t have the words,” said Oklahoma Boys State program director and Boys Nation senior counselor Clay Ballenger.

Blake Humphrey, a former Boys Nation delegate who served as a junior counselor for the program the past three years, said the Legion’s sponsorship of such programs is “a special thing.”

“My challenge to all of the Boys State and Boys Nation alums out there across the states and around the world is to get involved to support Boys State, support Boys Nation, support a program that in many ways has given you so much. Even if it’s not monetary, even if it’s not your time, you can’t go back and volunteer for a week, even if it’s just telling a friend or a family friend about the opportunity, to do it,” he said.