(BPT) - This July, two teenage girls from every state in the country meet in Washington, D.C., for the 73rd annual American Legion Auxiliary Girls Nation. This one-week government-in-action leadership development program is designed to educate future leaders on U.S. government fundamentals and the rights, privileges and responsibilities of citizens.
The girls selected to go to ALA Girls Nation are chosen from week-long ALA Girls State programs in each state. The young women become 'senators' for a week and participate in mock political campaigns and debates, visit historical sites, and meet their real-life counterparts on Capitol Hill. For a number of the participants, the program's impact extends beyond the weeklong event: Many go on to serve in the military and credit ALA Girls Nation as their source of inspiration.
New ALA member and U.S. Army Capt. Virginia Clark, stationed at Fort Benning in Georgia, is an ALA Girls Nation alumna. Though she says she has always been patriotic, her experiences at ALA Girls State and ALA Girls Nation helped her realize she wanted to serve her country. 'Being around really motivated people made me realize I wanted to be around people who were spending their time doing things rather than looking for the next great party,' Clark said.
Reflecting on where she has been and where she is going, Clark says she owes it all to the American Legion Auxiliary. 'I wouldn't have gotten into West Point without ALA Girls State and ALA Girls Nation … I 100 percent owe, I think, my current life and my career - I met my husband at West Point - to the fact that I went to ALA Girls State and ALA Girls Nation.'
For some girls, the Washington, D.C., leadership program is their first opportunity to connect with peers with common interests. For others, it is the first time they encounter students whose perspective differs from their own. For all, it is a moment in time where similarities and differences come together to symbolize strength, democracy and freedom.
Former ALA Girls State and ALA Girls Nation attendee Allyson Snelling, who is attending the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, chose a career in the military because she 'loves everything it represents.' She adds, 'The values and lessons I've learned during my short time at West Point have made me a better person and leader.' Snelling said the program taught her the power of one voice and the importance of communicating with others. 'Being able to communicate with someone you may completely disagree with is becoming a lost art,' she said. 'ALA Girls Nation taught me that it doesn't matter if you agree; it matters that you understand.'
ALA Girls Nation alumnae have gone on to hold leadership roles in industries spanning government, media, education and law, and many have become high-ranking members of the military.
Notable alumnae include Jane Pauley, national media personality; Susan Bysiewicz, lieutenant governor of Connecticut; retired Lt. Gen. Michelle D. Johnson, former superintendent of the U.S. Air Force Academy and former Air Force aide to the President; Ann Richards, former governor of Texas; and Susan Porter-Rose, former chief of staff to First Lady Barbara Bush, among many others. ALA Girls Nation is proud to be a foundation of support to the future strong women of this great nation.
The American Legion Auxiliary (ALA) is a nonpartisan organization committed to advocating for veterans' issues, mentoring America's youth and promoting patriotism. They advance the mission of The American Legion, incorporated by Congress in 1919 as a patriotic veterans organization founded on four pillars: Veterans Affairs & Rehabilitation, National Security, Americanism and Children & Youth.