Saturday, July 26, 2014

Who Inspires You?

This week, our theme is, “Who Inspires You?” I knew that, so I don’t know why it came as a surprise to me that at our opening staff meeting, we were asked to briefly speak about a woman that inspires us. The first to respond was Director Trish Ward and then we went through the rest of the staff. Fortunately, I was more than halfway around the circle so I had time to think…and my mind started racing. Should I go with a family member or with a famous person? Who would be a unique enough response that I wouldn’t be repeating the others?

As the first few staff members spoke, I didn’t know who to mention as my source of inspiration. Maybe I should pull out a safe response from history. That could work, right? Should I say I am inspired by Margaret Thatcher, the first female Prime Minister in Great Britain? Regardless of whether or not one likes her policy choices, she was a very powerful and important woman and she defied many of the traditions of her time, regardless of what men, or other women, said about her. Not to mention, she is the one who once said that in politics, “If you want something said, ask a man; if you want something done, ask a woman.” How can a young lady not be inspired by that?!

But maybe someone else in the group would talk about Thatcher…who else could I pull from history that others might not mention? Oh, I could say I am inspired by Abigail Adams, First Lady to our second president. As we have learned from her letters, she was a strong supporter of women’s rights and wrote against slavery and racism. Eleanor Roosevelt? Margaret Chase Smith? So many choices!!

A lot of staff members mentioned they are inspired by their grandmothers, mothers and sisters. I am too, and could stand up to talk about my mom. Should I do that? My mom, who did not go to college herself, recognized the importance of education and instilled a thirst for knowledge in each of her four kids. All of us excelled in school, attended private colleges, and all four of us hold graduate degrees. Even when money was tight, we were always fed, clothed and happy. My parents have been married for 43 years this year, and that is also an inspiration for me when I think about my own future. But so many others said their mom, and I still wanted to be unique.

But maybe, I should stand up and talk about my sister? She is seven years older than I, and I have always looked up to her. Kelly serves as an Assistant Dean for the School of Pharmacy at her university. She works full time, but also has three children. Somehow she finds a way to balance her workload with taking care of her family, being active in the church, and offering advice to me, her baby sister, whenever I need it. Kelly is an amazing mom, a great dean, and the world’s best sister. She inspires me more than she probably will ever realize.

Or perhaps I should talk about someone in the American Legion Auxiliary who inspires me? I first met Ilene Bailey when I was a delegate to Hoosier Girls State. She was Government Director that year and, prior to her retirement this year, she served 45 years on HGS staff. As a junior in high school I could see how important she was to the HGS program, and serving alongside of her on staff for 12 years, I realized how important the program was to her. Although I doubt I will have that many years on staff, I understand the importance of giving back to the program that had a tremendous influence on my life. Or, I could talk about Vickie and Jane who were, when I first met them, my party leaders, but who are now the Director and Government Director at HGS respectively. Both of these ladies have become a part of my family and I look up to them and they inspire me to excel and serve.

Or maybe I should tell my fellow staff members how much they inspire me. We have so many people who are dedicated to the Auxiliary and to their Girls States programs. There are staff members who have been planning this year’s Girls Nation since the last session ended. We have eight junior counselors whose enthusiasm is frankly a little overwhelming, but certainly contagious. We have a PR staff that inspires us to laugh, have fun, and to eat ice cream. We have senior counselors that inspire me to remember why we serve. Our director has a vision for a Girls Nation program unlike any other from the past 67 years. My fellow government team inspires me to stay on top of things and believe in myself – and remind me that sometimes we need to “do something death defying.” My fellow turtles are fun to work with and inspire me daily.

Oh no - My time was running out and I still didn’t know who to mention as my source of inspiration. Maybe I should mention my students? I teach in Kansas City, MO, and I have a lot of non-traditional students. I am constantly inspired by the veterans and the single parents who are returning to school to get degrees. I have had a student who was formerly homeless, one who was sexually abused as a young girl, a domestic abuse survivor and so many more other situations that I cannot comprehend. Yet, they sit before me, eager to learn about how government works, and how to make a positive change in their world.

