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Scholarships, grants, VA assistance top April impact report

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The American Legion’s support of veterans, young people and disaster victims are reflected in the April 2019 Membership Impact Report.

Fifty-three high school-age orators came to Indianapolis April 4-5 to compete for college scholarship money and a chance to win The American Legion National Oratorical Contest. Patrick Junker of Iowa took home the title in part with his passionate speech titled, “The Spread of Constitutional Apathy and How to Quarantine It.” His $18,000 scholarship was part of $138,000 awarded to teens from across the country and around the world who competed in the 82nd event.

Also in this month’s report, the power of volunteerism is quantified, and the Legion’s 100th birthday is remembered from Royse City, Texas, to Cooperstown, N.Y.

Click here to see the April American Legion Membership Impact Report.

For previous reports visit: www.legion.org/membership/impact


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Legion posts 'proactive' in the fight against homelessness

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What started as a small birthday party/fundraiser has developed into a Kansas American Legion event that has raised thousands of dollars to help get veterans off the streets in the Kansas City, Mo., area.

In three years, the Hold ‘Em for Heroes fundraiser staged at first by American Legion LeRoy Hill Post 19 in Gardner, Kan., and later expanded to include Earl Collier Post 153 in Olathe, has raised more than $46,000 for a Kansas City nonprofit that builds tiny-communities for homeless veterans.

The fundraiser was started by Post 19 First Vice Commander Jeremiah Bull, who wanted to do something for his birthday party to benefit area veterans. Teaming up with Sons of The American Legion Squadron 19 member Robert Carver, the pair decided to do a Texas hold ‘em tournament and make a local nonprofit the beneficiary.

During a Facebook search Bull came across the Veterans Community Project (VCP), whose mission is to build “a specialized community of tiny-homes and onsite services to provide housing stability and address the underlying cause of the veteran’s homelessness.” Started in Kansas City, VCP is in the process of expanding to Missouri, Florida, Tennessee and Colorado.

“It was local,” Bull said. “And not only do they serve homeless veterans, they set up a community center right here in Kansas City that any veteran can come into off the street. (They) offer employment assistance and financial planning. Psychiatrists and social workers are on staff that work full-time.”

Playing cards just made sense for Bull, who served in the Army from 2003 to 2009, including two tours in Iraq, and now serves in the Kansas National Guard.

“It was just me and a bunch of my military buddies I served with,” he said. “We got together for my birthday. We played down range when we were in Iraq almost daily. We just decided to get together and play some Texas hold ‘em like we used to.”

Bull pitched the idea to Post 19’s American Legion Family and immediately got the OK to proceed. The event took place at Post 19 the first two years and grew considerably from Year 1 to Year 2.

“The first year was just kind of an idea,” bull said. “We had probably 40 to 50 people. We raised about $2,500. We were ecstatic raising (that). The next year we kind of got our act together, fixed some of the mistakes we made the first year so that we could improve on things. We raised $12,268 the second year.”

In the event’s second year, VCP representative Vincent Morales came to accept the donation. After speaking with Bull, the pair realized they’d served together at Fort Lewis, Wash., in Vilseck, Germany, and on two tours in Iraq.

“We reconnected during a charity event for veterans,” Bull said. “It's kind of what fueled our drive to make this event bigger.”

That happened this year. The February event “outgrew” Post 19, Bull said, so the decision was made to partner with – and hold the event at – Post 153 “because it’s about four times the size of ours,” Bull said. “We’re at full capacity there now. We had probably 400 to 500 people show up this year. And doubling our manpower between two posts just made our job that much easier.”

The fundraiser picked up a sponsor in the form of KCTV-5; evening news anchor Ellen McNamara even served as master of ceremonies for almost two hours. And the entire Legion Family got involved.

“This year we had 24 volunteers from our American Legion Family: Legion members, (Legion Riders), (Sons of The American Legion) members and Auxiliary members that all pitched in to make this happen this year,” Bull said. “It’s a lot of pride amongst our entire Legion Family.”

The larger-scale event resulted in more than $31,000 being raised this year and has the Legion Family members involved looking toward next year. Bull said four posts have committed to working the event in 2020, and by the fifth year the event will be a Department of Kansas Second District event. Bull said the event also provided Post 19 with 10 new members, but that’s just a side benefit to the mission of the fundraiser.

“Myself and everybody else that’s involved … don’t think that anybody who raises their right hand should ever be left behind,” Bull said. “People go down range and probably encounter some things that you’d never want to encounter in life. You come back and you fall on hard times, and sometimes people fall through the cracks and end up on the street. We’re trying to be proactive in Kansas City and see what we can do about ending veteran homelessness.”


