Saturday, August 1, 2015

Wally Reflects on Washington Adventure

Greetings from Washington! I’ve been so busy throughout the last few days. I’ve had to stay up late with the senators so I could get ready for our senate sessions and practice our skits and musical numbers for talent night. Did you know that koalas sleep between 18 and 22 hours a day? I think I’ve been awake for that many hours each day during my time at ALA Girls Nation. It has been a true honor to spend my week with these amazing senators from all over the United States. I think I might have to do some more traveling before I head back to my family in Australia. I have so many friends now that live in so many interesting places that I can go explore. I will try my best to keep you posted. Before I go catch up on my sleep I thought I would give you an overview of some of my favorite moments from my week here at ALA Girls Nation.

I was able to follow the ALA Girls Nation senators on their tour of the monuments at the National Mall. They sang a variety of patriotic songs on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, and it was beautiful. There are so many wonderful tributes in our history. Did you know you could stand in the same spot that Martin Luther King, Jr. stood to deliver his speech “I Have a Dream”? There is a special tile there that people like to stand on and look out from where he stood. It was pretty cool to put myself in his shoes and pretend to give a speech to the American people. I took a picture of some senators by the engraved inscription and think that I will see if I can find more books about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He sounds like a very interesting man that wanted everyone to get along.

Hanging out in party meetings was exciting. The senators taught me cheers for the party rally. Not only are these girls articulate in their public speaking, but their decorating skills are impeccable. I learned that campaigning is an important part of the election process. Did you know that politicians make signs and have a team of people that help distribute them? Since I helped the senators make their signs, some of them made me my very own sign, and let me pretend to be the Majority Whip! I learned that sometimes it is just as rewarding to help people get elected from behind-the-scenes as it is to be the person elected. I want to give a shout out to all my new friends (Nationalists and Federalists) that helped people get elected this week. It’s a tough job, but without the people behind the scenes the candidates can’t do as well as they do. Good politicians know that it takes a team of people to get elected. I wasn’t allowed to actually vote in the presidential and vice presidential elections, but it was fun to pretend. Did you know that there are rules about voting? Each country has its own rules and I learned that ALA Girls Nation is no different! I am not old enough to vote yet, but you better believe that when I am that I will make sure I exercise my civic responsibility and do so.

Thursday was a very exciting day for all of us. Thanks to some great people at the American Legion’s D.C. office, a White House visit was arranged. What an honor to stand in a place where so many powerful leaders have stood. President Obama told the senators that he was confident in their abilities to become great future leaders. He was a pretty funny man and I think if he had stopped to talk to me like he did with each of the ALA Girls Nation senators and staff, I would have told him a joke. He told the Girls Nation senators that they were probably more productive in their senate this week than the real life senators in the United States! Can you believe that? He then told them that when they meet with their senators that the girls should try to “knock some sense into them!”

It was also really cool to see the different rooms in the East Wing of the White House. Did you know that the girls in the program got to wander around the rooms without being blocked off by ropes. I can’t believe they trust them not to break anything! I was nervous, but the girls were excited to explore and take pictures. I will say that meeting the president of a country is a pretty cool thing. The girls told me that regardless of what political party you belong to that meeting the president is an awesome experience. I think it was cool to hear one of the staff members say that you should “respect the office” and that makes so much sense! It truly was an honor that not many people get to do and that made me feel very special.

My adventures at ALA Girls Nation have come to an end. Votes have been cast, officials have been inaugurated, pictures have been shared, and this adventure is complete. Now let’s all start our new adventure!



~Wally

Government Staff Honors Service of Veterans

This week, the Government staff has been kept very busy. We have copied bills, rallied parties, eaten too much ice cream, and called senators out of order…but less noticeable is that we have worn four buttons on our uniform daily.
Kelly Circle proudly wears the image of her mother, Twila, who served in the Navy. She was an assistant to the photographer for the Blue Angels and a librarian. It was through her military service that she met Kelly’s father, while stationed in Pensacola. Kelly has always looked up to her mother for being an incredible woman and a trailblazer. In her words, “In the 1950s not many women were in the service.” 

Jane wears the photo of her mother, also a veteran from an era in which many women were not. The love and respect Jane has for her mother is apparent anytime she is mentioned.
Tracy Nelson wears a button that shows her father, a Navy veteran of 26 years. My button is of my daddy (and yes, he knows he is still my daddy), Kirk, who served in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam era. 

In honor of their service, we try to serve our communities when and where we can. We have dedicated the past week of our lives to providing what we feel is one of the most enriching programs imaginable for high school students. The long days and short nights are nothing compared to what so many of our veterans have experienced. We hope we have honored our parents who have served in the military and that they are as proud of us and we are of them.

