Following a district judge’s restraining order, the American Legion Children’s Home in Ponca city has been spared a closure date of Dec. 31—for the time being.
Attorney General Drew Edmondson asked Kay County District Court at the end of November to block closure of the home.
“Shame on the American Legion and especially the home’s board for their callous indifference to the plight of 44 children,” Edmondson said. “That it’s almost Christmas only serves to worsen the impact of this decision. This is not like the American Legion I have for so long admired.”
Bill Alexander, executive director of the home, said the home’s board of directors initially voted to close it on Dec. 31.
“The American Legion has a board of Department Executive Committee men—the governing board of the state American Legion. In Oklahoma, if you’re a DEC member, you’re also a board member of the children’s home,” Alexander said. “The DECs on Oct. 24 voted to close the children’s home without asking or telling the membership (of the American Legion).”
He said some men from Ada’s American Legion post brought gifts up last week and didn’t even know the home was closing.
Alexander said the home has been in operation since 1928 and currently houses 44 children between the ages of 11 and 17.
“All of our kids are sent to us through the state of Oklahoma Department of Human Services,” Alexander said. “They’re all kids who, through no fault of their own, can’t live with their families. Some of them have been abused. Some of them, their families just can’t take care of them for some reason.”
Save the Children’s Home Angels
A group called “Save the Children’s Home Angels” has formed to try to keep the home open.
Amanda Doran, a member of the group, said the reasons the board of directors has given for closing the home don’t make sense.
She said one of the reasons the board decided to close the home is because the home doesn’t house veterans’ kids.
“(The board) said that there are none, but that’s not true. There are seven kids there today who are veterans’ kids. That’s beside the point, in my opinion. Years and years ago, they started taking kids who were in state custody,” Doran said. “When they did that, they changed the mission of the home and the mission statement changed with the approval of the board. That’s not something that was unexpected. That’s not something that nobody knew about.”
She said another reason given for closing the home was a funding crisis.
“That’s not true because once (the home) started taking DHS kids, those kids brought in DHS contract money. Ninety percent of the children’s home’s operating costs comes from DHS money. They also have grants and private fundraising but it doesn’t cost the Oklahoma Department of the American Legion a dime to operate that place,” she said. Doran said the home has obtained over $1 million in grants in the last three years.
“They ran in the black last year. They were actually able to put a significant amount of money into their endowment at the end of the year last year.”
Allegations of impropriety
Doran said the board did not consult their members over the closure of the home.
“They had a secret meeting on a Sunday afternoon. It was not made public that they were even considering shutting down the home,” she said. “Those of us who wanted to fight this decision were trying to get the American Legion to change their minds. The more we looked into it, the more we saw that they had done it in an illegal way.”
She said the board is subject to the Oklahoma Open Meetings and Open Records Acts and the board meetings have not been held in compliance with that act.
“They didn’t alert the attorney general that they were planning to close a public entity. That was a violation,” she said.
Ada veteran Darrell Bolick said the home’s closure came as a surprise to him.
“I think it’s a disgrace, not only to the children, but to the veterans,” Bolick said.
“(The Attorney General) has filed a temporary restraining order, which prevents the board from taking any further action to close the home until we can have a hearing date with the judge in Kay County,” Doran said. She said the date was initially set for Dec. 14 but was postponed. She said the new hearing date has not been set.
“We feel very confident that there will be a just outcome. If the attorney general is successful in the hearing, the board, as it stands now, will be absolved and a receivership will be put in place,” she said. She said the children’s home will basically become a non-profit organization run by elected board members in the home’s community.
One of a kind
Doran said the home is the only American Legion Children’s Home in the United States and several American Legionnaires have been very supportive of the home.
“It’s something that I, as an (American Legion) auxiliary member have been very proud of. This is certainly uncharacteristic of the American Legion to take an action like this and take it with no thought, whatsoever, as to what’s best for the kids,” she said.
“(The kids) just need a place to live and that’s what we’ve done for 82 years,” Alexander said.
Oklahoma American Legion board of directors could not be reached by press time.