Wise Person Said: Michelle Santiago

Posted On: Monday, 18 December 2023

For decades, Michelle Santiago has been immersed in a life of volunteerism. As the American Legion Auxiliary chair of the Poppy and Community Service committees for Leonard H. Hawkins Post 156 in Bronx, N.Y., Santiago’s dedication to supporting veterans dates back to her teen years. It’s now become part of her day-to-day life. In addition to volunteering alongside her parents, brother, daughter, and niece — all members of The American Legion Family — she often seeks opportunities to support her community through other outreach opportunities. Here, Santiago shares her ALA story.
Who makes your American Legion Auxiliary membership possible?
My father, Richard F. Calbo, served in the Navy from 1964 to 1978, as a petty officer second class. We all became members under my father, who is currently serving as master-at-arms for The American Legion Department of New York. He’s been a member of The American Legion for more than 40 years, and my mom, MaryAnn Calbo, has been a member of the American Legion Auxiliary for more than 30 years. 
My brother, James Calbo, was recently elected commander of Squadron 1009 for the Sons of The American Legion in Yorktown Heights, N.Y. My daughter, Amanda Santiago, also is an ALA member.
When did you join the American Legion Auxiliary? 
I've been a member for a very long time … since I was 15 years old.
What were some of your earliest memories of being active in The American Legion Family? 
We used to always volunteer when we were young, helping my dad with his service with The American Legion in the Bronx. I remember marching in The American Legion parade, volunteering at the Bronx VA hospital, and wrapping gifts for veterans during Christmas.
How did those early experiences influence you? 
I used to love seeing the smiles on veterans’ faces when we would sit down with them and just be there for them. Today, that’s still very important in my life because I love taking care of people in need. A lot of our veterans just need someone to talk to them sometimes. And I still love putting a smile on their faces. People ask me all the time, ‘Why do you do all that if you don’t get paid for it?’ I don't need to get paid. It just warms my heart that I did something good out there to help people in need, especially our veterans.
What would you say to convince someone to start volunteering? 
It’s really important for everyone to try to volunteer, even if it’s an hour of your time. Any community service is helpful. Our service means a lot to veterans, many of whom are experiencing homelessness and dealing with a lot of medical issues. Nobody’s here to help them except organizations like The American Legion Family. Our government needs to do more to help them because they fought for this country to keep us safe. We also need to share more about The American Legion and American Legion Auxiliary because a lot of people don’t know about them. We need to spread the word because veterans really need our help. 
What do you enjoy most as an ALA member? 
My favorite experiences are related to people getting together and being there for each other, whether it’s walking during parades or volunteering at local VA hospitals. It’s all inspiring. Our members are very dedicated to what they do. I love being part of this community.

Veterans Affairs Voluntary Service connects ALA to veterans
The VAVS program supports recruitment and retention of a knowledgeable, diverse, and encouraged supplemental workforce of volunteers to assist in the delivery of VA health care.
  • Gain work experience
  • Learn new skills
  • Meet new people
  • Give something back
  • Serve others
  • Social interaction
  • Escort
  • Drivers
  • Clerical/computer
  • Information desk 
  • Red Coat Ambassador Program
  • Education
  • Outpatient assistance
  • Patient feeding
  • Guest relations
  • Chaplain service

ALA Mission

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.