Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Membership: The Importance of Finishing Strong

Brian Sullivan
Membership Development Coordinator
Last month, I was watching the national evening news and learned about this incredible story involving two collegiate runners at the Pepsi Team Invitational in Eugene, Oregon. During the final stretch of the men’s steeplechase race, Oregon’s Tanguy Pepiot thought he had the race won. He started waving to the pro-Oregon crowd to get them fired up for his absolute certain win.
He never saw Washington’s Meron Simon charging from behind until it was too late. As Pepiot coasted the last 100 meters or so, and smiled for the cameras, Simon closed at a near sprint and won the race. Pepiot could do nothing but feel sudden shock and disappointment.

This race is a great reminder to all of us that finishing strong is what really matters. As we enter the final stretch of the 2014-2015 Ladies Auxiliary VFW program year, it is more important than ever to sprint through the finish line instead of limping to it.

Many of our volunteer leaders start out the year full of boundless energy, passion, enthusiasm and intention – only to lose momentum at the end of the year when it is needed most. They end the year feeling tired, frustrated and stressed instead of being mentally strong, focused, confident and driven. What can our leaders do to finish strong as they strive to achieve their annual membership goals? 
Here are a few tips for closing out the year in top form:
Accept that it will not be easy. Attempting a “course correction” after falling short of expectations can be challenging and seemingly impossible. It is important to accept that it will not be easy. Embrace this reality, and remind yourself that nothing worth working for is ever really easy.

Encourage yourself. You cannot sit back and wait for another person to show up packed with encouragement and energy. All of us feel inspired when the sports coach gives his players a stirring pep talk in the final minutes of a close game. But that rarely happens in everyday life. Learn to motivate yourself in those life moments when willpower, courage and strength are needed.
Return to the basics. If you feel that you have fallen behind in your membership game plan, identify those areas of focus that were lost along the way and find ways to revive them. Affirmations and loads of positivity can help you in getting back on track. Remember the enthusiasm that you started the year with, and return to the basics – to recruit, retain and engage members in unwavering support for our veterans, active-duty military and their families.
There are less than 100 meters to go. In six weeks, it will be time to celebrate another year along with setting new goals and plans for the next one. Do not coast to the finish line; go ahead and take the opportunity to end the year the way it was intended - by finishing strong!

Monday, April 27, 2015

Commitment: Leave No Sister Behind

Tami Elliott
Membership Ambassador

A friend over in Afghanistan sent me an article about a Marine firefight highlighting the motto of 'Leave No One Behind.' It is not just a motto; it is what Marines live by and show with their actions. What makes a soldier risk their own life for us? What drives them to sacrifice their own safety for their comrades?

They are committed to each other and they are committed to the mission. When you know your buddy has your back, you are committed to having their back. You rely on each other and together you can take on the world because of your shared commitment.

Commitment is an act. It is pushing yourself when no one else is around. It defines who we are and what we can accomplish. Vince Lombardi said, "Most people fail not because of lack of desire, but because of lack of commitment."

Commitment is being dedicated to a cause or activity. Kenneth Blanchard said it best, “There’s a difference between interest and commitment. When you are interested in something you do it only when it’s convenient. When you are committed to something you accept no excuses; only results.”

While we are not  risking our lives in a war zone like our soldiers do, we can be inspired by them. We can commit to helping our nation's veterans, we can commit to the Ladies Auxiliary VFW and we can commit to our Sisters. We are losing members out the back door. Let’s commit to 'Leave No Sister Behind.' When we make contact with Sisters whose membership has lapsed, let’s remind them of their commitment to our nation's veterans, the Ladies Auxiliary VFW and each to other.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Social Media Spotlight: Pinterest - Your Virtual Bulletin Board

Megan Zinn-Sanchez
Public Relations & Marketing Coordinator

Before computers revolutionized the way we do everything, when you wanted new ideas for crafts, décor, fashion, fundraising or recipes, you probably looked through magazines or newspapers and clipped ideas that appealed to you. You may have even organized them in binders or put them on a bulletin board and referred to them when you started a project or planned an event.
Pinterest utilizes that concept and puts it in a virtual space. It’s a free visual discovery, collection, sharing, and storage tool; it allows you to discover and save ideas you can refer back to in a virtual format.

