Since 1937, thousands of young women from across the nation have convened every year for the American Legion Auxiliary’s Girls State program. For one week, these future leaders are guided through a government-in-action program while learning the values of leadership, teamwork and civics. The ALA Girls State program in Tennessee boasts three former ALA Girls Staters and longtime volunteers who celebrated major milestones of volunteer service.
Julia Wells, 1956 delegate
Volunteering with ALA Girls State for 40 years
How were you nominated?
I was a student at Bells High School in rural Tennessee. I think they interviewed four or five girls, and I was the only one selected. I was invited back the next year to be a junior counselor, and I did that for two years. The woman who was the chairwoman when I was delegate lived in Lewisburg where my family was — Ms. Green. She would call me and say, “When can I get you to come back to ALA Girls State?” My daughter was later selected to go to ALA Girls State and Ms. Green called me. I joined and that’s how she built her staff. She gets all the credit. In Tennessee, we believe that’s why we are successful — not only have we been able to build a staff who love the program and experience, but they have love for each other.
I have people ask when I’m going to quit this. Most of my time is spent on ALA Girls State, but when the end of the week comes and girls come up to me and say this week changed my life, it’s worth it. We take the program way beyond and help them understand what their potential is and how they can make an impact, how to do things they never thought they could — we say we take them to the edge, meaning we challenge them to be their very best.
TEACHING OUR YOUTH: Longtime ALA Volunteer Girls State Chairwoman Julia Wells is honored for her commitment to Tennessee’s program during a session.
How do you apply what you learned at ALA Girls State to your life today?
For me, this was one of the first opportunities for me to stand in a group and speak. I do this frequently now. I feel like ALA Girls State gave me the courage and opportunity to open my eyes to what some of other young women were exposed to.
My closest friends in life are ALA Girls State counselors and staff of all ages. All of us have become really good friends. Some people might compare it to a sorority, but I think it’s deeper than that. We’re trying to teach young women how to operate in local government. If I were not actively involved in ALA Girls State, I’d still be involved with the Auxiliary. I don’t know of any other program with a better mission — especially in today’s climate.
Suzanne Smartt, 1966 delegate
Volunteering with ALA Tennessee Girls State for 54 years
Why did you join?
I was an alternate. When I didn’t get it, I went to the guidance counselor and asked if I could go. She said if I could if I got the money. I put on my “Sunday best” and went to all these ladies’ clubs and asked them if they could help me. And one of them did. I’m very blessed that I got to go because it really changed my life. When I was 16 — that’s a great time to learn things when you think you know everything – ALA Girls State taught me I didn’t know everything.
What did you learn?
We have a mentorship program — we call it the Principle of Investment. I became a teacher and I have applied this in all my classes. “Teacher” — if you go to root of the word — means one who stands beside. When you counsel at ALA Girls State, you stand beside someone and you help raise them to the threshold of their own knowledge.
How do you serve veterans today?
One of the reasons I was attracted to the program is to support veterans. I have so many veterans in my family. My grandfather was a veteran of Iwo Jima in World War II. It’s something we don’t always have enough of in our country. I loved that the ladies at the Auxiliary do big and small things to help these veterans. Sometimes it’s as simple as a couple friends of mine taking a ton of coffee and creamer and sugar to them.
Dudley Bostic 1968 delegate
Volunteering with ALA Girls State for 51 years
Tell us about your involvement in the program.
I don’t think you stay involved with something for 51 years like I have if you don’t love it. It takes a lot of energy and time, and we get busy with our lives and family, but somehow it works out that we can carve this time out with the program every year. I have developed a tremendous amount of friendship you don’t find in other places.
Why did you join?
I went from the hometown where I still live and work — Clinton, Tennessee. In fact yesterday, I was at the high school I graduated from interviewing candidates for this year’s program. ALA Girls State programs are all unique, but I have to say that Tennessee has something unique. I think it’s the leadership and there are so many selfless people who come and contribute and don’t expect to be paid. We’re from different backgrounds, and yes, we have the bond of being from Tennessee, but we could be on political polar opposites and we’re willing to listen to each other. At ALA Girls State, you’re pushed beyond what you think you could do. The reward comes when you see the girls who light up and are eager and hungry for more info.
How do you serve veterans today?
My sister and I own a pharmacy and medical supply business, and we’re getting ready to celebrate our 90th anniversary. My dad started it, and my mother worked here as well. We’re real proud of our footprint we have in the area. We have a wonderful veterans parade, and we contribute financially.
What did you learn in ALA Girls State? How do you apply that to your life today?
I think being part of the inaugural ceremony when I was in ALA Girls State and feeling the patriotism for God and country has never left me. My family raised me to respect our flag and worship, but I think going to ALA Girls State made me realize how I can implement that in my life for the long haul.
WANTED! Did you or a relative attend either of the American Legion Auxiliary experiential learning programs (ALA Girls State/ALA Girls Nation)? Auxiliary magazine is looking for past participants of all decades and the profession(s) you chose for this recurring feature. Contact us at ALAMagazine@ALAforVeterans.org (please include the year, state, and program you attended in the subject line) or call (317) 569-4500 if you can help!