By the time it was my turn to speak, I was overwhelmed. I can’t remember what I said aloud that day, but I do remember feeling so thankful that I have so many points of inspiration in my life. And, the list of who inspires me has grown. All week I have seen, from among our 98 senators, young ladies who are incredible. From my vantage point on the stage at Senate, I have seen many of these ladies grow. Your questions, your debate, your conversations on the bus or in the lunch room…do you realize how unique you are in this world?

It has been a pleasure serving this week and I want to thank everyone for being such an inspiration!

Government in a half shell!

Katie Cochran

Friday, July 25, 2014

Government by the Numbers: Part 2

For those of you who enjoyed the Government by the Numbers blog…here are a few more numbers to share with you.

2014 Bills passed: 8
2014 Resolutions passed: 4
Number of senators who spoke on the floor this year at Girls Nation: 98 (every last one!!!)
Number of ice cream cones the PR staff actually ate this week: >47 and counting
Number of steps Jane, Kelly, and Katie walked on Capitol Hill Day (as per a pedometer): 22,080 steps!
Estimated number of miles that means we trekked: 9.48 miles
Estimated number of calories burned that day: 2,230 calories
Number of exhausted government staff members: 4

Government in a Half Shell! Voting Power!
Katie Cochran
Indiana / Missouri

The Nationalist Administration of ALA Girls Nation 2014

The votes have been cast. The tallies have been marked. The results have been announced. So now let us take the opportunity to dive a little deeper into the platform of our new fearless leaders.

First we look to education and recognize, to paraphrase Vice President Ogechi, that not all paths to success are the same. The Nationalist party sees the truth in these words and promotes vocational training as well as a decreased dependency on standardized test scores for school funding. It is not fair or realistic to ask students of varying backgrounds and socioeconomic standings to reach identical results in identical time frames without identical opportunity for learning both within and without the physical walls of the schoolroom as our president stated in her whistle stops.

Many of our senators, Federalist and Nationalist alike, come from agriculturally dependent states and, on occasion, families. For them we tackle the "big-small" issues head on. By big-small I mean big issues about physically small things. The Nationalist party will strive to educate their constituents on GMOs, protecting farm resources, and provide small farmers protection from search by large corporations.

The economic plank of our platform extends not only to opportunities at home but abroad as well. Steps will be taken to invest in the productive capacity of America and in that same stride we aim to create tax incentive structures so all start-up ventures can continue their innovation for years to come. Looking beyond our own borders our goals are to continue in the building of trade relationships with a desire for economic growth for our allies as well as ourselves in mind. The expansion of our own power generation capabilities will be accompanied by the lifting of the crude oil export ban in order to strengthen our energy sector and encourage future investments.

In continuing with the international theme presented in our Economic section the Nationalist Party moved focus to Foreign Policy. Our party has a strong and definitive position that nonintervention should be the first course of action. This would promote multilateral foreign policy efforts over unilateralism. Funds will be extended to bolster humanitarian aid in conflict zones and in post-conflict zones creating "administrative infrastructures, justice systems, and overall stability." At this juncture Economics and Foreign Policy cross. International economic development will be facilitated to decrease illicit activity and increase foreign investment.

Finally we reach the environment which is the final brick to be laid or rather plank to be platformed as the present situation commands. The movement for green energy and fewer emissions will be led by tax incentives for companies that elect to reduce emissions and for innovative manufacturers of green energy. We will look to the future with investment in renewable energy and the prohibition of oil drilling in National Parks and protected wild life areas to ensure that both our "Amber waves of grain" and "purple mountains majesty" will be here for generations to come. The Nationaliat party does stand in favor of the practice of hydraulic fracturing.

These five planks together form the 2014 Girls Nation Nationalist Party Platform. This week my faith in our generation has surged up. I feel so honored and blessed that you would all share your stories, convictions, and words with me. Congratulations to our newly elected dynamic duo President Sydney Roberts and Vice President Ogechi Obed. We know you will serve us well. Finally thank you Girls Nation Nationalists for allowing me the opportunity of chairing our our illustrious party. It has been the experience of a lifetime.


Hannah Moore
Nationalist Chairwoman

Potomac's Perspective on Capitol Hill Day

Today we finally experienced one of the most anticipated days here at American Legion Auxiliary Girls Nation: Capitol Hill Day. For many Girls Nation senators, myself included, this is our first time in Washington D.C. To be able to have such a comprehensive and all-access trip to Capitol Hill is a blessing and more than what most of us would experience on our first trip to D.C.