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Iowa youth wins Legion Oratorical finals, $18,000 scholarship

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High school junior Patrick Junker of Waukee, Iowa, won an $18,000 scholarship and The American Legion’s 82nd annual National Oratorical Contest, “A U.S. Constitutional Speech Contest,” April 7 in Indianapolis. It was a significant comeback after not advancing past the quarterfinal round during last year’s contest, a loss he said that was “extremely influential.” It gave him confidence and encouragement to write a prepared oration that he was passionate about, that he believed in – “The Spread of Constitutional Apathy and How to Quarantine It.”

Junker’s inspiration for his speech came from U.S. government class where he saw how his peers didn’t care about the Constitution and its purpose. “We must not only teach students the Constitution, but we must also teach them the importance it has on our everyday life. We must teach them this importance in order to safeguard our future,” said Junker, who was sponsored by American Legion Post 403, where his father, Vincent, is the commander. “We must promote the Constitution in our classrooms. We must honor those who fought for our freedom by fighting for every American's freedom. I guess that apathy can be stopped with medicine. We are that medicine, and we should never let apathy dilute our potency.”

Junker emerged in the National Oratorical Contest from a competitive field of 52 other high school orators who won their respective American Legion department Oratorical Contest. Throughout the weekend's competition, the contestants presented a rehearsed eight- to 10-minute oration on an aspect of the Constitution in front of judges, as well as a three- to five-minute speech on an assigned topic discourse — a phase of the Constitution selected from its Articles and Sections. Junker was one of three finalists to advance through semifinals on Saturday to stand on a stage at the Wyndham Hotel for the finals competition. Once results were finalized, National Commander Brett Reistad and Americanism Commission Chairman Richard Anderson presented the awards to the three orators.

Second-place finish and a $16,000 scholarship was awarded to Caleb Maue of Homer Glen, Ill., a home-schooled junior who was sponsored by Post 1080; and third-place finish and a $14,000 scholarship was awarded to Eden Carnes of Friendsville, Tenn., a freshman at The Disco Institute who was sponsored by Post 70.

Making it back to the National Oratorical Contest was largely in part of support from members of American Legion Post 403, Junker said. “They all supported me, they all pushed me, they all gave me the opportunity to practice and I don’t think I would be at this level without them.” Junker said if he didn’t make it past quarterfinals again this year, he wasn’t coming back to try to advance a third time. Instead of writing another Constitutional speech, he planned to mentor future orators so they too could have success in public speaking like he did with The American Legion’s Oratorical Contest – his stepping stone into public speaking. As a mentor, Junker is going to share what makes a good Oratorical Contest prepared oration – “it sounds like something they would say, that they truly believe in, that they are truly passionate about. They are not just presenting, they are trying to inspire. Do your own speech.”

Junker is the second youngest of seven children, yet the only one to have competed in The American Legion’s Oratorical Contest. However, as he prepares to attend American Legion Iowa Boys State this summer, it’s a program that an older brother participated in and sister with Auxiliary Girls State.

“I really want to thank The American Legion for the opportunity to do this. This has built so many skills for me such as confidence, charisma, how to research effectively, how to write speeches effectively, and present to an audience,” Junker said. “The American Legion, because of this contest, has taught me so many different life skills that i will use in the future.”

Following graduation from Van Meter High School in 2020, Junker has aspirations to attend West Point, a dream Junker has had since he was 8 years old. “I’ve always wanted to go in the Army, and I’ve always wanted to lead in the Army. I think the United States Military Academy will help me do that.”


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Legion Theater on full display this week

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Hollywood Post 43’s newly renovated theater will be on the international radar this week. The Legion Theater at Post 43 will be one of the venues for the 10th annual Turner Classic Movies' Classic Film Festival.

For four days starting April 11, Post 43’s theater will screen movies ranging from military classics to musicals for movie-goers from all over the globe. According to TCM.com, the Classic Film Festival is “a place where movie lovers from around the world can gather to experience classic movies as they were meant to be experienced: on the big screen, in some of the world’s most iconic venues, with the people who made them.”

The Legion Theater at Post 43 recently underwent a multi-million dollar renovation and now features state-of-the-art digital projection and sound systems, and 35mm and 70mm capabilities. Located in the heart of Hollywood near the intersection of Hollywood Boulevard and Highland Avenue, the theater now holds 484 seats.

Screenings will take place daily and will include an array of special guests, including relatives of Sgt. Alvin York, Award-winning director/producer Rob Marshall, “Jeopardy” host Alex Trebek, film critic Leonard Maltin, legendary television writer/producer Norman Lear, talk show host Dennis Miller and actress Kate Flannery.

The complete schedule for The Legion Theater at Post 43 is below.

