Saturday, July 22, 2017

Practicing Mindfulness: Thoughts for ALA Girls Nation Senators

     As I prepare for the 71st American Legion Auxiliary (ALA) Girls Nation senators to arrive, I can’t help but wonder what they will be like. I can’t help but try to predict how they will respond to meeting public officials, walking through the Holocaust Museum, or how they treat their fellow senators. I remain hopeful that they will connect with one another the way I did back in 2013 as a senator from Nebraska and that they will rely on each other as they go through life after Nation – seeking roommates, internships, and personal advice. In preparing for ALA Girls Nation, I can’t help but to brainstorm ways to encourage an environment that is empowering, enlightening, and wholesome. That was when I discovered mindfulness. 

     Mindfulness is the basic human ability to be present – to be aware of where we are, what we are doing – and stresses the importance of not being reactive or overwhelmed by what is happening around us. It can reduce stress, anxiety, and depression. Mindfulness, which essentially hits ‘pause’ on negative thoughts, can be a powerful tool to tackle stress, miscommunication, and prejudice. Whenever you bring awareness to what you’re directly experiencing via your senses, or to your state of mind via your thoughts and emotions, you’re being mindful. And there’s growing research showing that when you train your brain to be mindful, you’re actually remodeling the physical structure of your brain; there is no reason that this way of behaving can’t inspire others to do the same. For many senators, this may be their first experience interacting with a person of color, ideology, and/or religion and this initial interaction can cause conflict and the mistreatment of people if others are not mindful. For myself, as a senior counselor and member of the American Legion Auxiliary, I want to promote an environment that is mindful. I want senators to use this week to be present, to open their minds, and to gain a 10-dimmensional perspective on how others view the world. During nightly reflections, I want to encourage senators to give their cohorts the benefit of the doubt and prompt them with more appropriate ways to ask questions without being defensive and reactive. It is my hope that senators will recognize that when floor debate becomes escalated, that it is OK to remove themselves from the situation to pay attention to their senses and respond in a manner that is constructive and thoughtful. The thing is, we don’t need to understand the aspects of every identity shared by senators and staff members this week, we only need a window. If we can ‘pause’ our negative thoughts, our prejudgments, and take a step into the hallway for five minutes, we can be that much more empowered to have the conversations we have never had before, to find windows that allow us to be empathetic with one another, but not feel the need to identify with the other person to be compassionate. We are all committed to enhancing the human condition, each one of us will simply do this in different forms.

     When I first meet the senators, I want them to be welcomed into communities, be giddy at the sight of the decorated halls and the ice cream machine in the cafeteria; but I also want them to be present. I want them to give themselves permission to be vulnerable at the expense of learning something new and utilizing their senses to contribute thoughtfully to late-night roommate conversations and Senate floor debate. As a counselor, I want them to understand and appreciate the coalition building that can happen at American Legion Auxiliary Girls Nation. I want them to be mindful and grow to be compassionate people who will revere their experience at ALA Girls Nation as the inciting incident to their stories of becoming military members, firefighters, public officials, teachers, and most importantly, kind, genuine people.

Carlin Daharsh
Senior Counselor, Spring Valley
Carlin was a 2013 ALA Girls Nation senator who returned in 2015 as a junior counselor and in 2016 as the dean of junior counselors. She is now an ALA member and has once again joined the ALA Girls Nation staff as a senior counselor. 

Getting to Know the ALA Girls Nation Government Staff

     This week, the ALA Girls Nation senators will get to know their Government Staff pretty well. They will see us every day in party meetings, in Senate sessions, and waiting in line for ice cream. For this blog, I wanted to introduce us through the lens of our Auxiliary membership and why we sacrifice 10 days of our summer to serve on ALA Girls Nation staff.

Our Government Director Andy Dobson is excited to be back at ALA Girls Nation. She is honored to be a part of the staff and to be a member of ALA Medical Lake Unit #196 in Washington. Her father, Carl, served in the U.S. Air Force for 20 years and her ALA membership is through him. She really believes in what the ALA stands for and its support of veterans. One of her favorite activities is the ALA Evergreen Girls State program where she serves as director. Also close to her heart is the ALA Girls Nation program because it allows young women to see all the possibility within them. She hopes to lead the Federalist Party to victory this year!

     Patty Griffith, the Nationalist party leader, is a proud member of ALA Unit #97 in the great state of Washington. She is eligible for her Auxiliary membership through her father, Jimmy, who served in the U.S. Navy. Patty joined the Auxiliary because she appreciates all the dedication the ALA has to veterans and their families. She enjoys working with the ALA Evergreen Girls State and is looking forward to a great ALA Girls Nation 2017. (Go NATS!)

     The assistant Federalist Party Leader Lauren Hillebrand can remember going to ALA meetings with her grandmother many years ago. Her grandmother instilled in her the desire to help others and to volunteer whenever possible and that dedication led Lauren to join the ALA almost twenty years ago. Her membership is through her stepfather who served in the U.S. Air Force. Lauren now volunteers with a unit in Grand Forks, ND, and serves on the Flickertail ALA Girls State staff. This will be her first ALA Girls Nation rodeo and she is thankful for the opportunity to be here. She hopes to graduate from her “probie” status this year on the Government Staff.