Not only were we graciously given the chance to have personal meetings with our Senators, Representatives, and their staff, many Girls Nation senators were granted special access to restricted areas of the Capitol. Tennessee Girls Nation senator Rebekah Ninan said, "Our senator, Bob Corker, wasn’t available to meet with us as long as he wanted to, but with the wave of a hand he got us a tour of the Capitol!" Other Girls Nation senators spent their time after their Senator appointments touring Smithsonian museums and the Botanical Garden or getting cards at the Library of Congress.

After all of the fun, the inauguration ceremony was held. Senior Counselor Sandra Rice presided over the swearing in of Girls Nation President Sydney Roberts and Vice President Ogechi Obed; Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Mara Tazartus, and her eight fellow justices. The ceremony was concluded with a speech given by U.S. Senator Heidi Heitkamp from North Dakota that cannot be described as anything less than inspiring. Heitkamp told us, "You are too young to give up on your dreams. You are too young to give up."

The day was finished by a productive and encouraging senate session presided over by both Vice President Obed as well as President Pro Tem Julia Nusgart, where debate topics included net neutrality, equal pay, and recycling. It was a long day, but one full of learning, fun, and once-in-a-lifetime experiences.

Mary Celeste Floreani, Texas

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Chevy Chase: The Change Begins With You

“Who inspires you?” This is the theme of Girls Nation 2014, and the events of this Tuesday have provided us with a plethora of new answers to this question.

Our first inspirations came in the morning, with the election of the Presidential and Vice-Presidential candidates. Overall, 38 extremely qualified young women ran for these positions, presenting speeches and answering difficult questions. Their speeches and responses collectively testified to the diversity of talent and passion we have here at Girls Nation. While many of us have common interests–government, politics, and public speaking among them–we are at the same time extremely unique, with our own gifts and talents, ideas and opinions. It was simply amazing to see so many girls have the courage to try out for such high offices, and even more amazing to hear what they had to say. Thank you to all who ran, and congratulations to our four final candidates–you are all truly inspiring.

Later in the afternoon, we had the opportunity to visit the United States National Holocaust Museum. While “inspiration” is certainly a word that comes to mind, we also walked away with newfound compassion, understanding, and hope. Having previously known about the tragic events of the Holocaust, going in we thought we had a general idea of what to expect. The reality of the experience surpassed all expectations. History textbooks could never have the same impact as a room full of victims’ shoes; school lectures could never convey the feeling of walking through a train car that dropped off individuals at concentration camps; writing essays could never compare to actual artifacts and to picture after haunting picture. “The change begins with you” was a phrase found throughout the museum, reminding visitors that we must work to fight against hatred, prejudice, and ignorance, to ensure that a horrible tragedy like the Holocaust will never happen again. We honor the victims, the survivors, and those who risked their own lives to help other people. May we always have the courage to stand up against injustice, and to stand with the oppressed.

Finally, after returning to campus, Girls Nation was honored with a visit from holocaust survivor, Nesse Godin. You could hear a pin drop in the large auditorium, as Nesse described her experiences in Nazi controlled Lithuania and work camps. As she concluded her remarks, Nesse reminded the senators: “We cannot change what was, but we can change what is and what will be.” Nesse inspired every senator and staff member in attendance to never forget the horrors of the holocaust, and to vigilantly stand guard against discrimination, persecution, and hatred.

Senator Margaux Fontaine, RI

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

“Are you hungry?” - Reflections from Walter Reed

Although these may seem like three simple words, the conversation that followed that simple question will forever leave an impact on my life. As Dean of Junior Counselors at ALA Girls Nation, this is my third year of participation in not only Girls Nation, but also the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center Picnic. However, Monday night was unlike any other picnic I have ever attended.

