Be the One! How does a person or a post make a difference in a national crisis? That was the question I asked myself when I heard National Commander James Troiola’s call to action to prevent veteran suicide. I thought about John B. Lyman American Legion Post 904 and our Legion Family’s history of supporting programs and outreaches. Our Legion Family supports one another, but the unit, squadron and Legion membership work hard on their own missions. This mission needs the entire family’s focus to bring attention to a mutual call to action.
I thought about an idea the Entertainment Committee brought to the post about a comedy show the month before the national convention. This new committee was made up of Legion, Sons and Auxiliary members who wanted to try new things at the post home. I was excited about the cooperative nature these family members were utilizing to try to bring a 104-year-old post out of its comfort zone. The idea fell flat in the membership meeting because like many posts the normal doers looked around and said, “Who is going to do all this? What is it going to benefit and why are we doing it?” To me it was an exciting idea and the promise of cooperative effort for a new event was more precious than any money that could be raised.
I thought of the Entertainment Committee’s promise of the comedian marketing the show, getting us on the news and spreading the word around the area about the show. That was EXACTLY the kind of attention the Be the One outreach needed. Be the One is about finding ways for you and your American Legion Family to make a difference. A comedy show is a way out of our post’s comfort zone and the normal volunteers in the post would need help from other places in our membership and community to make it happen. Another committee in the post, the Community Health and Wellness Committee, focuses on ways to improve the health of the community and membership. Currently they run monthly blood drives, bring in speakers on topics like nutrition, Medicaid, Medicare enrollment, physical therapy, dental health, and a new senior outreach that feeds elderly in the community at the post home and plays games and air pistols in the Jr. Shooting range after. The post really needed both committees and the Legion Family to work together to make this happen and a plan on how to split the proceeds was a necessary discussion point.
Post 904 has a strong belief in working locally, so raising money and handing it all over was a non-starter. A decision to split the money with the Department of New York’s contribution to the national Be the One campaign or raising $1,000 was decided. The local piece of the money the Community Health and Wellness Committee insisted be reinvested in community wellness and local suicide prevention. The two committees approached membership together and pitched the comedy show again for a purpose with new help and volunteers to support it, and it passed. A comedy show in the dining room required us to set it up like a nightclub and a post known for strict enforcement of no foul language were slight obstacles but overall, the positive response was more than I could have ever dreamed.
The Entertainment Committee was right: the membership was hungry for us to try new things and serve in new ways. They were true to their word about bringing new Auxiliary, Legion and Son’s members to volunteer as well. As the membership chairman I was ecstatic by the number of renewals, new members and return of members the comedy show brought to the post. Comedian Mike Bova was also true to his word and was able to get coverage of the show on the local news with an interview where I was able to talk about the reason for the show. Even though the show was already sold out, the coverage of the show allowed me to talk about the local phase of Be the One effort.
The post will put on VA “gatekeeper” training at the post with its part of the proceeds. A meal will be catered in by one of our Alexandria Bay restaurants to drive up attendance. VA has agreed to do the training for us at the post home and the entire community is strongly encouraged to attend. Our trainer from VA is Kaitlynn Tredway and she explains that the VA S.A.V.E. Training or “Operation S.A.V.E.” is a program focused on preventing suicide attempts and saving lives that might otherwise be lost to suicide. It is designed to train everyone who knows a veteran to be a “gatekeeper.” The role of gatekeepers is connecting those at risk for suicide with people who can help them. The training reviews the scope of veteran suicide within the United States, how to identify a veteran who may be at risk for suicide, and then what to do when you identify a veteran who may be at risk for suicide.”
This idea came about because of a conversation I had with a suicide prevention coalition member in our county. Kaitlynn has brought together VSOs, Jefferson County services, local business, Fort Drum, the Vets Center, nonprofits and volunteers to address veteran and military-member suicide. When I said to William (Bill) Van Orman, Suicide Prevention Program manager on Fort Drum, at a suicide prevention walk that “The American Legion is working to destigmatize asking for help from someone struggling with suicide,” He said that “no one asks for help for anything. We need to destigmatize OFFERING help.” I thought about his point, and he was right. If we see an elderly neighbor struggling to clear his walkway, he doesn’t ask us for help; we help him. If we see a mother struggling to open her car and put her groceries and kids in it, we help her. Americans always help when they see need and know what to do. CPR is a great example, but just like CPR it only works if people are trained to use it. This training will not only help us recognize that person who may be struggling but what to say to them in that moment. Knowing that and knowing WHERE to get them help locally will give courage to that person who at that moment can Be the One.