(Photo by Eldon Lindsay)

Legion College Day 4 about raising awareness

Day 4 of American Legion National College got under way at National Headquarters with group presentations in which each group presented its post revitalization plan and 20-minute discussion on an aspect of the Legion.

For the revitalization efforts, each group was assigned a post earlier in the program that was either an urban, rural or cyber post that had between 30 to 2,400 members. Ideas brought forth on how to recognize new members included creating a "welcome packet" that featured brochures and resources on Legion programs and benefits available to veterans, sending a "thank you" letter for becoming a part of the Legion family and hosting an initiation ceremony.

As for ways to retain and generate members, each group agreed that it’s important for a post to conduct an audit, find what communication resources are in place and needed, have joint meetings with local Sons of The American Legion squadrons and Auxiliary units on how to increase membership, and reach out by phone to those in the last two years who did not renew their membership.

Membership stayed at the forefront due to one group’s 20-minute presentation on the three R’s of membership: retention, recruitment and reconnection.

For retention, Michelle Aaron of Illinois reminded everyone that being a Legionnaire "is an investment in our brothers and our sisters," which entails ensuring that members stay and encouraging them to get involved with their post and its programs. Aaron’s group colleague George Blackard of Montana added a resounding statement as Legionnaires begin recruiting.

"Members are not numbers, they are assets. They are assets to our posts, to our departments and to The American Legion as a whole," he said. "When I see someone wearing a military shirt or hat I like to ask them leading questions that gives me the information that I want to know so I can then get to my hook, which is ‘Let me tell you what The American Legion can do for you.’ I’m not asking them to be a member right there, I’m asking, ‘How can I help you and show you what we do?’ It takes action to get reaction."

Other presentations included women veterans issues and needs, information on the Legion’s Temporary Financial Assistance program and how to properly fill out an application, public relation resources available for posts and Operation Comfort Warriors (OCW).

Many posts find it difficult to raise awareness about their community activities because gaining the attention of local media reporters can prove fruitless. But one group member shared a story about his post commander presenting a plaque to a local newspaper reporter, thanking him for all the coverage that the paper provides on veterans events. After that simple plaque presentation, the reporter contacted the post continuously for story ideas.

The Legion College students sat quietly during each presentation until the small group discussing OCW took centerstage and pitted the attendees against each other in competition. OCW is National Commander James E. Koutz’s primary fundraising program during his tenure, and the group assisted in his efforts by auctioning off an OCW hat and water bottle, along with a bobblehead of Past National Commander Robert W. Spanogle. The three items combined raised more than $100 for OCW.

Legion College student and Army veteran Jim Lish of Kentucky understands firsthand the impact OCW has on wounded veterans.

Lish was wounded in Iraq in 2004 and when he landed at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, all he had was his tattered, dirty military uniform. Veterans stepped in and provided him with gifts of sweats, socks and toiletries.

"When you come home, you have nothing but the clothes on your back. So when you receive items from programs like OCW, it takes a lot of strain off us as soldier’s because we don’t have to worry about how we’re going to buy civilian clothes so we’re not stuck in hospital scrubbs the whole time," Lish said. "It’s comforting to know that people care about us."

Thursday, the students will present and defend their resolutions.