As a staff member, my purpose at GN is to enhance and stimulate the experience of each senator. While at Walter Reed, this meant keeping an eye on the senators and allowing each one of them to interact with a wounded warrior. I saw a young man walking by the courtyard, whose eyes gazed to the sea of red polos that engulfed the area. When our eyes locked, I asked him, “Are you hungry?” Similar to most males, he quickly replied, “Of course, I’m always hungry for good barbeque.” As he walked closer, he asked if I would join him for dinner, so I complied. When we had made our way through the food line, we found two empty seats near the doors of the medical facility across the cobblestone road. As we ate dinner and discussed hobbies, interests, family, and school, I finally felt comfortable enough with the young man to ask him his age. When he replied with the age of 19, I was in absolute shock. There I sat, a twenty-year-old young woman feeling like I was in the prime of my life, and there was Patrick. Patrick was not only a young man, but he was a patriot who has dedicated his life to defending the very freedom I enjoy every single day of my life. He had a spirit that could ignite a light within anyone’s soul.

When the senators began their performance of the Armed Forces Medley, the conversation fell silent between Patrick and I while they sang. After the song had ended, I looked to Patrick and I saw the strong young warrior was filled with pride, seriousness and emotion. He proceeded to ask if our group would be returning the following day, and when I told him no, he seemed to be disappointed. After the senators sang, he asked me all types of questions about the week, my experience at GN, but perhaps most intriguing, Patrick asked me why I continue to return to Girls Nation. Although the young man asked this question out of genuine curiosity, he will never realize the impact his question made on my life.

When I think about the reasoning behind leaving my home state of Oklahoma for 10 days, hopping on a plane (only to get stranded at the airport), spending a week sleep deprived, and worrying about the safety of 98 girls, I know that I (and all other staff members) sound just a bit crazy. However, when Patrick asked me this question, I was forced to dig deep and look for the real answer. I realized that I return to ALA Girls Nation because of the senators. As a Junior Counselor, I have the unique opportunity to watch each girl grow and mature into an empowered young woman in just seven short days. I have the chance to interact with each and every senator that comes to ALA Girls Nation, and watch their lives be changed by the American Legion Auxiliary.

Patrick will never realize the impact he had on my life during our 30-minute conversation, but he left footprints on my heart. He taught me to live each day to the fullest, to never forget where I came from, laugh everyday, and always live with a smile on your face and love in your heart.

Jessie Heidlage (OK), Dean of Junior Counselors

A Perspective on Monday at ALA Girls Nation from the Community of Foggy Bottom

With the rise of the sun, the staff members and ninety-eight sleepy senators began a new day at Girls Nation. Opening with the daily flag raising ceremony, the senators were buzzing with anticipation about the day ahead of us. We started the day by taking the official 2014 Girls Nation picture. Each pair of senators was given a sign displaying the name of their respective state. Excitement was evident among the gleaming smiles of every senator in the photo with many of them describing the experience of holding their state’s sign as one of absolute pride and triumph.

Following a scrumptious breakfast, we divided into our two parties, Nationalists and Federalists, and continued working on the committees regarding our party’s platform, theme, campaign and conventions. With innumerable different upbringings and perspectives from all throughout the country, many girls explained these committees as a testament to bipartisanship that truly displayed the success that comes through compromise. Senators enjoyed creating planks for their party platform, decorations for their party rallies as well as skits and cheers designed to promote their candidates.

After learning about many aspects of our nation’s federal government, we all boarded the bus and drove to the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center to enjoy a barbeque with some of our country’s wounded warriors. During the bus ride, we sang funny little songs about bananas and burritos to entertain ourselves while we waited to arrive. While at Walter Reed, senators were able to interact and connect with some of the bravest men and women in our country and their families. Many of these veterans are young parents so we were also given the opportunity to entertain their young children. Girls Nation senators conducted activities including patriotic face painting, bean bag toss games, sand art and applying temporary tattoos. Conversing with the patients at Walter Reed really opened the eyes of many of us to how amazing our armed forces truly are. We came to realize that these people are such a blessing to our entire nation; the sacrifices they made are the ones that ensure our freedom every day. Additionally, it was incredibly moving to see how much our visit affected the men and women of the hospital. We sang many patriotic tunes for the veterans including the Tribute to Our Armed Forces. Singing this song was so impactful for many girls because we could see the joy it elicited when an individual heard the song for his or her branch of the military. Overall, it was an amazing experience to meet the real life heroes we hear about each day but never get to see; it made us realize how similar these people are to us and how human they truly are.