Katie Hendricks
Indiana/Missouri

Friday, July 31, 2015

Senators Find Sisters, Love of Patriotism

Today was the last day of American Legion Auxiliary Girls Nation. Tomorrow morning, senators and counselors alike will board different buses, fly on different planes, and land in different states. But as we leave, we are leaving with changed lives.
After today’s ceremonies and speeches, an ALA Girls Nation senator remarked, “This week I gained twelve sisters… Actually, I might have earned 98 sisters.”
And it’s true. Not only have we gained 98 sisters, but we have earned more than 6,500 sisters. Each year the ALA Girls Nation family grows bigger and bigger, and we will go on to find an ALA Girls Nation sister in unexpected places for our entire lives.
Senators Bernie Sommers and Sydney Bright met with Christine Hill who worked on the staff of a Veterans Affair Sub-Committee. After the senators began to walk away the staff member came running out asking the girls if they wanted a picture. She said she thought we’d want it because we blogged every night, and she knew that because her daughter went to ALA Girls Nation, too. Senators have already begun to hear about the sisters they haven’t even met.
Along with new sisters, the girls have a new-found love of patriotism. One senator’s mom remarked that our singing in the National Mall was, “truly beautiful, and good old fashioned patriotism.” And the girls have all agreed that those feelings will not die here, because defending the United States of America and the freedoms this country stands for is worth dying for.
As true sisters in patriotism who will soon be parting ways, we have been asked to remember who we are as women, and human beings. The poem, Phenomenal Women by Maya Angelou exemplifies that:
Pretty women wonder where my secret lies. I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size. But when I start to tell them, They think I’m telling lies. I say, It’s in the reach of my arms, The span of my hips, The stride of my step, The curl of my lips. I’m a woman Phenomenally. Phenomenal woman, That’s me. Now you understand, Just why my head’s not bowed. I don’t shout or jump about, Or have to talk real loud. When you see me passing, It ought to make you proud. I say, It’s in the click of my heels, The bend of my hair, the palm of my hand, The need for my care.  
’Cause I’m a woman Phenomenally. Phenomenal woman, That’s me.
Every ALA Girls Nation senator, counselors, and staff could stand and say this as if it were their own words. We are Phenomenal Women. And we are women with the power to change the world, and even once you leave ALA Girls Nation and life begins to hit you hard in the face, remember what Ms. Janet Jefford said when she quoted Mark Twain and asked us to seek our purpose in life.
And as we find that purpose, we will begin to see your fellow senators in passing and it will make you proud of your sisters. And because of one another you will say, “It’s the fire in my eyes, And the flash of my teeth, The swing in my waist, And the joy in my feet. We are women Phenomenally. Phenomenal women, That’s you and me.”
Phenomenal women, like Senior Counselors Rosemarie Hauck, are already so proud of these senators. As the American Legion Auxiliary continues to do amazing things, she implored eligible ALA Girls Nation girls to join the ALA and perpetuate the cause.
Sydney Bright who is already in the process of joining her local American Legion Auxiliary unit said, “Like my ALA Girls State senior counselor told me, ‘Many Auxiliary members are getting too old to carry the torch and they aren’t being replaced by younger members. But you give me hope for the Auxiliary. And even if you aren’t eligible to join, you can always volunteer and serve them.’”
So to the world, the rising generation of female leaders is here to stay and drive change. ALA Girls Nation is coming to an end, but the things we’ve learned and the memories and connections that have been made will affect this generation of women for a lifetime.
But to the ALA Girls Nation senators, don’t forget the patriotism you’ve felt and always remember to salute your flag and defend your country. Apply the lessons and memories you’ve made to your life beyond the 4-H Center, and always remember your brand new sisters. Be proud of them as they learn and grow and find their purpose, just like you. You are one in twenty million.
Until next year ALA Girls Nation!
XOXO

Sydney Bright and Bethesda 

Reflections from Potomac

It’s 7 a.m. and all of the ants in Potomac are running around trying to assemble the perfect accessories to go along with our American Legion Auxiliary Girls Nation uniforms. Today, Thursday, is the most important day of the week to us all; the day we meet President Barack Obama and it was our awesome Junior Counselor Hayley Lund’s birthday.

The day was filled with multiple emotions. It started with exhaustion and continued with anticipation. By the time we finally had the opportunity to meet the president; the room was filled with elation. Some girls broke into tears, others were numb with shock.

It seems as though the weather reflected our emotions during the day. Before our White House visit we were stressed, not only because we were meeting the president, but because of campaigns, speeches, and lack of sleep. After meeting President Obama, Washington D.C. was met with a torrential downpour. It seemed symbolic of our emotions. The rain washed away our tensions and stress, and led us into another portion of our lives.

