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Hilltowns Archives —The Altamont Enterprise, August 14, 2008

The American Legion Auxiliary looks after New York’s kids and veterans

By Zach Simeone

RENSSELAERVILLE — The new head of the American Legion Auxiliary in New York sees a need to help the children of soldiers and veterans.

“War takes its toll on the families of deployed troops, and often times, the children try to be strong and fill in that gap,” said Susan Britton, “and they try and take on extra responsibility at home. It’s really tough for them.”

On July 19, the American Legion Auxiliary, Department of New York, installed Britton as its new department president. Her goals center on addressing the needs of, and providing resources for, the children of New York State.

In addition to her 36 years as a member of the American Legion Auxiliary, which has earned her numerous awards, Britton has served as assessor for the Town of Rensselaerville, and was a member of the Greenville Central School Board of Education. She will soon be finishing up 25 years of work at the Bethlehem Public Library as business manager.

She was eligible for membership in the American Legion Auxiliary through her husband’s service in the Navy during the Vietnam War.

Operation Purple

Once elected, the department president chooses a main project on which to focus her efforts during her one-year term. Britton chose Operation Purple.

“Our organization accepts donations for many things throughout the year,” Britton said, “but as far as my project for my year, and those throughout the state who are raising money for the department president’s project, that money will go to Operation Purple.”

Operation Purple provides a free week of summer camp for children of deployed troops who live in New York State, Britton said. Established in 2004, Operation Purple is sponsored by the National Military Family Association.

Such children often feel like they can’t afford to take the time to be a child, said Britton. “This week of summer camp allows them to really do that,” she said. They can discuss their fears and talk about the stresses that come with being the child of a soldier, she said. “It’s a wonderful experience.”

This summer, Operation Purple will be hosted in three New York locales: Greig, Redwood, and Angola, for a total of five separate weeks of camp. A child can attend only one week, but gets to choose which week, and at which location. “But children have to apply; they don’t just get to show up,” Britton said.

“So many of these kids are dealing with separation anxiety, and this really helps them focus,” she said. “It really provides a healing environment. This program really touches the lives of the currently deployed troops and their children.”

Operation Purple is open to children of members from all branches of our nation’s armed forces.

Further objectives

In addition to her work on Operation Purple, Britton will be participating in the Empire Girls State, which she calls “a 51st mythical state.” In the last week of June, 360 girls from across the state gather at the State University of New York College at Brockport for a weeklong, governmental training workshop.

The girls learn about the passage of bills and the structure of government, and vote in a mock election.For many of the girls, it’s the first time they get to use an official voting machine,” she said.

“A lot of colleges like to see Empire Girls State on their résumé, and the girls can earn college credits,” said Britton. “As far as we know, we’re the only state in the nation that is able to offer this,” she said.

“We usually select the girls who are interested in maybe a political choice when they’re going to be heading off to college,” Britton said, “usually girls who are in the upper third of the outgoing junior class, from select schools where there is an auxiliary unit that can sponsor them.”

Participants in the Girls State are broken up into two parties: the Nationalists and the Federalists. “I will be serving as a party advisor to one of those parties,” Britton said. “Usually, the vice-chairman of the Girls State serves as the other advisor.”

Britton added that the organization will continue its work with local community service organizations. “I think the more extensive our work gets in the communities, people are noticing,” she said. “We do a lot of work, of course, with the [Veterans Affairs] hospitals. We have volunteers at the Fisher House, where family members of veterans being treated at the V.A. can stay for free,” she said.

Britton went on to illustrate the value of the National Veterans Creative Arts Festival, co-sponsored by the American Legion Auxiliary. The festival provides an opportunity for veterans to compete through a series of artistic media on both state and national levels. This year, the National Veterans Creative Arts Festival will be held Oct. 20 through 26 in Riverside, Calif.

“This is a program where veterans get to compete through singing or playing an instrument or dance therapy — all kinds of outlets for them to perform,” Britton said of the festival. “A lot of these veterans are very talented individuals, and this is great therapy for them.”

On the horizon

Two new programs will be introduced into the department’s repertoire during Britton’s term.

One, the American Legion Auxiliary College, will be a weekend-long seminar for grassroots members to “learn about the foundation of our organization and learn about our programs so we can mentor our younger members to be knowledgeable about our programs and what we do,” Britton said.

With Warrior’s Family Assistance, the second new program, the American Legion Auxiliary has allotted $45,000 to go towards non-repayable grants for veterans in need, Britton said. “We have set aside funds to assist veterans who have been deployed within the past four years, who are finding it difficult financially, or just don’t have any avenues left,” she said.

As an example of how Warrior’s Family Assistance might address those needs, Britton cites a hypothetical family in need of roof repair. “They might try to get assistance from a local contractor. But if local service is not available, this is another avenue for them,” she said.

“For example, a veteran was home from Iraq, and he and his wife were hit by a drunk driver,” Britton continued. He was due back in Iraq in a week, and they needed help with the car insurance, Britton said. “They ended up not needing our assistance, but, if they weren’t able to get the help they needed, WFA would have provided that.”

As of yet, Warrior’s Family Assistance has not issued its first grant.

After Britton retires from her library job this month, she’ll travel to Arizona, she said. “I’ll be traveling to Phoenix for the national convention, where I’ll be representing New York.”

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