Friday, July 28, 2017

Gaining New Appreciation for Public Service After White House Visit

Our fifth day in Washington, D.C. was an experience the group of us will share for life.

The morning began bright and early. As the ladies of Chevy Chase raised the flag, anticipation grew for the two party rallies. In passionate shows of blue and yellow, the Nationalist and Federalist parties rallied around their candidates for ALA Girls Nation president and vice president. Nationalist "Wonder Women" Melody Wang and Danica Moon and Federalist sports stars Bella Randle and Robyn Anzulis delivered excellent speeches that displayed their ideas, their hearts, and their desire to make a positive difference in the lives of their constituents. Each continued to address our most pressing questions and concerns, including identifying their spirit animals during whistle stops. The democratic process culminated as one hundred of us used all that we had seen of the candidates over the past two days to vote for our next president. (Yours truly held the ballot box with pride, congratulating all on their show of political efficacy.)

At 11:45 a.m., the "not so Secret Service" entered the Senate chamber to announce that the Nationalist duo, Melody and Danica, had won the election. Cheers issued from both sides of the aisle in a moment of pride for all in the room: Pride in ourselves, and pride in our sisters that poured themselves into the last two days. This announcement was the perfect catalyst to the event that, for many of us, will define our week here in D.C. Mirror space was the hottest commodity as we ran back and forth, in and out of rooms, to prepare for our visit to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. A storm of straighteners, eyeliner, and lipstick raged across the hallways as each of us started to realize the momentous nature of the coming hours.

After going through the never-ending security line, we prepared to meet the President of the United States. But I don't think any of us could prepare for the surrealism that came over the Rose Garden when President Trump emerged from the White House. The group of us could not get any closer to each other when he walked up into the risers for a group picture that will grace at least 100 Instagram feeds for weeks to come. The ensuing period of interaction and speech-listening will not be remembered for the heat of the day, but for the awe that united us all in the presence of the leader of the free – which has empowered many of us to picture ourselves addressing future years of Nation senators.

The day ended with a viewing of Twilight Tattoo at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall. In a captivating display, members of the The 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard) demonstrated the changing nature of the Army's involvement over the years. Though uniforms and style of fighting have evolved, the commitment to the protection and preservation of the free nation we call home has not.

In truth, the life-changing nature of this day would not be possible without the dedication and sacrifice of the thousands that have passed, and will pass, through Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall. Myself and my sister senators extend a humble thank you to all those that give their time, their passion, and their all so that we have the chance to meet the Commander-in-Chief.

Day five of ALA Girls Nation is the beginning of a new appreciation for the office of the President of the United States. While the office isn't all sunshine, it is one that we can all respect and rally behind in the hope that we will be the generation to be the change the world wishes to see.

Aaryan Morrison, Indiana
Alix Hess, Michigan

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Holocaust Museum Stirs Senator to Act

     The Holocaust museum was a powerful, heavy-hitting experience. The museum forces you to empathize with the survivors and victims, and puts you in their place. This creates an environment that is somber; nonetheless, the lessons that the experience teaches you and things you learn about yourself from the museum are poignant and important. Personally, after my time at the Holocaust Museum, I was even more passionate about the rights of the individual and my belief in fair and impartial application of the law.

     These beliefs were perfectly tied into the resolution I presented before the Senate later in the day. My co-senator and I delegated the task of presentation and debate – I handled the debating and the rebuttal, whereas she was the speaker and presenter. It worked extremely well for us. She was able to present a compelling introductory speech as to why our resolution (which was expressing the will of the Senate that the rights of privacy and due process are to be upheld and we should discourage acts that infringe upon these rights) should be passed. As senators who disagreed with our resolution questioned and argued, I was able to rebut their points through logic and evidence. Our resolution ended up passing 78-20-2, the highest amount of affirmative votes on a resolution bill thus far! Other girls presented bills about holidays and vaccinations, which also passed. We finished up the day with reflections; this was a meaningful and beautiful time of reflection and bonding among the citizens of my community.

Sophie Boulter
Chevy Chase

Recap of Day 4 of ALA Girls Nation from Rockville Senator

     Straight after flag raising we, the ALA Girls Nation senators, broke up into our political parties to vote on presidential nominees and prepare for our party rallies. The nominees were well-versed on all the issues, and the Nationalist party had a tough choice deciding between the candidates. In the end we selected Senators Melody Wang and Danica Moon to represent our party in the election, and we are highly confident in their political abilities. After our incredibly intriguing round of voting we split up to make posters and work on cheers. As Nationalists we believe that comedy is by far the best medicine, and our posters were not lacking in that department. After our party caucuses we headed out to lunch, and then loaded on the bus for our trip to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Jade Sewell

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

ALA Girls Nation Government by the Numbers

All stats are calculated for the 71st session of ALA Girls Nation

Number of states represented at ALA Girls Nation this year: 50

Number of senators at ALA Girls Nation: 100

Number of senators named Isabella (or a variation thereof): 4       
Number of bills docketed: 41

Number of resolutions docketed: 7

Number of joint resolutions docketed: 1

First legislation submitted: 7 June (Thanks SD!)

