Friday, July 29, 2011

Why I Serve

I was raised with the utmost respect for the American military. For many generations members of my family have answered our nation’s call, have donned the uniform, and have served this nation proudly. As much as I respected their decisions, I knew that was never the path for me. Although it sounds clichĂ©, my path was decided my junior year of high school a few months after I turned 17. That was the year I was selected to go to Hoosier Girls State as a delegate. While there, my feelings of patriotism and pride grew, and I learned more about how our state and local governments operate. At Girls State, I had the honor of being selected to represent Indiana at Girls Nation. Even before I went to Girls Nation, I knew my life would change forever.
The next year I was invited to speak to the Hoosier Girls State delegates and tell them about my experiences, both at HGS and at GN. I found that the task was impossible – I could never put into words just what I had gone through and the impact those programs would have on me. That same summer, just following my high school graduation, I served on the HGS staff as a junior counselor. I felt that I had to give something back to the American Legion Auxiliary because of all that they had done for me. Yet one week’s volunteerism still seemed inadequate. The next year I returned, then the year after that, and again the following year. This summer marked my tenth year on staff. Ten years of giving up a nine-day period of my summer to volunteer as a staff member. Almost three entire months of my life I have spent at the ISU campus where our Girls State is held, yet the experience is entirely worth it (and I know my volunteerism pales in comparison to some of our staff members!). Only days before Girls Nation began this year, I was invited to serve on staff in place of a dear friend who is unable to attend this year. Without hesitation, I agreed to come and serve. Yet it seems as if the more I return to serve, the more indebted I feel to this organization.
The national mission of the American Legion Auxiliary focuses on service, not self. The Auxiliary gives each of us a chance to serve our veterans, our military, their families, and our communities. By donating our time to the Auxiliary and its programs, we are serving those who serve. I encourage all of this year’s Senators to Girls Nation to find their own way to give back to the American Legion Auxiliary. When this week ends and you return to your respective states, take what you have been given and share it. For some it might mean joining your local unit of the Auxiliary. For several, it might mean talking to the juniors in your high school and encouraging them to attend Girls State. Others of you might heed the call as I did and serve the ALA by means of volunteering at your own Girls States. Whatever your niche is, I encourage you to find it. It would be a shame if you kept all that you have experienced to yourself and not allowed it to enrich your life, your family, and your community. I have learned that although I might not ever wear a uniform, what I do makes a difference, and through my service I have the opportunity to influence the lives of hundreds of girls each year.

Katie Cochran

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