ALA members play key role in mentoring Juniors

Posted On: Monday, 06 June 2022

We know our younger members are the future of the American Legion Auxiliary — mentoring them is key to that future.
The ALA has adult members who understand the importance of this and have made mentoring our Junior members a priority. 
For those who are also mentors or who may become one someday, following are two mentorship success stories that illustrate the importance of the ALA’s youngest members and why they matter now and why they will continue to matter in years to come. 
Gabriele Barnett
Department of Georgia, Unit 192
Barnett has been involved with Junior members for about 10 years. She was previously a child advocate, and through that experience, realized we need to involve children and give them a purpose and teach them.
Through her experiences, Barnett has seen firsthand the importance of mentoring Juniors. At her post home, she talks to parents and grandparents about their children and grandchildren being part of the Junior Activities program, where they can mentor Juniors in being good citizens and educate them about patriotism. 
“It’s important to mentor them so when we are gone, they are our future and our ALA will still exist,” she said. “We teach them the importance of our veterans and what it means to be an American.” 
Barnett’s unit currently has about 14 Junior members. 
Over the years, she has had several positive mentor experiences with Juniors. One, in particular, stands out.
“We had one very shy Junior,” she recalled. “She was afraid to get in front of people and talk. Through the years [of being mentored], she became the honorary Junior department president.” 
As a mentor, Barnett said she feels like she serves an important role — continuing to challenge Juniors, letting them know they can overcome their fears, and helping them feel more comfortable in different situations. 
To help Juniors develop essential skills, Barnett said mentors can give them more responsibilities. For example, if a Junior likes to write, they can shadow the unit secretary. To gain confidence in public speaking, reading the minutes from a previous meeting can help with that. Older Junior members are often computer savvy, so they can use their skills to create a social media page, a newsletter, or set up a virtual meeting. 
Having knowledge in the area of mentoring, Barnett said there are a few key aspects of being a good mentor. 
“They have to know the ALA programs, they have to be willing to work at different levels with different age groups, and have to believe in our programs,” she said. 
For those adult members who may want to become Junior mentors themselves, Barnett offers advice. 
“I would say if you believe in the program, if you like working with children, there is so much potential out there,” she said. “Go out and reach out to them. A lot of people don’t know about our Junior program, and let them know we are here and encourage members to bring children and grandchildren.”
Robin Dorf
Department of Minnesota, Unit 260
An ALA member since she was 10 years old, Dorf began mentoring Juniors once she graduated into senior membership. Even in her district today, once Juniors turn 18, they often help mentor the younger members. 
“It’s fun to watch our Juniors mentoring each other,” she said. 
Dorf’s mother, a former Junior Activities chair, and her mentors, got Dorf interested in working with Juniors when she was growing up. Through the years, she was mentored by many senior ALA members in her district and department. 
Over time, she began to understand the importance of mentoring ALA Junior members and why it matters for the longevity of the organization. 
“They are our future if we can keep our Juniors going,” Dorf said. “When they are done with high school and go to college, keep up your membership and come to things when you can, and they come back with us and become leaders. We need leaders to show them how it’s done and how to treat people.” 
Dorf has many mentor stories from her years of experience, but one stands out to her the most —her niece, Emily Suess, honorary national Junior division vice president for the Northwestern Division. 
She is in National Honor Society and is already taking college courses while still in high school. 
“She always comes back to me and says it’s because of the Auxiliary and the leadership roles that she feels she has gotten further in her education,” Dorf said. “She always puts the ALA down first and they look at those leadership skills.”
This year, Suess is the vice president of her school’s National Honor Society, where she has utilized the public speaking skills she gained from the ALA. 
“I don’t think people understand what the Junior Auxiliary is — it’s not just leadership for our organization, but leadership in their lives going forward,” Dorf said. 
Being a Junior mentor, and helping them develop those skills, serves an important role in our Auxiliary. 
“I think mentoring has been passed down to me,” Dorf said. “I take that as a responsibility. I had mentors, and if I hadn’t had them, I wouldn’t be where I am now. I was blessed by having a lot of people help me, and I grew as a leader.” 
Having experience with helping our younger members, Dorf said key components of a good mentor include listening, following through, making time for them, meeting them at their level, engaging with them, and remembering they aren’t just kids, but little adults. 
“I think it’s a very important program, and I don’t think people understand how important it is,” Dorf said. “We forget that Juniors are us. It’s not just a program — they are members.” 
By Sara Fowler, Staff Writer

What are some characteristics that make a good Junior member mentor? 
List of ideas compiled by the 2021-2022 national Junior Activities Committee

  • Include Junior members in your unit meetings. They may hold appointed chairmanships and become valuable members to your local units. Include them on committees, and they may have ideas you may never have considered.
  • Lead by example. Don’t use the old adage, “Do as I say, not as I do.” If we expect Juniors to learn and do things the right way, we need to do them the right way. If we expect them to treat others with kindness, we must do the same.
  • Ask your Juniors to help you compile the data for your end-of-year reports. They may have information to add, and they can learn about all the hours and dollars spent on mission programs each year.
  • Ask your Junior for ideas, listen to them, and include your Junior in the planning and implementation. Let her explain how her ideas help one of the Auxiliary programs. Be sure not to criticize things before they happen.
  • Challenge your Junior group to plan an activity that incorporates as many ALA programs as possible (i.e., on Veterans Day (Veterans Affairs & Rehabilitation), visit a care center (Community Service), sing the National Anthem (Americanism), and distribute poppies (poppy). Together, say a prayer for troops and their families (National Security and Children & Youth). Take photos, post on social media, and send to media outlets (Public Relations). Be sure to include how to become a member (Membership). Present the ideas to the program chair at a meeting.

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.