It has been an unusual year and a half. Auxiliary magazine first covered the COVID-19 global pandemic one year ago in the August 2020 issue. Each magazine issue since has reflected on how the pandemic has affected us and how the ALA and our members remain resilient and continue finding ways to serve our veterans, military, and their families.
Years from now, people will look back on these issues of Auxiliary magazine and see how our world was constantly changing and how new things became part of our everyday lives, such as face masks and virtual meetings — things many of us never thought about prior to 2020.
ALA members have always been resilient, and it’s been proven repeatedly throughout our century of service. Members find ways to continue to serve despite obstacles.
Even though this time has been difficult in so many ways, not everything was bad. There are some good things that came from our “new way” of life … things that will stick around for years after the COVID-19 pandemic.
Increased inclusivity with virtual meetings
How many of you participated in a videoconference such as Zoom or Microsoft Teams before 2020? What may have been unfamiliar products are now considered commonplace as we use them to connect with others, do business, and allow kids to attend school from home.
These platforms allowed us to continue to connect, even if it was through a screen. The pandemic pushed us to use technology that has been around for a few years and get creative on how we reach members and serve our mission.
ALA units, departments, and National Headquarters turned to videoconferencing to hold meetings and events. This not only allowed those who regularly attended meetings to join in, but those who had not been able to attend the in-person gatherings previously.
“We were able to have a 90-year-old member who has not been able to attend in years,” said ALA member Doreen Gallagher of New Jersey. “The joy and the excitement in her voice was something I will not forget. We are going to continue conference calls in the future.”
Junior members also found ways to put virtual platforms to use. Even though Juniors could not do their usual unit activities, they were still able to connect with each other and build relationships. This was valuable for many kids who lacked social interaction due to pandemic lockdowns.
Another positive to hosting virtual meetings for Juniors — the opportunity for more girls to attend. For example, if bad weather took over, or the member didn’t have transportation to the meeting, members could still get together.
“Our district covers a large area, and winter weather sometimes causes low attendance because we may have to travel over an hour,” said Colleen McDaniels, New York 7th District Junior chair. “We may offer girls who need to travel, or don’t have transportation, the opportunity to join the meeting portion, and this will allow us the opportunity to visit with our district Juniors more often. Also, if we have a storm, we now have another option instead of canceling.”
Learning opportunities without the travel
ALA National Headquarters also reached more members by increasing online learning opportunities. When the pandemic started, Mission Training events across the nation were canceled. So staff had to come up with new ways to deliver the important content.
ALA Academy was already an established learning opportunity for members to take self-guided courses on subjects like leadership skills, branding, fundraising, and more. When lockdowns began, staff developed and adapted content to expand ALA Academy to include live webinars that are each under an hour.
Since the launch of ALA Academy Live, NHQ has been able to reach ALA members who were not previously able to engage with national events. The webinars allow members to take courses from the comfort of home, at no expense, no travel, and just a one-hour commitment. Topics have included mission delivery, Junior Activities leaders, and using poppy funds.
The webinars are recorded and can be found in the MyAuxiliary member portal at www.ALAforVeterans.org. Go to the Meetings and Trainings tab and select ALA Academy.
Many more courses are in the works. Watch ALA media for announcements as more webinars are added.
Always a front-row seat to events
The National Veterans Creative Arts Festival was hosted virtually in 2020. Despite the disappointment that artists could not gather in person, the at-home version allowed more people to watch the Festival. In the past, people had to attend in person to see the performances and learn about the artists. Through NVCAF at Home, those who had not been able to travel to an event previously were able to have a virtual front-row seat, thus exposing a new audience to NVCAF.
This year, ALA members have the opportunity to watch the ALA National Convention from the comfort of their couch. We encourage those who cannot travel to Phoenix to watch our live stream, a great opportunity for those who have not been able to watch in the past. We will be sharing details on how you can watch on www.ALAforVeterans.org and on our social media pages @ALAforVeterans.
More prominent speakers available
In pre-pandemic times, many ALA Girls State programs depended on guest speakers traveling to their event. Because of the travel time, some speakers would decline. In 2020, some virtual ALA Girls State sessions discovered it was easier to get a high-profile speaker because of the convenience to the guest to speak from wherever they were based.
“Without the constraints of physical settings and work schedules, we were able to interact with leaders who seemed more accessible to us, speaking from their house or their office,” said Lorraine Boucher, director of Rhode Island’s ALA Little Rhody Girls State.
The convenience factor not only applied to ALA Girls State programs, but all of our ALA events, meetings, and programs — nationally and locally. As people became more familiar with virtual platforms, doors opened to invite speakers who could attend virtually.
New ways to host events
National Poppy Day® 2020 was different than we had ever seen; however, new ideas were created. Instead of canceling poppy distribution events, units found new ways to distribute the flower in exchange for donations. Some of these events were so successful that members decided to continue them post-pandemic.
Unit 45 in Greenbriar, Tenn., hosted a contactless drive-thru poppy distribution at the Greenbrier American Legion post. It was so successful that they hosted it again this year, with a few improvements that they had time to plan for over the last year.
ALA National Headquarters also found a new way to observe National Poppy Day. In response to the pandemic, a virtual National Poppy Day program was created. NHQ plans to continue this program post-pandemic.
Units also turned to virtual events to connect and raise funds.
“Boone Unit 4, Kentucky, hosted online auctions to raise monies for our programs and activities,” said Nancy Brotherton Moses of Kentucky. “All were successful and provided an outlet for people to shop and support our cause. Each one made over $1k.”
Different ways to be part of veterans’ lives
Members who normally volunteered at U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs facilities had to put their duties on hold during the pandemic. That doesn’t mean they didn’t find ways to serve. Instead, they found alternative ways to reach out to those veterans. “Unit 360 in Weatherly, Pennsylvania, purchased gift cards to local restaurants around the VA to sponsor a ‘Take Out Wednesday’ event for veterans in their Community Living Center,” said Georgeann Herling of Pennsylvania.
Other ways members continued to connect:
Constitution & Bylaws lessons learned
- Participated in parades outside of veterans homes
- Made signs for patients
- Provided materials and prizes for events such as hallway bingo
- Delivered food and meals to veterans and their families
Governing documents may not be something many of us had put a lot of thought into in the past. But the unusual circumstances brought on by the pandemic made many units, departments, and ALA National Headquarters realize their documents needed to be reviewed and updated on a regular basis.
The experience taught us that an organization’s C&B is never a one-and-done document. It constantly must be reviewed and updated.
A new Auxiliary holiday was also founded due to the pandemic. ALA National Read Your Constitution & Bylaws Day (Nov. 14) was designed to encourage members to read the C&B. Members were encouraged to share pictures of themselves reading the national booklet (available for free download at www.ALAforVeterans.org).
Staying connected remains a must
One thing many of us learned over this period is the importance of human connection. A simple phone call can make a big difference in a person’s life.
By Jennifer Donovan, Staff Writer