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Mary Downs’ volunteering yields American Legion’s Spirit of Youth award

MADISON – Mary Downs, Junior Member of American Legion, Post 229 in Madison, has received the national Spirit of Youth award.

This award from American Legion Auxiliary goes to only five Junior Members across the United States. One requirement is the candidate’s participation as a Junior Member in the American Legion Auxiliary for three years minimum.

Downs, 18, graduated with the Class of 2022 at James Clemens High School.

This award symbolizes Downs’ volunteer service for veterans during high school.

“Our Auxiliary Unit in Madison is really active in supporting local veterans. I’ve had a lot of opportunities to provide service to them,” Downs said. “For as long as I can remember, we’ve been doing projects for our veterans all year-round –from Valentines, Easter baskets and Christmas gifts to supporting Memorial Day and Veterans Day events and doing things for veterans at Tut Fann.”

“Being an Auxiliary Junior Member has really been fun. Getting this award is amazing. I’m the only one from Alabama to earn it and because our Auxiliary Unit has only been active for the past four years,” Downs said.

“The Auxiliary Unit gives a Junior Loyalty scholarship each year to junior members who remain members throughout college, which I will definitely do,” Downs said.

Along with volunteer service for American Legion Auxiliary, participating in Girl Scouts helped Downs to earn this award. She earned the Presidential Volunteer Service award for all four years in high school – a total of 661 hours of service.

In addition, Downs received Girl Scout’s Gold Award with a project to improve the Veterans Park in downtown Madison and creating the Medal of Honor Garden. “For this scholarship, I wrote two essays — One about importance of veterans support organizations, like the Auxiliary today, and the second about assisting family caregivers of veterans as an Auxiliary member,” she said.

Downs learned about her win from National Auxiliary’s Facebook post. “This is a really large scholarship, so I was excited to put it towards my tuition,” she said.

American Legion Junior Auxiliary is open to girls 18 years old and younger who are sisters or direct or adopted female descendants of either American Legion members, or deceased military members who served on active duty after Dec. 7, 1941 and died in the line of duty or honorably discharged.

Downs is a charter member of Madison’s Auxiliary Unit, founded in 2017. “My mom, Jean Downs, is very active with American Legion, Post 229 and is also President of the Auxiliary Unit. My brother is a veteran, so our entire family volunteers to support veterans throughout the year,” Mary said.

“I really enjoy being a part of the Auxiliary. The adult and junior members do everything together. We have fun packing up gifts and making cards for our veterans,” Downs said.

At James Clemens, Downs was a member of Jets Baseball’s Flight Crew and Family Community Career Leaders of America or FCCLA. She was awarded the Community Service Scholarship from Global Federation of Women’s Clubs Legacy; National Disabled Veterans Auxiliary Education Scholarship; State of Alabama Veterans of Foreign Wars or VFW’s Scout of the Year Award; and Redstone Arsenal Military and Civilians’ Club’s Merit Award Scholarship.

“I’ll be attending Ole Miss, and my major is Allied Health Studies,” Mary said. “I want to do something in the medical field, like nursing or radiology.”

Mary’s parents are Jeff and Jean Downs. Jeff is a Director with Dynetics. Jean works as a Director at Teledyne Brown Engineering.


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