Sherri McGee is the current Department of Indiana Children & Youth chairman and served as the 7th District president, the first from her unit in 39 years. Following an ALA Mission Training event in Indianapolis earlier this year, McGee emailed national Auxiliary leadership, detailing her passion about the new direction on volunteers because her unit had lived it, and they know how it works.
McGee’s unit used to make 100% in membership, but that didn’t always translate to participation. Then it started to wane and so did participation under poor leadership. Members were unappreciated, ideas were ignored or shot down, gossip was an issue, and cliques existed, etc.
McGee, along with five other regular members, decided to refocus. They started doing new projects to increase interest and participation. They discussed membership but kept their focus on events and programs.
They weren’t afraid to try new things, and that helped bring in new people, new ideas, and new friends who became new members. As a result of their work, participation in the unit is up, and membership is growing. This is the first year they made a targeted goal date for membership in five years, and will get to 100%.
McGee tells Auxiliary magazine that their unit members are younger and bring with them the much needed Juniors who are our future.
What does it mean to you to be an ALA member?
I get to help serve our active-duty military, their families, veterans, and inform the local community about our organization and provide education. Having been a military wife and raised by a veteran, patriotism was a huge part of my life. I love my country and can’t think of a better way to do “my part.” Having a family who served made me aware of what was needed to give back and help.
You helped breathe new life into the unit where you belong. Tell us more about that.
Having low turnout at our meetings meant we weren’t doing anything to interest members. I introduced the ALA Americanism Essay Contest, and we fine-tuned it to interest local children. We decided to read all of our essays as a group, and everyone brought a breakfast dish, so we made it a fun event.
We have since done a Creative Arts Festival, 9/11 Coloring Contest, and 9/11 ceremony every year with the local police and fire departments. We keep adding new events every year and work well together to get it done.
Rumors and gossip can kill a unit, so we worked to stop it. This required refocus. I bought Auxiliary magnetic emblems, and I started focusing on the programs and how we should look when we participated at public events. Today, the members all get an Auxiliary magnet that makes every shirt official. If you ignore the negative and focus attention elsewhere, the negativity dies on its own because they are busy doing good work. Get them focused on the positive, and don’t give them time to gossip. Make your members feel useful and appreciated. “Thank you” goes a long way.
What advice would you give to units trying to do the same thing?
Find one event, and enlist everyone’s help. You have to make members feel appreciated and useful, or they will go somewhere else. People join because they want to do something useful and make a difference. Add events, and ask members for their ideas. Take “no” out of your vocabulary. Keep positive comments even if you can’t utilize their ideas.
Why is it important for eligible members to join the ALA?
My father, husband, ex-husband, son, grandfather, grandson, and daughter-in-law served. I know the problems they had — and have — and the programs in this organization all provide a way to support them. Members become Legion Family very quickly once they start working to support our Auxiliary programs. I lost a daughter-in-law who served because of her service. I need to do what I can to support the next person who has to deal with that. My son retired after 20 years’ service. They were married 19 years and served at the same time. The support he received during this time was amazing.
What is your favorite part about being an ALA member?
Meeting new people and hosting events. We held our first Creative Arts Festival this year, and we involved our entire Legion Family. The Auxiliary did the heavy lifting, but the day of the festival, we had everyone in our Legion post there to help. This truly cements the relationships every successful organization needs. I love growing our Legion Family, and watching us work together has been an amazing thing as we continue to grow.
What can ALA members do to make their membership matter?
Volunteer to help at your unit. Ask what you can do. Share ideas with the Auxiliary about things you think would be fun, and support our programs.
In the spirit of Service, Not Self, the mission of the American Legion Auxiliary is to support The American Legion and to honor the sacrifice of those who serve by enhancing the lives of our veterans, military, and their families, both at home and abroad. For God and Country, we advocate for veterans, educate our citizens, mentor youth, and promote patriotism, good citizenship, peace and security.