Boards – Think of these as virtual, topic-specific bulletin boards. For example, you might create a “Patriotic Holidays” board, “Patriotic Food” board or “Hospital Volunteering” board and save or “pin” images related to each topic to their respective boards. How general or specific you want your boards is up to you.
Pin or Pinning – Think of this as cutting out a photo from a magazine and saving it in a specific binder, i.e. “Welcome Home Events” or “Fundraising Ideas.” The point of Pinterest is to save or “pin” images to your various boards. You can find images to pin by searching the Pinterest site, or by pinning ideas you find on other websites.
We encourage you to visit the National Organization’s Pinterest page. There are 25 boards and more than 1,400 pins (ideas) we want to share with you, our members! You can find images related to patriotic crafts and décor, patriotic clothing, patriotic crafts for kids, hospital door decorating ideas, hospital tray decorating ideas and many holiday-specific ideas. Take a look around and get your creative juices flowing!
Tip: You DO NOT need a Pinterest account to view the National Organization’s Pinterest page. You may see all of the ideas we’ve pinned for you by:

However, if you go to, you WILL need to create an account to view the National Organization’s Pinterest page.

Please contact Megan Zinn-Sanchez at if you have any questions.

Monday, April 20, 2015

It's only once a year...and it's right around the corner.

A message from Loyalty Years Insurance Program:
On Wednesday, April 22, we will be mailing our members their annual BLUE FORM™ in our group insurance plan - the Loyalty Years™ Accident Insurance Plan – providing them with the once-a-year opportunity to accept the increased insurance benefit amounts available through the plan which more and more Auxiliary members have come to trust – and rely on - each year. (Members must have 2 or more years of Auxiliary membership to be eligible.) Please click here for more details.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Finding the Bright Spots in Ladies Auxiliary VFW Membership

Brian Sullivan
Membership Development Coordinator

Finding the Bright Spots in Ladies Auxiliary VFW Membership

During my presentation at the Senior Vice-Presidents’ Conference in Reno, Nev. in January, I spoke to our volunteer leaders about change, how change works and how they can lead successful change efforts back in their Departments. One of the essential strategies I shared for sparking change was to “find the bright spots.” In other words, when we look across our Departments, our local Auxiliaries or our own communities, what are the successful efforts that are worth emulating?

As we consider new ways to recruit members, I am confident that many of the answers already reside within our Ladies Auxiliary VFW family. In fact, since 2011, we have had nearly 200 bright spots across the country who have gone above and beyond in recruiting members. These bright spots are our National Membership Achievement Award (formerly known as Aide-de-Camp) winners who have – in total – recruited more than 5,000 new or reinstated members.

Two of our National Membership Achievement Award winners, Debbie Tilley and Debbie McCollum, from the Department of Florida, share their best ideas for recruiting and retaining Auxiliary members:

Debbie Tilley, St. Augustine, Fla.

As a current or former National Membership Achievement Award winner, what would you say are the secrets to your success in recruiting members?

I work closely with my Post Commander in recruiting. Whenever the VFW signs up a new member, I get that member’s information and send a letter of introduction along with information about the Ladies Auxiliary. I also ask them if they know anyone who might be interested in joining. 

I publicize all of our Auxiliary events and accomplishments including awards received at Department events. Word-of-mouth and having a friendly atmosphere go a long way. I have recruited a number of ladies over the years from Post community dinners and dances that we hold. 

While recruiting is important, even more so to me, is retaining that new member. When we accept a new member, they receive a welcome letter that outlines upcoming Auxiliary events they may be interested in. With this letter, we also give them a copy of the Auxiliary traditions and their membership card. This first contact introduces them to the Auxiliary, and we try to get them involved immediately with our many projects. 

I have designed a birthday postcard that is mailed to each member with an invitation to attend our upcoming meeting where they will be celebrated with a birthday cake. Everyone likes to be recognized, and this gesture lets them know that even if they can’t make every meeting, they are still a valuable Auxiliary member.

What advice or guidance do you have for other Ladies Auxiliary VFW members who are looking for effective ways to recruit new or lapsed members?

I strongly urge everyone to work with their VFW Membership Chairman. This is an untapped resource for many Auxiliaries. We have jointly held a “Veterans Appreciation Day,” with food and music and the community is invited. We pass out applications to those who are not members and answer questions about our veterans and how we serve them.

When you hold your monthly Auxiliary meeting, make sure all of your members leave with a blank member application and a benefits brochure. They can’t recruit if they don’t have the tools. Holding a “Get Acquainted” party also works well. Ask your members to each bring one new person to the party. You never know who might be eligible to join. 

For lapsed members, we try to offer them a deal. For example, if it’s time for 2016 dues, we offer them 50% off for 2015 if they renew now and pay 2016. I also offer them an “Early Bird” special to anyone renewing before June 30. I am fortunate that my Auxiliary does not depend on membership dues to raise money. We are able to discount our dues by $10 for this special. 

I also promote life membership. We hold a drawing for a free life membership to anyone who renews between April 1 and September 30. 

Anyone can recruit. We talk to people every day. Keeping in touch either by phone, email or mail keeps those members coming back.

Debbie McCollum, Orlando, Fla.