Last legislation submitted: 19 July

Total days government staff (well, just me!) spent revising legislation: 42 days! 

Emails I exchanged during this process: 456, or 10.86 emails a day

Committees to discuss all legislation: 6 (all committee work done Sunday night)

Pages of Legislation printed: 6,370 – so far

Number of ALA Girls Nation Government Staff members who ROCK and are excited for a great week: 4

Raising our gavels to a great week! 
Katie Hendricks 
Indiana / Missouri 
Government Staff

Monday, July 24, 2017

Iowa Senator Turns Detours Into Learning Experiences

     Only one day into ALA Girls Nation and I know that my life has already been changed. I am Olivia Cowart from Iowa, and I have never had the opportunity to come out this far east to our Nation’s Capital – let alone be surrounded by so many inspiring girls.

     It was truly an emotional experience watching the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. I thought of all the people buried in Arlington National Cemetery – people I have never met nor heard of – but how we were connected by one overarching passion for freedom and unity.

     Through my ALA Girls State and, so far, ALA Girls Nation experience, there have been detours that seem to arise out of nowhere. From what I have learned, government is not an easy topic. People are passionate about what they believe in and also have the intelligence to communicate their ideas effectively, which is what makes this experience so difficult. But, that is also the heart of what makes this experience so life changing. To be surrounded by girls who possess grace, passion, and critical thinking skills for real life topics is something I don’t get to experience much back home. So, I value being able to have this experience, but what I value even more is to be able to be seen as a girl worthy of being here. It is truly incredible to be able to participate, be heard, questioned, and understood. That’s where I feel I change most as a person – by being able to contribute to this great experience.

Olivia Cowart
Spring Valley

Appreciating a Life-Changing Week by Paying It Forward

     It seems nearly unbelievable that yet another year of ALA Girls Nation senators have descended upon Washington, D.C. I was privileged enough to be one of the Florida senators in 2014 and am so grateful for the chance to serve on the staff again in the capacity of dean of junior counselors. In a way, I consider it “paying it forward”; my life was completely changed when I got the chance to attend this program, so I make it my mission to perform to the best of my ability so that these senators may have as life changing a week as I did. At the core of this program is a commitment to do better every single year and that is evident in the alumna of ALA Girls Nation.

     At this turning point in history, one that is wrought with political discourse and often times lacking faith for the future, ALA Girls Nation has me feeling confident. This group of young women doesn’t understand how special they are and the incredible difference they’re going to make in the world. If being a junior counselor has taught me anything, it is that each person has the capacity to make a difference in some way and that it is our job to help the senators realize they have this awesome potential. There is nothing more gratifying as a staff member than watching these young women attain tangible growth and come out on the other end of this week as a different person. What better way to measure the strength and legacy of a program like ALA Girls Nation than to see growth that goes beyond their week here, and witness change that causes them to go home a stronger person with more passion for her country and more motivation to make a difference? ALA Girls Nation is good in the sense that it’s a week full of riveting debates, heated elections, and inspiring tours. ALA Girls Nation is great in the sense that it becomes a legacy of more patriotic citizens, distinguished leaders, and lifelong friendships. 

     From the outside looking in, it can be nearly impossible to understand what this program truly means; once you’ve gone through it, it is even more impossible to imagine how your life would have been without it. ALA Girls Nation is so much more than a week, it is the beginning of a journey that takes America’s best and brightest women each year to previously unimagined heights. I am so excited for the 2017 senators to get to experience the week that inspired my passion for leadership and service, made me realize how important it is to serve those who’ve served our country, and gave me some truly invaluable friendships.

     My biggest piece of advice would be to let this week have the effect it has had on so many alumna by pouring yourself into it. That means being unafraid to grow, even if there are challenges along the way. It is those of us who aren’t afraid to push ourselves outside our comfort zone that will reap the benefits. Most importantly, remember the lessons you learn this week and the perspective you gain will be instrumental in shaping you as a strong female leader.  Some people might not be optimistic about the United State’s future or question how we’ve become so divided as a nation. These are people who haven’t been lucky enough to meet an ALA Girls Nation senator – a young woman who will, without a doubt, use what she learned to be a force of change in the world. 

Morgaan Jessell
Dean of Junior Counselors, Spring Valley

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