NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Summer Morris turns to face an American flag, places her right hand over her heart and begins to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, one of several pledges she leads at a recent Daughters of the American Revolution meeting in Williamson County.
Dozens of shiny pins adorn her teal blazer, each one related to her DAR membership. At the top of her right shoulder, a pin reads “Chapter Regent,” designating her top leadership role in the local chapter.
It’s uncommon for a junior member like Morris, 35, to serve as chapter regent. Even rarer, the chapter’s vice regent, Aubrey Williams, 33, is also a junior member. As working professionals and mothers, the two embody the type of new members joining DAR.
Junior members, ages 18-35, say changes to the group’s operations — things like night meetings, a bigger presence on social media and happy hours — have helped attract young professionals to the predominantly senior group.
DAR is a national group that dates back to 1890. The group consists of women who can trace ancestors who aided in American independence. They focus on patriotism, historic preservation and service.
“Everyone assumes I must be the youngest by a solid, you know, 50 years,” Shannon Zingle said with a smile. Zingle, 30, is a member of the Old Glory DAR chapter in Franklin.
“There is a huge age range; however, I’m definitely not the only young professional female in the group,” she said.
Night meetings, instead of day luncheons, have enabled junior members to be active in DAR.
When Morris joined DAR in 2010, the Brentwood-based Sarah Polk chapter was the only chapter in the area that met at night.
“I wanted a chapter close to home, but I needed a chapter that was friendly to working women because I work full time,” Morris said.
Morris works in business continuity and disaster recovery in the clinical research industry. Leaving work for a two-hour DAR luncheon wasn’t an option for her.
Night meetings also made a difference for Rebekah Malone, a member of the Old Glory chapter in Franklin. She joined DAR in 2011.
“They used to only have meetings at 2 p.m. when I first joined,” Malone said.
“I’m like, ‘Really?’ Just send me notes,” Malone said, laughing. Malone works full time in real estate.
The chapter later established a 6:30 p.m. meeting.
“A 6:30 meeting changed everything for me,” Malone said. “It was huge to put faces to names.”
About 9.45 percent of members in Old Glory chapter are junior members.
For example, Old Glory’s chapter membership grew from 40 to 275 in eight years.
About 10.5 percent of members in the Brentwood-based Sarah Polk chapter are junior members.
Statewide, about 425 new members have joined DAR in the last three years. About 9 percent of new members in that time frame were junior members.
The chance to network and meet other women also has been a draw for young professionals new to the area.
In the past year, Zingle said she’s met women in their late 20s and early 30s in DAR chapters in the Greater Nashville area.
Beyond chapter meetings and events, they meet for monthly happy hours and go to dinner and events, like exhibitions at Cheekwood in Nashville.
“When I posted pictures of the things I’ve done in DAR to Facebook, a friend of mine from college reached out and expressed her own interest in joining the DAR,” Williams said.
“I guess now it almost feels like a younger, hipper network,” Malone said.
Some members also said local chapters are more laid-back than before.
In the Sarah Polk chapter, for example, a woman coming straight from work would not be frowned upon if she wore medical scrubs to a meeting.
“It’s kind of like a sorority, where a group of women can be supportive of each other and have the same interests,” said Cristina Hoogesteger, 35.
“I think they’re looking for that sisterhood between women,” she said.
Ultimately, younger members said they were drawn to the organization’s emphasis on patriotism, history and service.
Williams was on a deployment in Iraq when she saw DAR’s service to the military.
“I was receiving 15 care packages in one day from DAR chapters around the country,” she said.
“When I learned about the service and everything that DAR does across the country, particularly for the military, that’s what attracted me,” she said.
Karrie Gee, a member of the Old Glory chapter, describes herself as a “big history buff.”
“I’m very much involved in my family history,” said Gee, whose family is in Arkansas.
“We knew our Patriot already in our family,” she said. “I wanted to continue to honor our Patriot and be a part of this community.”
All members must have a proven, lineal bloodline descent from someone who aided in achieving American independence.
Some junior members said they already had grandmothers, mothers and aunts in DAR.
A bigger presence on social media has streamlined communication for members.
“A lot of information used to go out via mail — snail mail,” Williams said.
“And a lot of ladies would call you on the phone,” she said. “They’d be calling me in the middle of the day, at the office, and I can’t answer the phone.”
Williams runs the Tennessee DAR Facebook page.
“My favorite thing is when someone messages our pages and asks, ‘How can I join DAR? How can I find a new chapter near me?’ “ Williams said.
Information from: The Tennessean, http://www.tennessean.com