Last week, the American Legion state convention was held in Ocean City. This convention marked the 100-year anniversary for the American Legion and Gov. Larry Hogan was warmly received as he congratulated the Legion for 100 years of service and thanked the Legion for its civic volunteer work throughout the state.
The convention reinforces why many of us belong to and volunteer for the Legion. We had the opportunity to hear first hand from many who have benefited from programs the American Legion supports, such as the Maryland Center for Veterans Education and Training (MCVET) which provides addiction treatment for homeless veterans. Two recent graduates proudly spoke of how the organization helped them combat and overcome substance abuse, obtain employment and end their homelessness as they once again became productive citizens of our state.
Another highlight to me was hearing from some of the young people who attended and graduated from the American Legion-run Boys and Girls State. Boys and Girls State is a one-week leadership program for incoming high school seniors. The week is set in a military curriculum where you will be up early, your bed will be made just right and you will march in formation to your classes and events.
Kate Kohler, an Army veteran and now business executive in Washington, D.C., was quoted as saying “To me, it symbolizes not only freedom, but the impressive girls that I shared the experience with.” Kohler went on to describe Girls State as a “Leadership Lab.”
At the convention, an elderly World War II veteran made a personal donation of $100,000 to the program as he wants to see this continue to be offered for our young people.
Boys State is held at McDaniel College and Girls State is held at Salisbury University. Russell Myers, a Gulf War veteran and Westminster native, is the adjutant for the Maryland Department of the American Legion. Russell coordinates and runs the program and pours his heart into making this a success. Several of these young men and women spoke of this experience as one of the highlights of their lives.
The program focuses on civics and understanding government as the kids are initially divided into villages and over the week must form a government by debating and holding election to gain an understanding of how our government functions, producing a daily newspaper and gaining an understanding of the importance of freedom and a free press. There is also much fun mixed into the curriculum with a talent show and other activities to unwind.
I would encourage students who will be juniors this year to look into Boys and Girls State that they can attend in the Summer of 2019. Like John Wayne, Michael Jordan, Janet Napolitano, Tom Brokaw, Ann Richards, Garth Brooks, Bill Clinton and Neil Armstrong, there are many young men and women who graduate from this program and will look back and be glad they benefited from this opportunity.
For more information, contact your local American Legion or feel free to email me and I will gladly assist you.
Todd Mitchell is retired from the Army National Guard as deputy provost marshal and is the director of the nonprofit Business Advocates for Veterans. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.