This article was written by BenitoLink intern Marisa Sachau
While the Veterans Auxiliary Unit 69 has been active in the community for the past 10 years, auxiliary members feel not many residents know about them. Unit 69 1st Vice Esther LePore hopes to change that. Lepore, who also serves as the Veterans Auxiliary District 28 president, is passionate about the nonprofit’s mission and it’s evident in her voice. She became a member in 2014 and has not looked back.
Veterans Auxiliary Unit 69 is one of 10 units within District 28, which consists of Santa Cruz, Monterey and San Benito counties. Throughout the year the organization works to raise money and be involved with the community. LePore was sworn in as District 28 president on July 17.
The Auxiliary’s mission statement reads, “In the spirit of service, not self, the mission of the American Legion Auxiliary is to support The American Legion and to honor the sacrifice of those who serve by enhancing the lives of our veterans, military, and their families, both at home and abroad. For God and country, we advocate for veterans, educate our citizens, mentor youth, and promote patriotism, good citizenship, peace and security.”
LePore said one of the proudest achievements they hold is their scholarship programs at both local and district levels. Scholarship funds are raised from recycling bottles and cans, or other local causes they might participate in.
The biggest event for them happens in May for poppy season where they honor those who fought in World War I and World War II. LePore said, “Approaching Memorial Day, we try to promote poppies because that is the symbol of the bloodshed from World War I and World War II.”
When active military members are involved with their unit, the auxiliary will focus on their families to give them any support they need. For example, if one of the parents is deployed for months at a time, the organization will “adopt a child” by sending cards.
An important way they are involved with the community is working with the career center at the high school, or picking one girl in her junior year to attend the week-long American Legion Auxiliary Girl State conference. The auxiliary describes the gathering as “an amazing week of learning focused on responsible citizenship, leadership, and love for God and country.” During the auxiliary’s 10 years in Hollister, it has sent five girls with all expenses paid.
LePore said the auxiliary has an adoptive “spinal cord wing” at the Veteran Affairs Hospital in Palo Alto that they visit twice a year. The first Saturday in November, they put on a Thanksgiving dinner for patients, their families, and staff. For Christmas, they give stocking stuffers such as gift cards for the hospital store.
It’s fair to say LePore has been surrounded by the military her entire life. Her father, John Z. Hernandez, served in the Korean War in 1951-52. He taught his children about the sacrifice that military members make when they join, and how important it is that they are supported by their community.
LePore said, “I do this for his service and tend to the needs of service members that love this country and would serve again for the love of America.”
LePore’s daughter, Elisa Eclarin Pereda, also served 20 years in the Air Force and her husband served in the Marine Corps for 10 years.
LePore said, “When somebody joins the military, they belong 24/7 to the country.”
LePore’s goal as president is to increase membership by raising the auxiliary’s visibility in Hollister. Anyone who is a direct descendant, mother or spouse of military members is eligible to join.
Currently, there are 32 members in Unit 69, and LePore aims to mentor younger members to rise within the auxiliary’s ranks.
“I hope to gather new memberships, grow in our membership through friendship trains, because we are friends in Hollister,” she said. “We’re a friend of the next door neighbor. We’re a friend of the business next door to our building.”
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