A 14-year-old boy began to disengage from family and friends following his father’s military deployment, even though family members encouraged him to be proud of his father’s service. But his demeanor changed after he received a $500 grant to attend football camp and an awards packet from Our Military Kids – the young boy told his mother that he was proud of his father’s service and proud to be serving alongside him.
The mother called Linda Davidson, co-founder and executive director of Our Military Kids, to thank her and said, “Isn’t it strange that complete strangers can convince your children of things that their family cannot?”
Our Military Kids has provided 55,000 grants, totaling $22.5 million, to children of deployed National Guard or reserve servicemembers, and wounded servicemembers since 2004. The grants support extracurricular youth activities such as sports, camps, arts and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) programs.
Davidson co-founded Our Military Kids 12 years ago after researching if a program of its nature was needed. She read a quote from a deployed servicemember that solidified her answer – he asked Americans wanting to support troops not to send cookies or care packages, but instead to take care of servicemembers’ children.
“What better way to say thank you to the brave men and women who volunteer to serve our country, to make the world a safer place, and to protect our families than to provide a program to help their children with the anxiety and stress that go along with the separation from their military parents, or to help them adjust to living with a parent recovering from the visible and invisible wounds of war,” Davidson told attendees of The American Legion’s National Children & Youth Conference in Indianapolis on Saturday. “Our Military Kids is alleviating the stress and anxiety in military children and boosting the morale of our servicemen and women.”
The Legion’s Child Welfare Foundation (CWF) has supported Our Military Kids for the past nine years through grants that have helped the nonprofit create tools that educate Americans nationwide about the needs of military children. The tools include brochures, videos and its website.
Our Military Kids saw a 33 percent increase in grant requests last year as military deployments continue. The organization has applied for another CWF grant to support the continuation of its “Top Secret” awards packet that’s mailed to Our Military Kids grant recipients.
Since the activity check is sent to the service provider, Davidson said the packet is the “fun part.” It’s sealed with a “top secret” sticker and includes a letter thanking the child’s parent for their service and encouraging the child to keep up the good work while their parent is overseas or recovering from injuries sustained during service; a certificate of appreciation; an Our Military Kids patch; dog tags printed with “I love my military parent” and a wristband that reads “I’m proud of my military parent"; and a stamped postcard with the information and address of the donor that provided the grant the child received. Children are encouraged to write a thank-you letter on the post card, name what extracurricular activity they selected and send it to the donor.
“Our Military Kids is the pass-through for our donors' message of hope, gratitude and inspiration,” Davidson said.
Davidson received a phone call from a mother after her three children received a grant and the awards packet. The mother was in tears, thanking Our Military Kids for making her children’s day. After her 10-year-old son opened his packet he told his mother he couldn’t believe all the wonderful things he received from Our Military Kids. When his mother asked what he received, he said, “I can’t tell you; it’s top secret.”
Our Military Kids annually gauges the impact the grants have on military kids. The surveys consistently reveal that there’s a 92 percent decrease in stress and anxiety, a 68 percent increase in academic performance, a 93 percent improvement in the servicemembers' morale and/or recovery, and a 97 percent increase in the well-being of the entire family when a child is engaged in an activity.
“Our Military Kids ensures these children are engaging in positive activities and focusing on the things that make them the happiest,” Davidson said. “The American Legion Child Welfare Foundation has truly enhanced our ability to get the word out and military families are better served because of you.”
Learn more about Our Military Kids here.
View all presentations from the National Children & Youth Conference here.