There was quite a bit of hustle and bustle over the weekend at the American Legion Post 93 in Camp Verde as people welcomed Kris Nelson, national president of the American Legion Auxiliary.
After an escort through town, Nelson was greeted at the door Saturday, Feb. 4, by a group of young girls who presented her with an Arizona-themed mug filled with candy.
She wasn’t just in town to escape the winter back home in Minnesota.
“For the past several years my husband and I have been wintering in Orange Beach, Ala.,” Nelson said.
Nelson said she was in Arizona because she gets invited to come visit Legion posts in states all across the country.
“I’m not sure I’m going to be able to make it to all 50 states,” Nelson said.
Nelson has had a chance to travel overseas to visit with servicemen and women in places like Okinawa, Japan, something she said was a fantastic experience.
The wife, stepdaughter and sister of veterans, Nelson said she’s been involved with the Legion Auxiliary for years — almost 30 of them.
Nelson said she’s known she was going to be president for the past four years, time she spent throwing herself into learning what the job would require, from regular day-to-day duties to the organization’s financial operations.
Nelson’s term lasts for a year, and in that time one of her most important jobs is to try and promote what it is the American Legion Auxiliary does.
The auxiliary was founded in 1919 to support the American Legion, veterans’ needs and to foster education and good citizenship.
While there are still hundreds of thousands of members, the organization, as well as the American Legion, has been facing a problem with declining membership in recent years.
“We’re not growing,” Nelson said. “We need to entice younger members to join.”
With the country at war for most of the last decade, there are a lot of veterans coming home, Nelson said, veterans who might not even know what the Legion Auxiliary has to offer.
“There are young families out there, and we’re trying to reach out to them,” Nelson said.
Nelson said her organization can provide numerous services to veterans, from helping cut through some of the red tape to something as small as helping to straighten out a parking ticket fine.
In fact, Nelson had just been in Phoenix for the annual Arizona StandDown event at Veterans Memorial Coliseum, where everything from haircuts to legal assistance was available for the area’s hundreds of homeless veterans.
Nelson tells the story of a veteran named James who used to work for AT&T before he was laid off a few years ago.
Now homeless, James needed some help with an unpaid speeding ticket causing him problems when it came to looking for work.
Nelson said the matter was resolved ,and they even managed to line up two job interviews for the man.
“All you have to do is ask, and we’ll do our best to take care of things,” Nelson said.
To get the word out about the organization, Nelson said the auxiliary is preparing to kick off a public relations campaign.
To attract younger people into the fold, Nelson said the group is going to put a heavy focus on using social media like Facebook and Twitter.
The local Legion post held a special dinner for Nelson, who stayed overnight in Camp Verde to attend the post’s annual ceremony honoring The Four Chaplains who gave their lives in World War II to save and comfort their fellow servicemen.
Nelson said she had high hopes for the upcoming public relations effort.
“We need to find ways to explain to people who and what we are,” Nelson said.
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