The Greatest Generation is just about gone, and the Baby Boomers are also winding down. We are just about ready to see Generation X (1964 to 1976) start to take the leadership roles of our local organizations. Can Gen Xers make things better? Will they even join?
I saw it today in our American Legion district meeting as Legionnaires from posts all over East Central Indiana came together in Morristown: No World War II veterans present, only one from Korea, and just a few even from the Vietnam era. But sadly, hardly any from the Gulf Wars. It’s like a huge vacuum exists between these generations. In organizations across the country, people are asking, “What do we do?”
The word is that people don’t join organizations anymore. They stay in their own cocoons watching the internet on their phones or watching their hundred TV channels, venturing out only for the million kid activities they are signed up for. It seems everywhere I go I hear the same refrain: “How do we get the young folks to volunteer?”
Here’s what we are trying to do at the local American Legion:
1. We are trying to make our organization mission-focused. Much of that mission, we hope, will be focused on Veteran services and Edelweiss Equine-Assisted Therapy Center’s Veterans program. The Legion has many programs for youth that have slipped away locally, and we hope to re-engage with the community on these important subjects, such as flag etiquette and Hoosier Boys State.
2. We hope to provide friendships through shared service. Our hope is that as we volunteer as a group at Edelweiss, at the Kenneth Butler Memorial Soup Kitchen or with Love INC, that we can establish lifelong friendships.
3. We want to advocate for Veterans issues at the local level. We hope to assist our county and city governments in understanding our needs and pitch in with them to make life better for those who have sacrificed and served.
4. Even though we meet on the second Tuesday of each month at the Elks, we want to change it up to some Saturday mornings at the soccer fields or other places young people are.
I think lots of organizations are in our same boat. While I have no answers yet, I hope that as a community we will begin to find ways to get our young community members involved.
Brigette Jones, the new executive director of the Hancock County Visitors Bureau, recently spoke to the Hancock County Arts Council. Her ideas about developing a local community calendar for all things was very exciting. I hope she succeeds with it, and it has room for all the diverse things going on in our county. That is forward-thinking and could be a way to get young and old involved.
The fact is, we need a fusion of young and old ideas for any organization to work anymore.
The Legion started a Facebook page, and now much of our communication is done through that channel. I’m a young Baby Boomer, so I learned this technology. I ran into a man recently, three counties away, who knows me through my veteran-focused Facebook posts. He and I have made a connection that was unheard of just a few short years ago.
While we still have lots of men and women who want to be called on the phone, or need rides to meetings, my hope is that through technology and good old-fashioned hand shaking, we can refill the ranks that are left open for us to fill.
The Greatest Generation left us big shoes to fill. Let’s fill them.
Kurt Vetters, a longtime resident of Greenfield, is a U.S. Army veteran, author and local businessman. He can be reached at email@example.com.