“The Auxiliary gained 3 new members today!” Bonnie Hemmer wrote in an update to this reporter on Sunday night. The exchange with Hemmer comes as we’ve been visiting with local VFW, Legion and Auxiliary members about the future of their programs and organizations.
Memberships in service organizations such as the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the American Legion and Legion Auxiliaries have been declining, nationally and locally, for decades, in the event that you haven’t noticed. Mark Sutton, a past President of the American Legion, spoke first on the issue with the New York Times in 2012.
In 2019, amidst further decline, he wrote to all Legion Commanders in his last inter-organizational letter. “According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, there are about 15.2-million wartime-era veterans in the United States,” he stated. “Over eight million of them are veterans of World War II, Korea and Vietnam who are getting older and passing away. Therefore the veteran population is experiencing a rapid decline – one that impacts American Legion membership numbers.”
He asked local posts to help change the narrative, stating it was the only way for the Legion to rebound. That included, he said, members sharing what it means to be involved and talking about the programs and people they support in each community they serve.
In Egan, changing the narrative, or just starting a dialogue with the community, is working. The Auxiliary has not only recruited new members in recent years, but those new members are also primarily younger.
“I saw everything that Bonnie was doing and…it really charged me. I want to give back and do things like that because when everyone gets together — they visit, they talk, they take care of each other and I think in so many places, that is just slipping away. Being young, I want that for our community,” said LiAnne Larson, who joined within the past year.
The Auxiliary, for those unfamiliar with it, is a volunteer program that was established in 1919 to support each Legion and its members as well as the communities in which they serve. The American Legion was chartered and incorporated by Congress in 1919 as a patriotic veteran’s organization devoted to mutual helpfulness.
It doesn’t take much to be involved, local leaders say. Dues are maybe $25 a year.
In Egan, the Auxiliary is paying new Legion members first year dues in the hopes of recruiting new members. The initiative has brought in five new memberships in just the past two weeks.
“I’ve tried to use the online community to bring in more participation,” said Larson. “I’ll post we’re going to have a wrapping party and the ladies in town, everyone comes. What’s hard is when you’re online, you get the young crowd but the older crowd, they communicate totally differently. So when we need something there too, I just get on the phone and make personal calls. I think we’re getting better and better about it.”
Other posts and local veterans, concerned about their own declining memberships, are taking note.
For more on what it means to be a part of a local legion, VFW or Auxiliary post, contact your own local chapter, or you can reach out to Hemmer at [email protected]