Today also marked the day of the first official session of Girls Nation Senate. We discussed three different bills and one resolution that covered many different topics including employment, congressional representation and foreign affairs. Although all of the girls here at Girls Nation know a bit about parliamentary procedure from their experiences earlier this summer, everyone’s knowledge of the topic varies since every Girls State program is run differently. The confusion that occurred today on the Senate floor acted as a driving force that united Girls Nation since everyone there was learning together. Girls were a bit nervous about speaking and debating during the Senate session but many of them joined the discussion with well-written bills and eloquent speeches. One girl even described the Senate as a culture shock because she had never been “surrounded by so much brilliance in a single room.”

Overall, it was an engaging, educational and enlightening day. It seems unlikely but somehow Girls Nation has provided us with once in a lifetime experiences and deep friendships that typically take years to acquire in a matter of days. We would like to thank the extraordinary women of the American Legion Auxiliary who made this program possible and provided us with such an amazing opportunity.

Maddy Ducharme, CA
Foggy Bottom

Monday, July 21, 2014

Alexandria: Reflections on Arlington and Girls Nation

With just one full day of Girls Nation under our belts, we have learned and experienced many military service related practices and ceremonies. From last night’s poppy ceremony, to the time we will spend with veterans in the following days, as Girls Nation senators we are encouraged to honor veterans in our own ways, here in DC and at home.

The trip to The Arlington National Cemetery was a moving, and humbling experience. Girls Nation, as part of the American Legion Auxiliary, focuses on honoring those who have served our country, through remembrance and service. We found one the most awe inspiring moments was the opportunity we had to lay handmade paper poppy corsages on the grave of a solider of our choosing. From soldier’s plots, to larger family markers, 98 girls honored over 98 amazing heroes. This idea was carried over from the wreath laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. One of our own Alexandria community members was given the honor of participating in the ceremony itself, placing a wreath that had been decorated by the Girls Nation senators the night before. Both this special ceremony and the Changing of the Guard were powerful reminders of the price of our freedom.

As our day continued on, and Senate began, we began to select leaders and discuss legislation that will shape the nation we form in this coming week. Senators have started speaking out, campaigning for elected positions and participating in Senate sessions. The Community of Alexandria has found that as we begin to voice our opinions, our diversity is just as uniting as what we have in common, and we hope the experiences we have will continue to prove this over and over again. This week we hope to make friendships that will change our lives in a positive way and that will empower us to be powerful and world changing women. We are gathered for just one week, but we are learning skills that will help shape the rest of our future. We thank the amazing women of our community, the state American Legion Auxiliary units, and the national American Legion Auxiliary for this investment in our lives, and we promise to do our very best to be the biggest dividend you will ever get back.

Alex Brock, TX and Maggie Guetersloh, NM

Sunday, July 20, 2014

The ALA Girls Nation Government Office: By the Numbers

A few numbers to give you an idea of what happens at American Legion Auxiliary Girls Nation:

Girls Nation Senators: 98

Girls Nation Staff members: 33

Girls Nation Government Staff members: 4

Coincidentally, the number of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: 4

2014 Bills Docketed: 40

2014 Resolutions Docketed: 3

2014 Joint Resolutions Docketed: 1

Days between the first bill arriving in our hands and all the bills being finished: 42

Emails sent regarding legislation during that time: 577

Pages used to copy the bills (just on 7/17 alone): 5,600

Pages used to copy the resolutions: 392

Miles traveled by Yumi to get to Girls Nation this year (the farthest of the government staff): 2,806

Number of years ALA National President Nancy Brown-Park has been waiting to come to Girls Nation: 40

Number of times we expect to hear “Senator, you are out of order” this week: 52

Number of paper cuts the government staff averages daily: 3

Number of selfies expected to be taken by staff and senators: 2,941

Number of hours of sleep the government staff averages daily: not enough

Number of times ice cream should be available this week for the senators: 14

Number of ice cream cones we expect the PR staff to eat: 47

Number of high-fives from Sandra: 76

Number of girls who will leave on Saturday 7/26 wishing the week wasn’t over, promising to keep in touch, and desperately in need of sleep: 98

Number of staff members, glad the week is over, desperately in need of sleep, but reassured that our 98 senators will go home and change their worlds: 33 - Every last one!

