Legion family members attend the 2012 American Legion National Children & Youth Conference in Indianapolis, Sept. 21-23. (Photo by Jason Kees)

Legion receives praise for youth support

During The American Legion’s sixth annual National Children & Youth Conference in Indianapolis, Sept. 21-23, Child Welfare Foundation (CWF) grant recipients and youth who have benefited from Legion family members’ generosity spoke to those in attendance. The speakers gave attendees resources to take back to their posts, squadrons and units on ways to better support our nation’s children and youth.

Legion family members in attendance heard remarks from Auxiliary and Sons of The American Legion Children & Youth leaders, as well as from American Legion National Commander James E. Koutz. Koutz discussed his fundraising program for 2012-2013 — Operation Comfort Warriors — and his goal to raise $500,000 for OCW through generous donations and the purchase of merchandise.

The conference officially began with the introduction of two sisters — Melanie and Rosalie Albright — from Avon, Ind., who have Cystic Fibrosis and are in need of life-saving lung transplants. Fundraising efforts for the girls are actively under way through Children’s Organ Transplant Association (COTA), whose mission is to provide fundraising assistance to children and young adults in need of a life-saving transplant. COTA has received more than $600,000 over the years from CWF grants and donations from the Legion family.

"We had a fundraiser last November for the girls, a spaghetti dinner, at Speedway (Ind.) Post (500). It’s just amazing the way they have embraced our family," said Amy Albright, the girls’ mother. "We are having a motorcycle ride next week and American Legion Riders are a huge part of it and have been a big part of the planning and helping spread the word to recruit riders. It’s just been amazing to be a part of the Legion family."

Additionally, the National Children & Youth Conference agenda was filled with presentations from the Young Marines, The JAYC Foundation, Special Olympics, Mercy Medical Airlift, Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) for Children, SAL and Auxiliary. Legion members in attendance were empowered by the way each organization showcased how they are advocating for and supporting America’s future. The following are a few examples - stay tuned to www.legion.org for more.

Special Olympics: The Legion family has supported the Special Olympics through financial contributions and volunteer efforts for more than 30 years, donating nearly $312,000 in 2011-2012. The Special Olympics’ mission is to empower children and adults with intellectual disabilities to believe in themselves and become physically fit through the more than 32 Olympic-style individual and team sports.

"Special Olympics has gotten me off the couch and away from the television," said Paul Philhower, a Special Olympics athlete from Indiana for 25 years. "If I didn’t have Special Olympics, I don’t know if I would be around. I’d be so heavy, I’d have health problems."

Philhower speaks in the Indianapolis area on behalf of the Special Olympics and recently went to Washington, D.C., to meet with government leaders. He gave each Indiana Congressman and governor one of his Special Olympics medals to make them honorary athletes. The Special Olympics medal has an imprint on it with an individual crossing a finish line. The individual has three sets of arms — one set is raised high above his head in celebration; one set is down to represent how the athlete arrived when he came to Special Olympics; and one set is in between the other two to welcome his fellow athletes as they cross the finish line.

"These are the arms of equality," said Michael Furnish, president and CEO of Special Olympics since 1990. "Those are the moments we live for (when the athletes embrace each other at the finish line). It’s that moment for hope to be rekindled that we really work for."

Visit www.specialolympics.org for more information on the program and for ways to support its mission.

CASA for Children: Legionnaires and CWF have been supporting CASA’s efforts on being a voice for children in the welfare system for many years.

"I am proud that The American Legion considers CASA for Children a worthy cause, and I am grateful for your continued support," said CASA CEO Michael Piraino. "We

As a national organization, CASA advocates on behalf of children to ensure that they don’t get lost in the legal or social-services system, or find themselves in unsafe foster homes. Their volunteers also spend countless hours engaging, listening to and encouraging the young person. And they too become the one constant person in a foster child’s life.

There are currently 400,000 children in the foster care system and CASA serves 35 percent of them. By 2020, CASA estimates there will be 600,000 foster children. To ensure each child has a voice, the organization recently rolled out its new campaign, "I Am For the Child." The campaign’s goal is to have a CASA volunteer for all 600,000 children by 2020.

"When CASA and The American Legion join forces, we can find a safe, permanent home for every child in the foster care system by 2020," Piraino said.

Visit www.iamforthechild.org for more information on CASA and for ways to support its mission.

For those unable to attend the conference, PowerPoint presentations can be downloaded here.