ALA California Girls State teaches young girls about the importance of honoring veterans. Each year, citizens and staff wear Honoring Their Service buttons during the session in June. The program asks that “Everyone Honors Someone.” Even if they do not have a family member who served, citizens choose people who served and who inspire them.
The Honoring Their Service buttons were started when I was ALA national Membership Committee chairman under National President Kris Nelson in 2011-2012, and the project continues today,” said Trish Ward, ALA California Girls State city liaison and 2022-2023 national Veterans Affairs & Rehabilitation Committee chair.
While serving as ALA Girls Nation chairman under then-National President Nancy Brown-Park in 2014, we had the idea to make honor buttons for the ALA Girls Nation senators and staff. The ALA California Girls State leadership team and California ALA Girls State Alumnae Foundation aligned to enable the project to occur at ALA California Girls State.”
The project is twofold.
By engaging with the citizens about who they would like to honor, we uncover membership eligibility among many participants who would not have realized they are eligible for ALA membership,” Ward said. “The ask is to honor a family member, friend, teacher, or famous American and starts a conversation with our young citizens about who in their family may have served.”
When a citizen is eligible for members, a sparkly red, white, or blue star is placed on their button.
The girls enjoy speaking about their selection and hearing from others each day at flag raising. Each girl submits a story so all citizens can recognize the importance of the stories and hear their words of “why” they are honoring the individual on their button.
“It is incredibly moving to hear citizens speak of family members whom they barely knew or a famous American who served to defend freedom,” Ward said.
“We have had many citizens reach out to us and ask for additional buttons so they can share with their parents or siblings,” Ward continued. “They wear their buttons on Veterans Day and Memorial Day, so even after the ALA California Girls State experience is completed, the citizens continue to wear their button in remembrance. I witnessed one citizen, who, when presented with the button of her beloved grandfather, started sobbing. We touch their hearts on a very personal level when we connect someone special in their lives with the ALA California Girls State experience.”
Trish Ward with Honoring Their Service buttons
Making the buttons isn’t difficult, Ward said, but getting organized is critical. It’s important to articulate the ask and explain the project in messaging that goes to citizens — early and often.
The button project is underwritten by the California ALA Girls State Alumnae Foundation, so the basic cost of supplies and materials is covered. Assuring that all citizens participate and that their buttons are as perfect as possible is their goal.
“Whatever we can do to understand who is eligible and engage for membership is critical to our organization’s future growth,” Ward said. “Understanding and educating our young citizens helps us make sure we’re doing everything we can to make ALA California Girls State successful and doing our part to help membership growth. We’re also grateful to play a role in helping our citizens understand those in their family who have served, as well as enabling them to honor someone who maybe they didn’t know served. It’s very heartwarming to read their stories and hear their passion about why they chose their person to honor, and it makes us feel like our program is elevating ALA Girls State to a higher level by employing components of our mission into the curriculum of the week.”
Other state programs can emulate this practice of injecting the ALA’s mission of serving veterans, military, and their families into their ALA Girls State programs. Can’t afford a button? Go another route with items like name badges, etc.
Here are some of the stories from ALA California Girls State citizens:
“I would like to honor my great-great-grandfather, Lt. Cmdr. Edward Stuart Tucker, USN. He retired from the U.S. Navy with 50 years, four months of service which is the still-standing record of any of the military branches for continuous active duty. It will never be broken. EST's nickname was ‘Little Tommy Tucker’ because of his small size. When he first went into the service on the sailing vessel USS Constellation at age 14 (sister ship to Constitution in Boston Harbor), he was too small and too light to go up into the rigging to work the sails.”
““The veteran I wish to honor is Sgt. Rafael Peralta, who served in the United States Marine Corps for four years, always committing to service with genuine enthusiasm and patriotic spirit. He was posthumously awarded the Navy Cross for his valiant act of sacrifice during the Second Battle of Fallujah where he threw himself on an enemy grenade after suffering serious gunfire injuries to save his comrades’ lives. One of his most notable qualities was that he enlisted in the armed forces as soon as he earned his residential green card. As a first-generation immigrant myself, I personally resonated with his story because I have experienced the profound personal impacts of this country’s values and culture that moved Sgt. Peralta to fight for America. His love for the country is yet another reason why we, as emerging visionaries, must work to make our nation a welcoming home for all. I truly admire his brave spirit of service and hope his legacy can be remembered by all at this conference as young leaders.”
““My submission is my great grandfather, Robert George Jason McLurkin. He served as a Marine from 1912-1942, and I’m honoring him for his inspiring character and perseverance. He served in the Army before it was desegregated, and despite graduating from medical school at Leonard University (now called Shaw University), was denied a position as an Army doctor because of his race (he was mixed black and Filipino). Despite this, he fought valiantly for 30 years for a country that was, at the time, unwilling to fight for him, and in my opinion, that is what makes him a true patriot.”