As a current or former National Membership Achievement Award winner, what would you say are the secrets to your success in recruiting members?

I try to talk to everyone possible when I am at a military or veteran activity. I thank them for their service or ask what brought them to this event. I look for “signs” such as military hats, T-shirts – something suggesting a veteran or military service when I am out in public and then start a conversation

I always like to travel wearing an Auxiliary- or VFW-logoed shirt, especially when I’m out of town. It promotes our organization, and people will ask questions. It is a great conversation starter. Also, you should always have a blank member application on you, or very close by.

What advice or guidance do you have for other Ladies Auxiliary VFW members who are looking for effective ways to recruit new or lapsed members?

One of the first suggestions I give to members about finding new members is to start at their own Post.  They should ask all of the Post and Auxiliary members if they have eligible friends or family. I also mention that if each one of them would find one new member, just think how quickly our Ladies Auxiliary would grow and how much more help we could provide for our veterans.

We need to stay in contact with our members, especially the ones we don’t see often or who have lapsed in membership. One way to do this is to get our members involved with an Auxiliary phone tree to contact members. A great group to get involved in calling these lapsed members are the ladies that can’t get out to the Post or Auxiliary meetings as much as they would like but want to stay active.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Bataan Memorial Death March: Joyce Bilyeu's Personal Journey

Joyce Bilyeu
Americanism Ambassador

Joyce Bilyeu, Ladies Auxiliary VFW National Americanism Ambassador, recently walked the most challenging and rewarding route she’s ever taken. She honored her late father, Dick Bilyeu, by trekking 14.2 miles in this year’s Bataan Memorial Death March at White Sands Missile Range in White Sands, New Mexico.

Dick, who retired from the U.S. Army in 1963 as a Chief Warrant Officer 2, survived the Bataan Death March of 1942 and a subsequent three and a half years of slave labor at a Japanese prisoner of war camp.

Below is Joyce’s account of her experience walking the Honorary March for her dad.

“I truly believe my dad was with me on this journey.”

My father served 20 years in the United States Army, retiring in 1963. He was married to my mother, Hattie, for 49 years until his passing in December 1993 at the young age of 72 from medical issues that stemmed from his military service. 

When my father enlisted in the Army he was a typical young man (19 years old), who was unprepared for the horrors of war, and thrust into a maturity beyond his years. In his book, “Lost in Action,” he shares a firsthand account of the atrocities he endured at the hands of Japanese soldiers in the Philippines during World War II aboard relocation ships, most of which were literally sunk beneath him, and the horrors of the Bataan Death March, and then finally his account of being interred as a prisoner. Lost in action, a term used to account for soldiers last seen in combat but not identified as killed or captured, described my dad for years following his capture by Japanese in the Philippines after the fall of Bataan. The three and a half years after capture were a time of torture and slave labor. At war's end, dad weighed 95 pounds, down from his normal 160. He spent a year in military hospitals before he was fit to return to normal activities.

When asked what it was that he had inside of him that helped him survive, he shared it was “hope and faith.” Hope that America would come through and not leave them behind, and faith that God and Americans would rescue him from such inhumane treatment.

He credits the final action that saved his life to the atomic bombs dropped on Japan, one of which he witnessed from his final prison camp location in Japan.

A Greater Appreciation:

Battling Bastards of Bataan: No mama, no papa, no Uncle Sam. These words have greater meaning to me now more than ever. I will never think the same about the sacrifices made by soldiers, both past and present, as I did after participating in the Bataan Memorial Death March.

One can only imagine what my father and others were thinking and/or feeling on that march. I am certain that once the march started everything just sort of froze in his mind; that he was numb the whole time. I am sure he didn’t think or feel, and was much like a robot and just kept moving. I could imagine that other than daylight or darkness, he lost all track of time; that in order to survive, he had to blank everything out and focus straight ahead and live day to day, hour by hour, minute by minute. One thing I am sure of is that he kept faith that the Lord would get him through each day and Americans would come for him.

Dick Bilyeu's prison camp number.
My father’s prison camp number was 2158. My mother has held on to this for the past 70 years. Before I left for the memorial march in New Mexico, she gave me his camp number to carry with me as I participated. I cannot express the feelings I had every time I touched or looked at his number. Having his number with me meant so much to me. I truly believe my dad was with me on this journey and the inner strength he had resonated in me.   
In addition, this experience reminded me how fortunate I am to live in this free country, in large part because of all who have gone before us to protect the freedoms that we so often take for granted. No one can possibly comprehend what these brave men and women, both in the armed services and civilians, have been through - experiencing the utter horrors of war firsthand and having their liberty suspended by physical and mental force: some for years, some forever.

Teamwork and Inspiration:

Joyce shakes a survivor's hand at the end of the march.

