The Morgan Wiles American Legion Post 336, Legion Riders Chapter in Williford, Ark., is just under 18 months old. But the chapter already is making a positive impact on youth in the community.
The chapter recently staged a series of fundraisers and a kick-off ride to collect more than $1,000 to send three local high school students to a summer band camp. It’s part of a commitment to local youth that will drive the chapter, Chapter 336 Rider David Ames said.
“We look for something to do,” said Ames, state director for the Arkansas Legion Riders. “How can we affect the community the best? How can we get ourselves out in the community and present ourselves … as a community group? We donate to veterans' causes, but this was the first time we picked a community-based cause that seemed to us to be relevant.”
Ames said he found out from Chapter 336 Legion Rider and State ALR Vice Director Billie Suiters, whose children attend Highland High School, that some of the children’s friends wouldn’t be able to attend the camp for financial reasons – despite the band and its booster club conducting several fundraisers.
“This area is a low-income area,” Ames said. “We decided as our first community-based ride that we would support that effort so that those kids could go to band (camp).”
Ames said Suiters got the process of raising funds within the community and “it just sort of bankrolled through the community. We had donations, and we had … a silent auction with local businesses. Word of mouth got it out and said, ‘This is what we’re doing.’”
Chapter 336 also staged a 154-mile motorcycle ride around the Ozarks that included food and evening entertainment. All of the proceeds from the ride and after-ride event were donated to Highland School Band Director Greg Bruner to disperse among children in need of help to attend the camp.
The chapter ended up raising $1,054 to send three students to a week-long Dixie Band Camp at the University of Central Arkansas. The camp features several workshops for the children to learn how to play their instruments, afternoon and evening social activities, concerts, outdoor activities and a final-day concert.
Chapter 336 isn’t done, Ames said. This year’s ride was the first of what will become an annual event.
“We will pick a charity or a need for every event,” Ames said. “We’re going to focus on the need of the community for the children, more so than anything else.”
Ames, who spent 33 years in the U.S. Marine Corps, said taking a community approach to assisting others helps provide the right image of The American Legion. “In order to change the perception … let’s do something in the community that’s outside of the realm of (the perception),” he said. “We’re a Legion post that is involved with our youth and our community. I thought that was important, and the post thought that was important, because this was the first way … to really get us out there and involved. And the response was amazing.”
There’s also another benefit to making a positive impact on the community.
“We have a number of young (post-9/11) veterans who don’t see the Legion as a family-based or community-based organization,” Ames said. “Once they realize (we are), we’ll start getting membership. And we’ve already done that.”