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 Legionnaires Agree to Fight for Home

January 14, 2009 - For 80 years, the American Legion Department of Indiana, the Legion’s Auxiliary and Sons of the American Legion have generously supported the Indiana Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Children’s Home and its students.

While it has most often come in the form of funding and provision of materials, activities, vehicles, equipment and quality of life enhancements for Home students – more than $750,000 worth since 2001 alone – their immediate support will be coming in the form of a concerted effort focused on a single objective: saving the Home.

The Indiana State Department of Health announced last week that, following a three-year study, State Health Commissioner Dr. Judith Monroe has decided to close the home at the end of the current school year. During a committee meeting held Saturday afternoon in Indianapolis at their annual midwinter conference, hundreds of Legion, Auxiliary and SAL members vowed to do all they can to fight for the Home and prevent its closure.

As it does each year, the Legion’s Knightstown Home Committee began its annual meeting by presenting class rings to each of the seniors at the Home’s Morton Memorial School who are scheduled to graduate in the spring. This year, rings were presented to 18 students, who, if Monroe has her way, will be the Home’s last graduating class.

“It’s been a great senior class,” Home Superintendent Paul Wilkinson said before presenting the rings. “This has been one of the most organized and well behaved senior classes that I’ve had the privilege of graduating.”

As they came forward to accept their rings, each student expressed their thanks to Legion, Auxiliary and SAL members for all they do to support the Home and its students. While their comments were often brief, many of the students, whose respective stays at the Home have ranged from one year to eight years, took the opportunity to say how important the Home has been to them.

Highlighting the safe environment the Home provides, one student said, “Before I came to the Home, my life was like survival of the fittest.” Another student who had been at the Home for two-and-a-half years said that he only wished he had been able to come to the Home at a younger age.

While not all of the students have their post-graduation plans finalized, many of them do. Some of the students said they have already been accepted into colleges, while others said they plan to pursue a college or vocational educational. Other students announced that they have joined one of the branches of the military, or plan to do so.

After the rings had been handed out, Wilkinson reported on some of the activities that senior students had been involved with this year. He said they rang bells for the Salvation Army, sent out Christmas cards to troops stationed overseas, presented awards to Home staff, and collected more than 60 blankets for the poor and homeless.

As he concluded his remarks, Wilkinson said, “It’s been a pleasure to serve as superintendent of the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Children’s Home. ... It’s been a tremendous joy.”

While the presentation of rings to the students had been an occasion to celebrate, the rest of the committee’s meeting took on a more somber tone as members moved on to their primary piece of business: planning their challenge to the state’s decision to close the Home.

Gary Gregory, commander of the SAL attachment, reminded the standing-room-only crowd that numbered at least 500 that “Miracles can happen.” He encouraged everyone not to give up hope.

Former state Senator Bob Jackman (R-Dist. 42), who served 12 years representing the district where the Home is located, serving on the Home’s eight-member advisory committee, briefly addressed the crowd. He encouraged those in attendance to do all they can to create “a groundswell of support” for keeping the Home open.

“There’s nothing easy in the legislature ... and this is going to be a big job,” Jack told the crowd. He said the most effective thing that Home supporters can do to contact their legislators and “tell them how you feel.” He recommended that people send lawmakers handwritten letters and e-mails, and call them on the phone.

Jack announced that a rally in support of keeping the Home open is planned for Monday, Jan. 26, at the statehouse in Indianapolis. He said that the next day, Jan. 27, is when the Senate’s Ways and Means Committee will hold a public hearing on the Department of Health’s proposed budget, which currently includes no funding for the Home. Getting the budget restored, he said, has to be the immediate focus of efforts to keep the Home open.

Steve Short, the Indiana Legion’s department adjutant, said the Legion’s goal is to have as many people as possible contact every state legislator this Wednesday (today) by e-mail and to flood their mailrooms. Understanding that, for many, this is a very emotional issue, Short encouraged people to be respectful when they contact lawmakers.

“The people you’re writing to,” Short said, “aren’t the ones who cooked up this budget.” He said people should ask lawmakers to restore funding for the Home and put it back in the budget. “If we can get any kind of delay and get that restored, it’s a two-year budget,” he said. “That will give us time to fight.”

Jerry Jordan, commander of the Knightstown American Legion Post 152, announced that there were four basic objectives to a resolution the committee went on to pass with no opposition: (1) get the Home’s budget restored; (2) establish a temporary committee to act on behalf of the Legion with respect to the decision to close the Home; (3) use “all legal and appropriate actions” to focus public attention on this issue and place political pressure on the state; and (4) have the Legion do its own study and present its own findings regarding the Home.

Before the committee meeting adjourned, several Home alumni took a few moments to speak. Diana (Holden) Bossingham, a 1973 Home graduate and current president of the alumni association, spoke first. “Thank you,” she said, “for telling us kids that we do have value.”

Brian Harris, a 1979 Home graduate and current assistant vice president for Fifth Third Bank, said he serves on the Home’s eight-member advisory committee. “I want to let you know that Dr. Monroe never bothered to call me to tell me the Home was closing,” he said. “... It seems to me you should talk to your advisory board.” Harris encouraged those in attendance to do all they can to keep the Home open. “Guys like me,” he said, “are counting on you.”

George Kirksey, who graduated from the Home in 1996, said an online petition to keep the Home open already had 1,800 signatures. Speaking of Gov. Mitch Daniels, Kirksey said, “For a man who stood behind the president’s No Child Left Behind (Act), he sure threw us a curveball.” Kirksey said the Home is “more than just bricks and mortar” and that it provides students with love and support that many of them did not get elsewhere, as well as an environment that is often safer than where the students came from.


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