Abiding myths in plain sight

Here’s a quiz for you. What organization builds more affordable and seniors housing than any other not-for-profit in British Columbia? What organization has been largely responsible for training most family doctors in rural and under-served areas since 1978? What organization supports over 400 youth groups and is the largest contributor to Boy Scouts, Girl Guides and Cadets? Hint: It has 70,000 members and is 99 per cent volunteer.

Is it the United Way? Guess again.

The Vancouver Foundation? No.

Okay, here’s another hint: Poppies.

That gave you the answer, didn’t it? The Royal Canadian Legion.

But therein lies the issue. Most people automatically think “Legion” as soon as they hear “poppies.” It’s a powerful association, of course — and a good one — but it hides the fact that the Legion is so much more.

To some extent, the Legion itself has kept its other activities under wraps. But now all that is changing. A dynamic new generation of leaders and mentors is making the Legion more active – and visible – across a broader range of issues, than ever before. British Columbia/Yukon command is taking the lead in promoting a “new look” for the Royal Canadian Legion, and overcoming some of the “myths”.

Myth #1 – It’s all about the Poppies

The Annual Poppy Campaign has certainly been the keystone of Legion’s public image and it’s understandable. In a short period of time every November the campaign raises over $18 million across Canada, and $4 million in BC and the Yukon alone. The fund provides a wide selection of services, training and special programs to veterans and their families.

This is a big responsibility. 117,000 Canadian men and women have given their lives in service of our country since the early 20 th Century. The essence of The Royal Canadian Legion is, “to serve veterans and their dependents, to promote Remembrance and to act in the service of Canada and its communities.”

Myth #2 – It’s all about the Veterans and seniors

It’s the community piece that most people don’t see. When you talk about strong communities, you are speaking about seniors, their families, children and the institutions that sustain them.

BC/Yukon Command members donate over 600,000 hours annually ($12 M) to local communities and programs. In addition to supporting over 400 youth groups, it is the sole sponsor of the BC /Yukon Team participating at the annual National Track and Field Championships and training camp with Athletics Canada, and it supports extensive youth arts and cultural programs.

The Legion is also a longstanding and significant contributor to the BC Seniors Games and provides cross-generational outreach programs for seniors and youth in the fields of athletics, education and personal growth.

BC/Yukon Command supports not only armed forces and veterans, but also all seniors in the communities they live in. BC/Yukon Command manages over 4,800 housing units for seniors and veterans, provides sponsorships in the fields of Community Geriatrics and Geriatric Nursing at the University of British Columbia and Simon Fraser University. The Legion also donates over $400,000 annually for the acquisition of special medical in hospitals and for first responders.

It manages a $480 million asset portfolio, and oversees an annual $150 million operating budget that covers programs as diverse as housing, social programs, sports sponsorships, wellness and longevity programs, and provides over $800,000 of bursaries and scholarships annually.

Beginning in 2011, new initiatives are under consideration as pilot programs. They include cross-institution research partnerships for PTSD counseling outcomes, competitive STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) programs such as FIRST Robotics Competition skills development pipelines for K-12, a significant expansion of the family physician and geriatric professionals training programs, pilot projects for distance health monitoring technologies in some of the assisted living facilities so families can watch over their loved ones, and a “Green Rangers” community sustainability programs for kids in grades 9-12 grades.

“We’re determined to be relevant for the 21 st century,” says David Sinclair, president of BC/Yukon Command. A veteran of 25 years in The Royal Canadian Navy, Sinclair, 73, is a Life Member of Britannia Beach Legion Branch #7 in Victoria. “I see great value in engaging the younger generation — they contribute fresh thinking, new skills and techniques, and a lot of creative energy.”

But it works the other way too, as David’s grandson, Tyrone, 21, is quick to point out. “The Legion has always been a part of my life, and I’m a member myself. I know I have learned a lot from my Grandpa, and I think the Legion is a place where this wisdom, these experiences are shared from generation to generation. I’m very excited by what’s happening in the Legion today.

But it doesn’t stop there. The Legion is constantly reinventing itself, and in so doing, it’s touching the lives of new generations.

Myth #3 – You need to be a Veteran to join

Not true. Membership is open to everyone over the age of 18 sharing in the commitment to a strong and united Canada. BC/Yukon Command, for example, has a membership of 70,000, of whom 63 per cent aren’t veterans. A new teen membership plan is being discussed, and youth programs are being expanded and reaching more kids. There’s also a new on-campus program under review to teach leadership and collaboration skills.

The Royal Canadian Legion in the 21st Century is expanding its footprint of community and family services. It has been recognized that the Legion, and no one else supports many of the fundamental needs required to communities across Canada. If the Legion’s mandate and reach in communities were disrupted few would even consider filling the void, and most other organizations would be incapable of delivering with the proven effectiveness and efficiency of the Legion.

With myths debunked, and challenges waiting, are you ready to make a difference?

Poppies? Of course.

Veterans? Absolutely.

Building a better future for Canada? There’s no better time or place.

Be inspired to action – learn more and get involved today.

Hear our VOICES today at www.bcyuk.legion.ca

Contact British Columbia/Yukon Command, The Royal Canadian Legion
152-5489 Byrne Road, Burnaby, BC V35J 3J1
Or contact your local Branch.

Article courtesy of British Columbia/Yukon Command, The Royal Canadian Legion.

Photo ©iStockphoto.com/ Jess Wiberg