What does an organization with roots in the 19th-century Philippines and an educational foundation in Valley Forge, Pa., have in common?
Love of country.
“National Sojourners’ sole purpose is to support Americanism and patriotism, and that’s what Freedoms Foundation does with its programs,” said William R. Sanner, national secretary/treasurer of National Sojourners. “So we try to provide educational opportunities — in the Constitution, American history, and our founding documents — for youths from across the country by sending them to Valley Forge for the training the Foundation provides.”
This partnership began in 1990. Then, the students sponsored by National Sojourners would join in programs at Freedoms Foundation along with youths sponsored by other organizations. But after a few years, Sojourners was sending enough students to have its own designated week on campus. (For 2018, they will be at Valley Forge July 5 to 8.) Because of the group’s generosity and persistence, more than 2,000 students have participated in the Foundation’s Spirit of America youth leadership programs. And Sojourners has recently invested even more heavily in enhancing that experience, by donating $35,000 this year for technology upgrades for Foundation classrooms.
National Sojourners uses its nationwide network of chapters to recruit participants, from schools, youth groups, Junior ROTC programs, the Boy Scouts and other organizations.
“Wherever our members are active, they share the information,” Sanner said. “We find as many students as we can but would still love to find more. It can be a struggle. There are so many things kids are involved in today, and so many distractions, that it can be hard to find the time for programs like this.”
But it’s more than worth their time and effort, the members of National Sojourners believe.
“It’s more important today than ever,” Sanner said. “The prominence of history, particularly American history, is not as great in the schools’ curriculum as it once was. For that reason alone, the experience at Freedoms Foundation – with the chance to understand how our government works, to get a sense of the historical figures involved in the founding, including George Washington and others who are portrayed in the programs – is important. These types of things would not be available to the students anywhere else.”
The affinity with Washington is rooted in the National Sojourners’ membership base: current and former members of the U.S. armed forces who are also Master Masons. Washington, the nation’s first commander in chief, became a Master Mason at age 21 and remained a member for the rest of his life.
National Sojourners traces its beginnings to the deployment of a North Dakota infantry regiment to the Philippines in August 1898. The Masonic Grand Lodge of North Dakota granted dispensation for some of those soldiers to establish a “field Lodge,” and meetings were held twice a week, at least one time while under fire. After that regiment returned home, various other “Sojourners” clubs were formed in the Philippines by Masons who were seeking “each other’s company, counsel and aid,” according to the group’s web site. It was former members of such groups, once back in the states, who organized the “Chicago Sojourners Club” in 1917. From that stateside group evolved the current organization, now known as National Sojourners Inc., which today has about 8,000 members in dozens of chapters across the United States, as well as in other countries.
Their mission, as it has been for decades, is to promote fellowship among its members, assist those “overtaken by adversity or affliction,” cultivate and promote the ideals and patriotic aims of Masonry, develop patriotism and Americanism, further national defense, and oppose “any influence whatsoever calculated to weaken the National Security.”
To fulfill that mission, National Sojourners offers a number of programs and services in addition to the scholarships for Freedoms Foundation students and other educational initiatives. For example, they present programs, often in colonial uniforms, on the U.S. flag – its history or how to properly fold one – or the national anthem and Pledge of Allegiance. They provide awards for ROTC and JROTC cadets. And there are Masonry oriented ceremonies and services as well. The goal throughout is to teach Americans, particularly young Americans, about America.
And what the members of National Sojourners hear from young people encourages them to continue.
“We frequently ask the students to come to a meeting of the chapter that sponsored their trips, like to Freedoms Foundation, or they will send letters after the fact, and they tell us what they learned and what they thought of the program,” Sanner said. “The feedback is always outstanding. They learn so much about our government, our country, our founders – and about themselves. Plus they get to make friends with young people from all over the country that they never would have had the chance to meet.”
“We’ve yet to have anyone say this wasn’t worthwhile,” he adds. “Just hasn’t happened.”
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