The sun shined before our meeting, but the seemingly deliberate rain reminded us of understanding. Today we had the unique opportunity to see the human that stands behind the politics of America. He was kind, funny, and warm as he stood before us and asked, “so, how’s everything?” Whether or not we all support his policies, every girl here could agree that meeting Obama is one of the coolest things we’ve ever had the privilege to do.

We express our thanks to the White House staff, Verna Jones of the D.C. American Legion offices, and the American Legion Auxiliary. We are infinitely grateful for these rare opportunities we have been afforded and we cannot wait to bring this new found passion, joy, and knowledge back to our own communities.

We rushed back onto the buses with smiles on our faces, some with tears in their eyes, and notified everyone at home via phone calls and social media. We shared our joy with those we love.
Coming back to the 4-H Center on a high, the Potomac girls had flag-lowering duty, which we all enjoyed so much that we would love to do it one more time. After doing community activities together, we find that we love each other more and more.

The Senate sessions remain hectic and stressful, but necessary for all of us to attain the skills to share and defend our ideas. As our last day approaches, we don’t want to leave. We will cherish these last moments together and urge all of the other communities to do the same.

With Love,

Potomac


Thursday, July 30, 2015

ALA Girls State and ALA Girls Nation: Life Changing Experiences


There are not many opportunities given in life to meet one’s role models. When the summer began, I had a neatly laid out AP Lit summer reading schedule and a plan to attend American Legion Auxiliary Badger Girls State. A month and a half later, I sat, pen poised and shaking above a blank sheet of paper, with the ability to address an all but unreachable figure who I wholly admire.

I hadn’t really been interested in politics before I attended ALA Girls State. I was sure that I was going to be a scientist, and that work in medical research would consume my life and passion. I thought that this was how I could best foster a positive and permanent change in the world around me. Although I will never give up on this dream, I have realized that I was perhaps going about planning my life the wrong way. I still plan to major in biochemistry and go on to research cancer, but what I didn’t realize is that I should also plan to be socially and politically active. As a citizen of America I have a duty to my country to serve it in each capacity I can and to the best of my ability. It isn’t enough for me to be a researcher on the cutting edge anymore. I now know that I would like to perhaps serve on a school board or lobby for underprivileged groups. The long and short of it is that I went into ALA Girls State as one person and I came out as another.

Several weeks after I returned home from ALA Girls State, I saw a speech Senator Elizabeth Warren (MA) gave to a group of graduating community college students. Her message was that sometimes the fight in life is hard, but if there are things that are wrong, things that we as humans want to change or fight for, we must, even, and especially if, it appears we will lose. The next day I read article after article about the orator that had ignited my mind. The more I read the more I grew to respect this woman that I had never met and probably would never meet. I saw her desire to make a change in her world and it was this that I admired most as it is the dream I hold most dearly for my own future. Although I was thrilled at the prospect of spending a day at Capitol Hill with ALA Girls Nation and of meeting my senators, I was sad that I would be so close to this hardworking revolutionary I so admired and have no opportunity to tell her what she had grown to mean to me over the past month.

I’ve come to the point in this particular anecdote where my pen rested above this stubborn blank piece of white paper. I had decided that with nothing to lose I would find Senator Warren’s office and try to find some way of conveying to her what her battles in life and on the hill had meant to me. How much her desire to stay in the Senate over running for president for the reason of being able to enact more positive change in her world made me reevaluate my own impressions of the world, coming out with the understanding that the opportunity to make a difference is the most important thing in this world even if one will not receive any great prestige or honor for one’s pains. When I nervously asked her secretary if I could write Senator Warren a note, I had hardly considered that she would say yes. I was now faced with an understandable dilemma. One never expects to meet their idols so one never has a speech prepared. How could I sum up in the span of one note the change that had been worked in me by ALA Girls State and its intended recipient’s words? What I wrote on that paper may not be on par with the works of Shakespeare, but I had the opportunity to truly thank someone I had never met, and probably never will, for an influence that she had never known she had had.

I considered something about the world today. I was fortunate enough to receive the opportunity to honestly thank someone that had influenced me. The recipient of my gratitude, however, doesn’t even know who I am. It made me think about what kind of impact some of our actions might have. While I absorbed the words of Senator Elizabeth Warren, it would have been just as easy for someone else to listen to the words that come out of my mouth. What we say matters because we never know who might hear. Each word is important because they do not merely die on the air when they leave our mouths, but they are reflected upon in the thoughts of someone else. ALA Girls Nation teaches that everyone has the power to change their world if only they reach out and try. However, we can also influence the personal worlds of others with our own thoughts and actions without trying at all. I’m reminded of the lyrics to the folk song “One of Us” by Heather Dale. The singer reflects on a woman she met when she first joined the military. Even though they never spoke face-to-face this stranger became her inspiration for fighting. The last verse of the song says, “So as I gather armor, bits and pieces here and there, I think about examples, how you act and what you dare, for you never know who’s watching or how far that story goes. Well, wherever that lady is I hope she knows.” 