April 11

8-10:30 p.m. – “Sergeant York.”

April 12

9-11 a.m. – “High Society”

Noon-1:30 p.m. – What’s Not to Love about Republic Serials?

2:30-4:15 p.m. – “Broadway Danny Rose”

5:30- 8:30 p.m. – “The Sound of Music”

9:30-11:15 p.m. – “Desert Hearts”

April 13

9:15-10:45 a.m. – “The Little Colonel”

Noon-1:30 p.m. – A Celebration of 20th Century Fox

2:45-4:45 p.m. – Tom Mix Double Feature: “The Great K & A Train Robbery” and “Outlaws of Red River.”

6-8 p.m. – “Wuthering Heights”

9:15-11 p.m. – “Indiscreet”

April 14

9-10:30 a.m. – TBA

11:30 a.m.-1:45 p.m. “Yours, Mine and Ours”

2:30-4:30 p.m. – “Cold Turkey”

5:15-6:45 p.m. – TBA

7:30-9 p.m. – “Buck Privates”


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Illinois, Iowa and Tennessee youth advance to Oratorical finals

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Three high school orators advanced through two rounds of competition in The American Legion’s 82nd National Oratorical Contest to earn a spot in the finals Sunday morning. Youth from Illinois, Iowa and Tennessee competed against 50 other orators from across the country who spoke on a 230-year-old document, the U.S. Constitution, to claim a spot on the national stage.

Caleb Maue of Homer Glen, Ill., Patrick Junker of Waukee, Iowa, and Eden Carnes of Friendsville, Tenn., will compete Sunday, April 7, at 10 a.m. ET for a chance to win first place and an $18,000 scholarship. Second and third place will earn $16,000 and $14,000, respectively.

Watch the finals live on The American Legion National Headquarters Facebook page at www.facebook.com/americanlegionhq.

The contest got underway Saturday in Indianapolis with the quarterfinals, where 53 American Legion department Oratorical youth champions were separated into nine groups to present their prepared oration on the U.S. Constitution and speak on an assigned topic discourse – a phase of the Constitution selected from Articles and Sections – in front of judges, Legion Family members and family. Maue, Junker and Carnes were among the top nine orators to advance to semifinals, where they edged out the competition to become a top three finalists.

Junker said not advancing past the quarterfinals in the 2018 National Oratorical Contest is what helped him reach the national stage this year with his speech, “The Spread of Constitutional Apathy and How to Quarantine It.”

“I think that loss is what taught me how to edit my speech, how to be more confident, how to give my speech,” said Junker, who is sponsored by Post 403. “I learned a lot last year, and I think I really used that to my advantage this year. I’m happy to be spreading my speech and my message on a national stage.”

The focus of Junker’s speech is how youth today have little to no education on the U.S. Constitution and so “they just don’t care. They are not taught to care about the Constitution,” Junker said. “My big thing is teaching purpose. I think our society does not teach purpose to kids anymore or to really want to learn anything. I think the Constitution is worth learning.”

Carnes, a high school freshman who has done public speaking since fourth grade, didn’t know what to expect with The American Legion’s Oratorical Contest as she was the only competitor at her sponsoring Post 70.

“I really had no frame of reference, so I listened to the national winner (speech) last year and thought that I think I have this,” Carnes said. “Obviously it was good enough because here I am. I’m really excited about it.”

Her speech, “The Duties and Obligations of a Citizen Under the U.S. Constitution,” takes listeners back to Aug. 18, 1920, in Nashville, Tenn., to what became known as the “War of the Roses,” where supporters wore yellow roses to demonstrate their backing of women's suffrage while opponents wore red roses outside the Tennessee House of Representatives. The discussion was on the ratification of the 19th Amendment. Carnes focused her speech on Tennessee’s “vital role in ratifying the amendment” that allows women the right to vote. While not old enough to vote herself, Carnes said her “opinions and political perspectives do matter. Good citizenry is not age-restrictive.”

This is Maue’s first American Legion National Oratorical competition, and he “did not expect” to make it all the way to the top. His speech, “The Safeguard of Our Liberties,” focuses on “how American’s really don’t know the Constitution as well as we should, why the Constitution is so important, and what our obligations to it are,” said Maue, who is sponsored by Post 1080.

Maue stated in his speech that American’s “have a duty to uphold the Constitution and do what we can to elect leaders that will also uphold it. As Americans, preserving the Constitution is a way in which we can help secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.”

Since 1938, The American Legion’s Oratorical Contest has awarded more than $3 million in scholarships to high school orators. Nearly 6,000 youth from across the nation participate in the contest at the post, district and department level. For more information, visit www.legion.org/oratorical.


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