Cortina Barnes' parents slowly recruited her into the Veterans of Foreign Wars Ladies Auxiliary over time, luring her with bingo, cookouts and volunteer work.
More than 20 years later, she's visiting Chattanooga as the first black national president of the Ladies Auxiliary.
Part of the duties for Barnes, who was elected last August, is to travel to all 50 state headquarters' chapters. The Tennessee chapter is hosting her here for the next three days.
She arrived Thursday and attended a reception that night at VFW Post 4848.
The Ladies Auxiliary serves as support for VFW posts, members, communities and active-duty military. Some programs include patriotism initiatives, cancer research funding and an orphans home in Michigan.
Barnes said Wednesday that one challenge for the auxiliary and VFW posts is changing to meet the needs of new veterans. Some of the formerly stereotypical smoky, alcohol-filled posts across the country are now offering child care, smoke-free buildings, educational opportunities and support networks for military families.
"We give back, that's what it's about," Barnes said.
One of the auxiliary's continuing missions is to keep public attention focused on veteran and military concerns by advocating in Washington, D.C., Barnes said.
Verna Inman, senior vice president of the Tennessee auxiliary branch, called Barnes' visit an honor and a great opportunity to show off the work the 76 auxiliary posts across the state have accomplished.
The state's 6,414 members have raised more than $117,000 for military service funding. They've also created the program called Uplink, Internet-cafe sponsoring for deployed troops.
VFW Post 4848 Ladies Auxiliary President Anna Kizer said other than the Wednesday post reception, the group will host two luncheons with Barnes and take her to see local attractions.