Sharon Stewart, Chairman
Making our communities better places in which to live is another core value put in action by Auxiliary members every day across this country. Whether hosting a stand-down to bring vital health and support services to homeless veterans or coordinating a send-off or welcome-home event for a deployed military unit, Auxiliary members are continuously at work in their communities, demonstrating the compassion and heart we have for those who serve our country and give so much. Community Service projects focus on enhancing the quality of life for veterans and their families.
A major outreach program of the Auxiliary since 1926, Community Service also demonstrates our long-standing commitment to supporting the work of American Legion posts and other organizations in providing assistance with blood drives, first aid and CPR training, child safety programs, support for women in shelters, and disaster and emergency preparedness programs. All community projects point toward improving life for our veterans and their families, and the most important Auxiliary Community Service projects involve making donations to and supporting shelters for homeless veterans. Working together, we can have a greater impact on our communities. In recent years, the Auxiliary has partnered with the Corporation for National and Community Service to make the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday—the third Monday in January—“a day on, not a day off” for service. Units and departments are encouraged to plan special projects that focus on veterans, military families, or children as part of this national day of service.
Hero Packs: Operation: Military Kids (OMK) is a partnership between the U.S. Army and 4-H and is centered around children and youth whose parents are deployed. OMK was launched in April 2005 and is a national initiative with local state chapters.
One of OMK’s signature programs is the Hero Pack program. These are backpacks filled with gifts and supplies relevant to children who are missing their deployed parents. One version is for 3- to 8-year-olds and the other version is for 9- to 18-year-olds. All Hero Packs contain fun and educational items to help kids stay connected with their deployed parents and help take their mind off the deployment. Items such as games, stationery, stamps, journals, disposable cameras, teddy bears, and thank-you notes are included. Hero Packs are provided free of charge to thank these children for the sacrifices they have made during their parents’ deployment. More than 47,000 hero packs have been distributed since 2004.
OMK also sponsors events such as Kids Canteen, where military kids can congregate and gain social support during the deployment period.
Visit www.operationmilitarykids.org for more information and for the contact information of your state OMK office.
Stand downs: Stand downs were started in 1988 by two Vietnam veterans. Named for a military term for a combat unit’s time to rest and recover while at war, today it is a grassroots effort to offer the same services to homeless veterans. According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, there are about 131,000 homeless veterans on the street on any given night.
Stand downs typically include food, shelter, clothing, health screenings, benefits counseling, and job counseling and referral services. The philosophy of a stand down is to give homeless veterans a hand up, not a handout. Stand downs are organized by self-appointed community
coalitions that take on the task of holding the event. Any group can decide to hold a stand down.
Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki has vowed to end homelessness among veterans within five years. Events like these are needed in our communities if this is to happen. The traditional stand down lasts three days, providing shelter and food throughout the event, and may provide services such as haircuts, healthcare screenings, vision and dental care, VA benefits counseling, substance abuse counseling, and legal services.
Welcome-home/send-offs: Welcome-home/send-off events are a way for Auxiliary units to say thank-you to servicemembers for their service to our nation. These are both celebrations as well as outreach events, often offering resources for OEF/OIF/OND combat servicemembers, veterans, and their families. These events may include free health screenings, benefits counseling, employment assistance, education support, and an introduction to community service providers.
Community Covenant Ceremonies: Community Covenant is an Army program designed to foster and sustain effective state and community partnerships with the Army to improve the quality of life for the military and their families. Signing ceremonies are formal commitments of support. There have been more than 450 ceremonies in all 50 states since April 2008, most occurring because people at the grassroots level took an interest and made them happen.
The American Legion Auxiliary encourages our members to get involved with Community Covenant ceremonies in their communities. Engaging
people raises awareness. It also sends the message loud and clear that ordinary Americans recognize the sacrifices being made by our service members and stand ready to assist their families here on the home front. What better way to express care and concern for our military and their families than by an outpouring of public community support? Learn how to host a signing in your community by visiting US Army Community Covenant webpage.