Katie Cochran
Government Staff

PS – Number of shout outs to send to Addison (former Girls Nation): 1 :)

Spring Valley: We are the 98

What can you deduce about ALA Girls Nation after twelve hours, give or take? So far for the girls of Spring Valley and Room 5206, the answer is a whole lot.

Over the course of roughly two meals, three snacks, one assembly, and a few hours of free time, it is already abundantly clear that Girls Nation is a group of incredibly talented, exceptionally passionate, and thrillingly enthusiastic young women. Each young woman is equipped with amazing ability. In our community meeting alone, the girls encompassed the entire gamut of skills and talents. From drama to self- defense, from archery to foreign language, and from public speaking to running marathons, we represent a diverse group of talent.

In addition, we all share an undeniable passion. We are Girls Nation, and as we were officially sworn in as senators tonight, we embraced a new unity. We are 98 women dedicated to making a difference and using our talents for the good of our nation, and we believe that our nation’s future is in great hands. We wear 98 poppies. We are 98 legacies for those who have given their lives in service to our country, and we are proud to carry out the patriotism and liberties that they fought and died to protect, as we were reminded in tonight’s poppy ceremony. We are 98 voices, raised to celebrate our country in harmony (thanks to our choir rehearsal time under the leadership of Ms. Dana). So what can we deduce about Girls Nation after about twelve hours, give or take? We are an amazing group of young women, honored to be representing our respective states. Most importantly, we are absolutely ecstatically thrilled to be here and unbelievably excited for the week to come as we define our Girls Nation and celebrate our beautiful America. We are the 98 senators of Girls Nation 2014.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Lights, camera, action!

It’s Arrival Day here at Girls Nation 2014 and before the posts, tweets, and hashtags start flying and the flash bulbs popping, take a moment to meet the ladies behind the keyboards and cameras—this year’s ALA Girls Nation Public Relations Staff!

Stacy Poca: Digital Dynamo & Social Solutionist. Our Public Relator-in-Chief, Stacy Poca, comes to us from the American Legion Auxiliary’s national headquarters in Indiana where she works as the Creative Communications Specialist. Stacy joined the ALA National Headquarters staff in 2012 and is serving her third year at ALA Girls Nation. Stacy's background includes nearly 15 years of experience working with nonprofits and higher education. This week she will be working on a take-home photo memory book for the senators and serve as our primary on-site and phone press contact. Stacy manages to do all of this while jogging, constantly—she truly is a jog-photography specialist!

Kendall Madsen: Big Shot Photo Taker. Kendall is our resident photo perfectionist. Back home in Costa Mesa, California, she runs a professional photography and graphic design business (when she’s not surfing, of course). Kendall is in the right place at the right time, every time. Throughout the week you will see her perched on railings, climbing monuments, and peaking behind secret service to get the best shot possible of our senators in action. Kendall will also be working on the take-home photo memory book and will lead the social media etiquette and education effort for the week. Keep your eyes peeled for the rare photo with her in the frame; she won’t be difficult to spot sporting her bright pink press hat!

Dana Thoreson: News Hound & WannaBe Senator. Dana joins the team from Devils Lake, North Dakota, where she works as a special education kindergarten teacher. She has been a member of the American Legion Auxiliary since she was 2 years old! She is currently the North Dakota Girls State Director and has been involved in the ND program for 14 years and director for the past six. This week she will be crafting press releases, fielding media requests and handling all of our guest speakers. Unfortunately the PR Staff has to share her with the Girls Nation Choir but she will without a doubt bring both of her roles into harmony.

Mia Lincoln: Token Youth & Videologist. It’s Mia’s first year on the PR Staff but it’s not her first Girls Nation rodeo. Mia attended Girls Nation as one of the senators from California in 2008 and returned as a JC in 2010 and Dean of JC’s in 2012. While the glitter decorations and sparkly cape days are (mostly) behind her, the PR Staff felt it needed to bring in some of that millennial talent. Mia will help with press releases, create an end of the week memory video, and interview the senators about their experiences over the course of the week. She will also be working on something ALL millennials are innately good at—social media and blogging—because omg lol #GirlsNation is totes amaze.

