During this May’s National Executive Committee Spring Meetings, it was announced that The American Legion Legacy Scholarship Fund has reached a point where it can sustain itself through the foreseeable future. After discussions with leadership of the American Legion Riders – which has made raising money for the Legacy Fund its primary mission via the annual American Legion Legacy Run – it was determined that starting in 2024, the annual charity motorcycle ride will be fundraising for The American Legion Veterans & Children Foundation (VCF).
The Foundation funds the Legion’s Temporary Financial Assistance Program, which assists military and veteran families with minor children at home when they are hit with unexpected financial hardships, from sudden health-care emergencies to delayed military pay. Funds are disbursed as cash grants solely to be used for essential household costs. Over $6 million in Temporary Financial Assistance grants have been provided over the last decade alone.
The VCF also provides funding to provide training for more than 3,000 American Legion-accredited service officers who provide Department of Veterans Affairs benefits representation and other forms of assistance to some 750,000 veterans at any one time, all the time, free of charge. American Legion service officers are directly responsible for veterans’ disability compensation of more than $14 billion per year.
National American Legion Riders Advisory Committee Chairman Mark Clark, who also serves as the Legacy Run chief road captain, talked with American Legion media about the change and the VCF’s critical mission.
The American Legion: First of all, how does it feel knowing that a mission that the American Legion Riders set out on in 2006, to raise all this money for the Legacy Fund, has succeeded?
Mark Clark: It’s a mission-accomplished moment for us. It’s amazing. A lot of pride in that. But the Riders have always known that at some point they’re going to tell us, “There’s enough money in it.” If there’s any anxiety at all, it’s that this has really been our identity for all these years. But the reality is that the Riders are going to try to do what is right for the organization like they always have. The Legacy Run was never designed to be that one-trick pony. It wasn’t just going to be for the Legacy Scholarship Fund. The Legacy Run, really, is about continuing our legacy of service to others, to our veterans and their children. So, it’s really about the legacy we leave, more than it is attached to any one thing. The national Legacy Run, the thought always was it would represent the fundraising priorities of our national leadership. They’ve come to us and asked us for help, and I think the Riders can rally behind that, and they’ll be excited for the opportunity to ride for another cause, having been so successful supporting the Legacy Fund. I think they’ll be excited and see another opportunity for us to do something great with the Veterans & Children Foundation.
Question: The Riders often use the phrase “it’s for the kids” when they reference fundraising for the Legacy Fund. But supporting the VCF is really for the kids, also, isn’t it?
Clark: It’s still for the kids. Some of the things we learned at the Spring Meeting was that not only does the fund provide over $1 million of grants in Temporary Financial Assistance to veterans’ families with children, but the work that our service officers do also brings 1,300 more children into the VA system through their parents being brought into the VA system. And those children are also going to be eligible for the Legacy Scholarship Fund at some point in the future when they become college age. So, transferring to the VCF is really taking us full circle. It not only continues to support veterans’ families with children, but it also opens up the opportunity for more children to be eligible for American Legion programs by getting those folks VA-connected through our service officers. It’s really kind of a holistic foundation. There’s a reason why the Veterans & Children Foundation is often known as “the foundation of hope.” It’s connecting our brothers and sisters with those critical services the VA offers, and it’s also focused on taking care of veterans’ families with children. I think it fits nicely into what the American Legion Riders care about, what the American Legion Family cares about, and the overall mission of The American Legion to take care for veterans.
Question: You made it a point on last year’s Legacy Run to share the Legion’s “Be the One” initiative. How does the VCF fit into “Be the One”?
Clark: It fits really nicely into “Be the One”. Our service officers are connecting veterans that right now don’t have any connection to health care or mental health care. This foundation, providing the training for our service officers, is providing a critical link to get those veterans – particularly when you consider that after the passage of the PACT Act, there are a million veterans out there right now in America that are not connected to the VA healthcare or education system. So, getting those veterans connected to that, and also providing that Temporary Financial Assistance when needed, helps to relieve that stress. It provides a link to critical healthcare and education services. It gets that veteran connected to that critical health care that they made need to be able to combat the challenges they may face in life in that transition from the military service back into the civilian society. This foundation really fits nicely into the overall goal of The American Legion’s “Be the One” campaign.
Question: This will be the last Legacy Run raising funds for the Legacy Fund. You set a record last year ($1.32 million). Would you like to go out breaking that record, and do you feel the potential is there?
Clark: I do. I’m hoping we can reach that elusive $1.5 million. We’ve had that as a goal for many years, and we’ve always come up just a little short. This is the last year we’re going to ride for (the Legacy Fund). So, I’m going to challenge our Riders to make this a record year. Let’s complete this mission by demonstrating what we’re capable of doing. Let’s go out with a bang and then be excited about next year launching into our new mission.