Ellen Fedorowski was watching a Netflix movie one evening when an idea hit her.
That lightbulb moment — and the activity that followed — would become a testament to the power of leadership, camaraderie, and a commitment to Service Not Self.
As Fedorowski watched the show about a family gathering that night, she realized a get-together would be perfect for a family in her own life: the California District 21 American Legion Family.
As American Legion Auxiliary president for the district, Fedorowski wanted to organize a meet-and-greet event to welcome new officers for the coming year. But it wouldn’t just focus on the ALA — it would also include The American Legion, Sons of The American Legion, and The American Legion Riders for the district. The gathering would be an opportunity for leaders and members from the different groups in the district to connect and celebrate their shared mission.
Fedorowski, a member of ALA Unit 328 in Norco, knew this type of leadership transition event would be the first of its kind for the district — and perhaps for American Legion Family districts nationwide. But she also knew how to get the ball rolling to make this unprecedented event a reality.
“I got on the phone and called my fearless secretary, James,” Fedorowski said of James Vass, ALA District 21 secretary and public relations coordinator. Vass, a member of ALA Unit 574 in Moreno Valley, is also in the Legion and Sons in the district.
“I said, ‘What do you think about this? Do you think we could pull it off?’” Fedorowski recalled of her conversation with Vass. “He said, ‘Yeah, we could do it.’” I said, ‘Good, because that’s what we’re going to do.’”
But there were a few catches.
First was the timing. It needed to take place soon.
Second was the budget. There was none.
Still, Fedorowski said, “it just sort of fell in line.”
After getting buy-in from the district’s Legion leadership, Fedorowski and Vass began working on logistics. The meet-and-greet would take place at The American Legion Post 289 in Riverside. With indoor and outdoor patios, a canteen, pool tables, a horseshoe court, and an electric dartboard, the post seemed the perfect site for entertaining. And the post agreed to host the function at no charge to the organizers.
Next was the music. Vass, who has a side job providing deejay and karaoke services, offered to lend his talents to the meet-and-greet for free. Then Legion Post 328 in Norco agreed to donate additional chairs, tables, and equipment to the cause.
Next, Fedorowski tackled the biggest obstacle: food.
“I called around and got a vendor who would come in,” she said. “I told him, ‘You’re not charging me a dime. I’m giving you an entire group that you’re going to feed and charge money to, and you’re not giving me a bill for anything.’ The guy agreed.”
Now all that was left was getting out the word. The various groups that would participate in the party — the ALA, the Legion, Sons, and Riders — began promoting the activity to their members.
And that communication was effective. Despite the threat of an incoming hurricane, about 150 people poured into the Legion post on the day of the meet-and-greet. Wearing Legion Family apparel but sticking to casual attire as directed, leaders mingled with each other and with other members from the various groups represented. Joining them were officials from different districts and the national level.
The result of this informal interaction among the different groups, Fedorowski and Vass said, was a strengthened districtwide commitment to the Legion Family and their singular mission in support of veterans and the communities, departments, and nation they serve. They hope the success of the gathering will inspire other districts in the Legion Family to host similar events.
“We have to have the same vision,” Vass said. “We have to figure out our part in that vision and what we can give to make it happen. Camaraderie helps us complete the mission.”
1: Select the date.
2: Figure out budget.
3: Choose music.
4: Order food.
5: Spread the word.