This 70-year-old program prepares young women for leadership

(BPT) – A record number of women are running for public office this year. In the near future, we can expect more female public servants representing the American people — from local chambers to Capitol Hill. In light of this exciting trend, it is important to highlight programs that help develop young women to become the next generation of female leaders. One such program? American Legion Auxiliary (ALA) Girls Nation.

ALA Girls Nation is a weeklong mock experiential learning program, one that positions high-potential teens for a lifetime of public service to our country. This summer, 100 female high school seniors — two from each of our 50 states — will convene in Washington, D.C., for the 72nd Annual ALA Girls Nation. Each teenage girl represents her state as a “senator” — mirroring the structure of government at the federal level. During this transformative weeklong program, these senators form a fictitious nation, become “Nationalists” and “Federalists,” enthusiastically campaign to hold office, and — perhaps most important — accept and celebrate the outcome of these elections and come together to serve for the good of the nation.

ALA is a nonpartisan organization committed to advocating for veterans’ issues, promoting patriotism, mentoring America’s youth and proudly presenting ALA Girls Nation for over 70 years. The ALA Girls State and ALA Girls Nation are privately-funded and presented by members of the organization. The world’s largest women’s patriotic service organization, ALA was chartered in 1919 to support the mission of The American Legion.

More than 6,500 young women have attended ALA Girls Nation since its inception in 1947. Each participant leaves the program informed about the fundamentals of U.S. government — and the rights, privileges and responsibilities of citizens. It lasts for one short week. Yet the seven-day experience — one that champions the legislative process and serious collaboration — has laid the foundation for thousands of bright futures.

Many alumnae have chosen careers in public service, putting their ALA Girls State and ALA Girls Nation experience into action to serve the people. The lessons learned about teamwork, resilience and the democratic principles that guide the republic in which we live are applied in real life by many alums who have gone on to serve at the local, state and national level — including high-ranking members of the judiciary.

Justice Lorie S. Gildea began her tenure as chief justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court in 2010. She participated in the state-level version of ALA Girls Nation, known as ALA Girls State in 1979 — and the program, Gildea said, “empowered her to embark upon a lifetime of service and leadership.”

“At ALA Girls State, we learn that every voice has value and that every woman needs to use her voice,” said Gildea. “We also learn that we need to be courageous and confident enough to take life up on the opportunities that present themselves to us.”

“An informed citizenry is essential to the success of our democracy. ALA Girls State [and ALA Girls Nation] plays a vital role in informing and educating our future leaders,” Gildea said. “It is a wonderful opportunity to learn about and see firsthand how the three branches of our government work. I am so grateful to the American Legion Auxiliary for presenting ALA Girls State and teaching me and thousands of Minnesota’s young women about the value of participation and the possibility of leadership.”

Other alumnae have gone on to hold leadership roles in industries spanning government, military, media, education and law. Notable alumnae include Jane Pauley, national media personality; Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, president of Augustana University and former South Dakota U.S. representative; Susan Bysiewicz, former Connecticut Secretary of State; Lt. Gen. Michelle D. Johnson, superintendent of the U.S. Air Force Academy and former Air Force aide to the president; Ann Richards, former governor of Texas; and Susan Porter-Rose, former chief of staff to First Lady Barbara Bush — among countless others.

For some girls, it is their first opportunity to connect with peers with common interests. For others, it is the first time they encounter students whose perspectives differ from their own. For all, it is a moment in time when a select few teenage girls from all over the country come together to discover and celebrate the honor and importance of participating in our democracy. To learn more, visit www.ALAforVeterans.org.