     If it wasn’t for the ALA Girls State and ALA Girls Nation programs, I would likely not have joined the Auxiliary. My membership comes through my daddy, Kirk, who served in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam-era. I joined the Auxiliary because I believe in our larger mission, but also because it was a way to give back to the organization that presents ALA Hoosier Girls State and ALAGirls Nation – programs dear to my heart. I am a member of ALA e-Unit 438 (Department of Indiana) and serve on ALA Hoosier Girls State staff. I know this week is going to be amazing and I can’t wait to meet this year’s senators. As Senate parliamentarian, I hope that Senate goes well this week and that I don’t have to gavel too many girls out of order.

     Together, the government staff is dedicating this 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 honor our family members who have served in the military and that they are as proud of us as we are of them.

Raising our gavels to a great week of ALA Girls Nation!
Katie Hendricks 
Indiana / Missouri 

Government Staff

From left: Lauren Hillebrand, Katie Hendricks, Patty Griffith, Andy Dobson

Friday, July 29, 2016

Maryland Senator Realizes Her Potential at ALA Girls Nation

On Saturday, 100 girls arrived at the National 4-H Conference Center. We were told that we were the best of the best, and that made me nervous. I didn’t believe that I was particularly special, and I knew that every girl present had some sort of leadership or personal quality that I did not possess. I was worried that I would be eaten alive. Thankfully, I was wrong.
This week I have met kind young women all dedicated to changing the world. Not only were they all dedicated to change, but they were also dedicated to compromise and unity. Within our senate sessions, senators were able to put aside their differences to pass comprehensive legislation. Though we spent a large time in Senate, it was not the only thing we did. From the humbling experience of visiting Arlington National Cemetery — where we learned the true cost of freedom — to the work experience of talking to congressional staffers, this week has truly been unforgettable.
Though many of us were disappointed in our inability to visit the White House, we were all so grateful for the ALA Girls Nation staff’s efforts and our trip to the Thomas Jefferson, FDR, and the MLK Jr. Memorials instead. Traveling around with these girls all week has caused me to grow as a woman and it has truly changed my life. I really didn’t realize that I belonged until talent night when I sang “Rolling in the Deep” and my fellow senators, my friends, were singing and dancing along. This feeling of belonging followed me to the banquet and the subsequent dance party as I fought back tears thinking about saying goodbye to these girls who seem to understand who I am and who I want to be.
ALA Girls Nation has helped me realize that wanting to change the world isn’t a daunting dream. It is tangible, and I hope all my fellow senators feel the same.

Olivia Antigua, Maryland


Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Tuesday Reflections by Chevy Chase

Maya Angelou once famously said “Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away.” Today was chock full of said moments, from elections and participating in the Senate sessions to touring the Pentagon and 9/11 Memorial. Your red-eyed but revved-up Chevy Chase writers, Samantha Aloysius, Deirdre Duquette, and Meena Venkataramanan, bring to you Tuesday’s news.

Meena’s Party Update
As your Nationalist party chairman, I am truly honored to represent many of my fellow senators by giving them a voice and presiding over party meetings. Today, as both the Nationalists and Federalists exchanged secret handshakes and entered their party’s respective conventions, the senators were given the privilege of listening to wonderful speeches made by vice presidential and presidential nominee hopefuls. In the end, two amazing nominees were elected to represent each party, and the parties have united behind them to promote their platforms, both complete with hopeful cries of social justice, improved national security, and a focus on the environment. After the party convention, the Nationalists and Federalists sang bittersweet goodbyes to their official party caucuses, but came together to make decorations for their two-party rally, complete with skits, speeches, and cheers.

Sam’s Senate Report
In Senate sessions, we were able to engage in what can only be considered as the most constructive and respectful form of debate as we discussed the bills we have so painstakingly written. The level of eloquence from this group of young women is exemplary and should be lauded. Everything from the topic of presidential primaries to special interest groups in political campaigning to immigrant policy reform, your Senate session had it all. Things are moving much quicker now and parliamentary procedure has been adopted quite effectively by our ALA Girls Nation senators.

Deirdre’s Peek at the Pentagon
The ALA Girls Nation senators had the unique pleasure of visiting the Pentagon, as well as the beautiful and moving 9/11 Memorial. The experience really impacted many of our senators, and it was heartwarming to see the respect and loving bond between the girls as they viewed the memorial. The interior of the Pentagon was yet another pleasant surprise. While we did not see any secret service or aliens (unfortunately, today was Will Smith’s day off), we were shown around the building by our kind and humorous tour guides, who were decorated members of our country’s military. Senators learned much about the history of all branches of the military and our involvement in various conflicts. The Pentagon truly exceeded expectations, and the air conditioning helped too.

Meena Venkataramanan, Arizona
Sam Aloysius, New York
Deirdre Duquette, Massachusetts

Chevy Chase