We never know who we might reach with our words, our thoughts, and our actions. I believe that because of this we should truly think about what we say and what we do. We are important examples to and influences on the people around us and those around us in the world are equally important influences on our own lives. I challenge you to think about the person who influences you and whether or not he or she knows what their words and actions have met. Do you have the courage to tell them?

Breelyn Karno, Wisconsin
Georgetown

 

An Experience on Capitol Hill

Capitol Hill. The place where the business of Washington takes place. It is here that monumental decisions are made that will go down in the history books of our great country. Today, I was lucky enough to meet the staff of the U.S. Senators from Florida, explore the Supreme Court and the Capitol building, and even ride the underground tram that only employees can use!
I started the day speed walking to the Hart building with more excitement than I have ever experienced.  The secretaries who greeted me when my fellow Floridian ALA Girls Nation senator, Isabella Braga, and I walked in were two of the most polite people I have ever encountered. Speaking with Senator Nelson’s legislative aid, Ashley Tighe, taught me that although it may seem like the senators are superheroes who have enough time to debate and research, they are actually just the head of a large team of incredibly intelligent people who work together for the betterment of our country. I was blown away by the amount of behind-the-scenes work that takes place every day, but isn’t talked about in the media. It was also shocking to me when I learned that the staff members from Marco Rubio’s office and Bill Nelson’s office didn’t see themselves becoming a senator themselves. Both Ms. Tighe and Mr. Sutton were happy doing the behind-the-scenes work because there was less pressure and they played a huge role in creating policy and preparing the senators. 

Although I was amazed at the people I met, I was speechless at the architecture I saw in the Supreme Court, the Library of Congress, and the Capitol Building. I can’t even comprehend how the buildings stay standing with the enormous amount of marble that was used to build them! The rainbow of colors I saw on the floors, ceiling, and walls were vibrant and the extreme detail used in the carvings were inspiring.  The Library of Congress was definitely the most extravagant and it also had my favorite gift shop as I am an avid reader! I wish I could spend a whole week exploring the National Mall and I cannot wait to come back. 

In case you don’t know, we have been getting around five to six hours of sleep each night and we are all absolutely exhausted! However, I find myself wide-awake tonight as I write this as I am just busting with excitement for our visit to the White House tomorrow! It was confirmed that Mr. President is going to see us so I am praying that nothing goes wrong that would prevent him from getting to meet all of us. It would be a dream come true to meet him, shake his hand, and hopefully hug him! 


~Haley Tabor, Florida
Georgetown


Wednesday, July 29, 2015

A Day of Work and Inspiration


Finally, the bills have hit the floor! Yesterday the first legislative session occurred and we began debating bills and resolutions. Two bills have been introduced so far and one has been passed. One resolution was also passed. We are anticipating each party will strive to be their very best as we move forward. The pace at ALA Girls Nation moves so quickly. Combined with all of the amazing opportunities to explore Washington, D.C., the girls are working morning to night and doing a great job adjusting to the fast pace of the week.
“Never again.” We had the opportunity to visit the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Behind the doors we viewed something that you cannot find in a history book, or learn online. The emotions we felt as we viewed rooms filled with artifacts, pictures, and stories of survivors and those who died in this tragedy were beyond compare. In the evening, we had the unique opportunity to listen to a Holocaust survivor’s miraculous story. Nesse Godin’s story included tales of neighbors that refused to help her, time spent eating only bread and water, life in a labor camp and what it was like to go on a death march. Nesse, her mother and brother all survived the Holocaust; however her father was killed in a selection.
It would be easy for someone who endured so much tragedy and pain to become bitter and angry. She shared how at first she was filled with anger, but that it was her mother who reminded her that Hitler wanted her angry. She told Nesse that she was entitled to a life and that she should enjoy all the best life can offer her, and let the best of herself give back to life. Give back to life is exactly what Nesse has done for the last 20+ years. Nesse volunteers at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and shares her experiences with groups like the ALA Girls Nation program. Nesse Godin taught us we have an obligation to humanity to show compassion and empathy for those in need. She encouraged us to support our neighbors and offer help to those in need regardless of whether or not it affects us. Her inspirational story is one that will remain in our hearts forever. To read more on Nesse’s story, see her article in the American Legion Auxiliary’s magazine here:  http://mydigimag.rrd.com/publication/?i=242895 .

~Foggy Bottom