Tune in to all of our social media platforms (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and of course, this blog) for entertainment and updates throughout the week.

Technical note: We will negotiate posting certain photos in exchange for ice-cream, coffee, and chocolate, but mostly ice-cream.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Meet Your Government Staff!

Back from left: Yumi and Jane. Front from left: me (Katie) and Kelly.

Well folks, the girls are about to arrive. I know they are excited, but perhaps their parents and loved ones might be a little nervous. Let me reassure you, we are all trained professionals!
:o) Just kidding. Actually, part of what makes this so great is that, at least here in the government staff, we aren’t full time ALA Girls Nation gurus – we are regular people who recognize the power of this particular program and volunteer our time to ensure its success.

I can’t introduce the whole staff, but I will take some time to let you know who is who in the government office. And yes, we do have a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles theme this year…

Jane, like Leonardo, is our fearless leader. We know she is fearless because she taught elementary school students for 35 years (but she only looks 29!!). Now, as a retired educator, she fills her time living life at a slower pace. She stays active in the American Legion Auxiliary and is the incoming department Legislative chairman for Indiana. Although devoted to her grandchildren, she is also dedicated to Hoosier Girls State (where she serves as the Government director) and to Girls Nation (where she is the Operations Manager for Government and the Federalist Party Leader). She also just started taking yoga classes!

Yumi (Raphael) is a new government recruit from San Francisco, California. Yumi provides a host of legal experience and will start her week running the Girls Nation senate. She will also be assisting the Federalist Party this year. Yumi is heavily involved in California Girls State and has been on staff there for eight years. She is a fan of musical theatre, although she cannot sing, nor dance. Instead, her talents are in percussion and she was the first female drum captain at Irvine High School. Now, she plays drums for an all-lawyer jazz trio called Short Term Memory. She currently works at an entertainment and intellectual property boutique law firm.

Kelly (Michelangelo) joins our staff this year from Colorado (by way of Kansas). A “recovering” lawyer, she now is involved in education serving as the Dean of Instruction at Red Rocks Community College. Kelly is working on her PhD in Higher Education and her dissertation focuses on veterans in higher education. In her free time she runs the steps at the Red Rocks amphitheater. While in Kansas, Kelly was the Second District President of the Auxiliary and is currently serving on the Constitution and Bylaws committee. At Girls Nation, Kelly will be helping in the senate as the technical guru, and in party meetings she will be the Assistant Nationalist Party Leader. A fun fact is that she was a Good Do Bee on Romper Room!

Katie (Donatello) – that’s me. I am from Indiana (but currently live in Missouri). This is my second year on the Girls Nation Government Staff where this year I will be the Nationalist Party Leader (Go Nats!!) and I will be the Legislative Assistant. In the real world I teach American Government and Political Science at the collegiate level, so I feel that I carry the torch of Girls State with me year round. I have served on Girls State staff for thirteen years and feel Hoosier Girls State is the best program in the land. In my free time I love to travel, bake and quilt. A bucket list goal of mine is to visit all seven continents.

Collectively, we will guide our 98 senators through the week and do our best to teach them all that we can about how our federal government operates. To our senators, we know there will be a lot to learn, but we promise it will be fun. Whenever you feel overwhelmed, take a breath, smile, and remember, we are all in this together!

“Government in a half-shell….Voting Power!”

Katie Cochran

“Who inspires you?”

Tomorrow, 98 young women from across the country, two from each state excluding Hawaii, will descend on our nation’s capital. They are coming to Washington D.C. to represent their states as senators in one of the American Legion Auxiliary’s most prestigious programs: American Legion Auxiliary Girls Nation. Over the course of their seven-day leadership, civic engagement, and mock government experience, they will be asked and challenged to ask one another, “Who inspires you?” This question and the process of asking and answering it is the theme of ALA Girls Nation 2014.

And trust me—they are inspired. They’ve demonstrated it, making it through the highly competitive selection processes imposed by their respective states; they’ve showcased it, letting their confidence, determination, and intelligence shine; and they’ve earned it, working through their doubts, insecurities, and fear of the unknown (or in some cases flying) to give themselves this once in a lifetime opportunity. Undertaking all of that requires a certain amount of inspiration, but where does it come from? Who inspires them?

