For more than 80 years, The American Legion Children’s Home in Ponca City, Okla., has cared for children of veterans who are unable to provide for their families. With a dormitory that currently houses 62 young people ages 11 to 18, the home has, since 1928, served approximately 8,000 youths left destitute from loss, depravity, abuse or neglect.
Unfortunately, The American Legion Children’s Home is among the last of its kind. The Ponca City home had a sister facility – the Indiana Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Children’s Home in Knightstown, Ind. For 144 years, the Indiana home was a refuge for veterans’ children. The American Legion didn’t own it, but for decades the Legion family provided funding for clothing, holiday gifts, and other essentials. Over the years, as the number of needy veterans’ children declined, both homes began taking in all types of neglected youth.
That came to an end for the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Home last June when the State of Indiana closed the facility despite a massive Legion family-led campaign to keep it open. The state-funded Legion Children’s Home in Oklahoma remains open but in need of additional financial backing from outside sources to avoid a similar fate.
Chief Development Officer Kerri Bowman estimates that the Ponca City Legion Children’s Home is “about 20 years behind the curve as far as fundraising goes. Because we’re dependent on state funding, they could pull our funding with a stroke of a pen. We are in a very fragile place.” Bowman’s grandmother grew up in the home.
Located in the heart of “Tornado Alley,” the facility needs funding to build a storm shelter. Also planned is an additional living area to house 24 more children.
Expanded in the 1980s to assist all neglected youth – not just those whose parents are veterans – the Children’s Home teaches its youngest inhabitants the basics of living: hygiene, social skills, food planning, household shopping, community awareness, etiquette and safety drills. Residents 16 and older are part of an independent living program that encourages them to find part-time jobs and manage their finances. The home also offers recreational therapy and caters to disabled children.
“There is a lot of history here,” Bowman said. “It is really interesting to go back and talk to these alumni who say they wouldn’t be the person they are today if they hadn’t have lived here.”