Crossing the finish line was most inspiring and emotional part of the march for me. It made me feel
so patriotic and honored to be a part of an event that honored the real Bataan Death March. There were several Bataan Death March survivors there waiting to thank us and shake our hands. This act of gratitude was very moving. The survivors are the ones who made the sacrifice so I could even participate is the event and they were there thanking me? This was very humbling. I truly do not feel I did anything that could even compare to their experience.  However, this act of gratitude is the same behavior I observed many times throughout my life from my father and other POWs.

I am so very proud and honored to be a member of and associated with organizations such as the Ladies Auxiliary to the Veterans of Foreign Wars and Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), who sponsored this event. I will forever be grateful to these groups for this experience.  Had it not been for the encouragement and support from National President Ann Panteleakos and VFW Commander-in-Chief John Stroud; Ladies Auxiliary VFW Headquarters staff Cara Day and Megan Zinn-Sanchez and all the members of the Ladies Auxiliary and VFW who were there to support us and cheer us on, I am not sure I could have made it to the finish line.

Joyce Bilyeu and Cara Day, Director of Programs & Communications,
participate in the 26th Annual Bataan Memorial Death March.
I will be forever grateful to all the volunteers  who made this event so successful; who provided water, fruit, medical assistance and encouragement all along the way. The incredible fellowship of all the marchers was amazing; there were no strangers along the route. As challenging as the march was, it was nothing compared to what the real survivors endured. It brings home, with brutal clarity, a small part of the sacrifice that those great servicemen went through. It made me feel some of the hardships that the soldiers felt in the original march. However, I had a choice. They did not. 
In addition, meeting other descendants of Bataan Death March survivors reinforced a common bond that will forever remain unbroken. They, like myself, have been forever impacted by the experience of our fathers, grandfathers and family who were held hostage and treated so inhumanely by their barbaric captors. Meeting them was a spiritual uplifting. It was so moving participating in an event that honored our loved ones who suffered so much for our freedom.

We can never comprehend how the survivors’ experiences changed the rest of their lives. We can only glean insight about how the human heart responds when it is threatened or starved or alone. What we CAN do is pass on these truths of history to coming generations. Perhaps, in some distant future, man will achieve true and lasting peace. But for now, being prepared for war and avoiding the trivialities that might pull us into war needlessly are all that we have. I thank the Lord for men like my father and others who have endured these experiences and have had the courage to share them with the world. This experience gave me a greater understanding the horror of war and what "Man's inhumanity towards man" really is.

As a descendant of a POW/Bataan Death March survivor, I can say this experience forever changed me. I am grateful to the men for the courage and the perseverance that it took to survive such a horrific experience. For me personally, this event makes me even prouder of my family’s contributions to the United States not only in war, but many other ways. My mother is the one who encouraged me to become a member of the Ladies Auxiliary. If it had not been for her, I wouldn’t have been asked to participate in the memorial march and would have not had the opportunity to honor my dad this way.

Read more about the Bataan Memorial Death March in the upcoming July 2015 issue of Ladies Auxiliary VFW Magazine.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Veterans & Family Support: What Does a VFW Service Officer Do?

Leona McDermott
Veterans & Family Support Ambassador

Fact:  The VFW currently operates 14 BDD sites in 10 different states and Puerto Rico. At Fort Hood alone, the BDD program handled 30,000 claims over the past 13 years – that’s more than 2,300 each year!

As the 2014-2015 Program Year enters its final quarter, I want to remind you that it’s still important to support the primary goal of Operation Changing Lives which is to expand the BDD (Benefits Delivery at Discharge) program to include additional training and hiring of qualified VFW Service Officers.

Why is this so important?

It’s important because it allows Service Officers to work with those separating from military service to navigate the Veteran Administration’s vast sea of paperwork in order to ensure they obtain VA entitlements and benefits they are due. Service Officers work one-on-one with military personnel and guide them through the veterans’ claims process and conduct physical examinations prior to their separation from active-duty. Service Officers also review medical records in order to identify and ensure that all of their disabilities are documented. By capturing medical information while service members are on active-duty and catching their DD214, Service Officers are able to input all of this data into the VA’s system, which can cut VA processing time for medical claim decisions roughly in half.

VFW Service Officers are dedicated advocates of not only active-duty military members, but all veterans. It is vital that they are well-trained and remain up-to-date on changing regulations of the VA. Your donation to Operation Changing Lives directly benefits the lives of veterans!

For each and every Auxiliary, District and/or Department that has donated to Operation Changing Lives, every veteran thanks you. It is not too late to donate! Please send your donation today to: 

VFW National Headquarters
Attn: Operation Changing Lives
406 W. 34th St.
Kansas City, MO 64111

May God bless each and every one of you as you continue to support America’s greatest heroes – our veterans!