It could be anyone. For some it may be a family member who is selflessly serving our nation in the military. For some it may be one of the twenty women currently serving our nation in the US Senate or one of the 79 serving in the US House of Representatives. It might even be 2016's all-but-confirmed woman presidential candidate, Hilary Clinton. For others it may be an immigrant relative who has given them the opportunity to live in this country or someone they know who is struggling mightily to live here themselves. Teachers, grandparents, government leaders, celebrities—these are all potential sources of inspiration.

The American Legion Auxiliary Girls Nation Chairman, Trish Ward, is passionate about the “Who is your inspiration?” theme. She believes that it will be meaningful for the senators because, “When you’re 17 years old, a lot of people inspire you for a lot of different reasons—you’re just starting out. I hope ALA Girls Nation will show these young women that they can derive inspiration from people of diverse cultures, backgrounds, and professions—people in the public sector, the arts, and in their very own communities.”

I asked Trish who she is inspired by. Without hesitation she said, “Nancy Brown-Park, 2013-2014 American Legion Auxiliary National President.” When asked why, Trish shared, “Nancy has an innate ability to reach people on a human level in a purely genuine way. She accepts everyone for who they are and encourages everyone she encounters to be themselves, whoever that is. That’s the type of leadership that inspires me.”

At this year’s ALA Girls Nation we will ask the senators to reflect on their inspiration, to share it, and to channel it into each of the challenging tasks and moments they are sure to experience while here. The American Legion Auxiliary believes that these young women are up to the challenges and that they will debate, innovate, and collaborate until they overcome them. The senators will leave here with the skills, confidence, and inspiration—old and new—to tackle the much greater challenges and opportunities that await this next generation of women leaders.

The senators have been chosen and they’re on their way. Be sure to follow them through their week on this blog! Learn who inspires them and share #whoinspiresyou!

Mia Lincoln, ALA Girls Nation PR staff member
2008 Girls Nation Senator
2010 Junior Counselor
2011 Dean of Junior Counselors

Thursday, July 17, 2014

The Wonderful World of ALA Girls Nation

Welcome to the 68th American Legion Auxiliary Girls Nation session! We know it hasn’t officially started, but we wanted to be among the first to welcome you. To the 98 girls who will be arriving soon – buckle up, it is going to be a wild whirlwind of a week.

Perhaps one analogy to use (which seems fitting as our Girls Nation national chairman is from Kansas) is that you are about to enter the world of Oz. The beginning will be much like the tornado that Dorothy experienced. Your tornado-ish schedule will be filled by registrations, convocations, choir rehearsals, reflections, Senate sessions, and of course, ice cream. But just as she found herself in a whole new world, so will you.

Although you are arriving with brains, heart, and courage…this week you will get more of each. Hopefully, throughout the week you will find yourself gaining more knowledge about how our federal government works. You will be learning about our nation’s history. And, through the daily Senate sessions, you will be learning more about issues facing our nation and our world.

For heart? Following this week, you should find yourself becoming a more passionate and compassionate person as you meet a Holocaust survivor, veterans at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, and your community, who becomes a family.

Who can forget the cowardly Lion in The Wizard of Oz? He discovers that he had courage all along, and so will many of you. Your courage might be traveling hundreds of miles from home for the first time, or it could be when you give a speech in front of all of ALA Girls Nation. Either way, we hope you find an inner strength and that you take that back to your schools and home towns.

We hope that there are no visits from the Wicked Witch of the West or her flying monkeys…but we will be graced with wonderful munchkins who have been working for months to prepare for this session: the office staff, the PR staff, the good witch Glenda (whom you may know as Ariel), the junior and senior counselors, the transportation folks, the IT miracle workers, and all the others.

Collectively, we will help you on your journey through Oz. It seems so far away now, but when you are ready to head home on the 26th, we hope you realize, there is no place like home – but, there is also no place like ALA Girls Nation.

The Great and Powerful Oz (but please pay attention to the ladies behind the curtain!!!)
AKA the 2014 Government Staff (Jane, Katie, Kelly, Yumi)