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VFW National Home Kicks off 99th Year!

This January, the VFW National Home celebrated the start of their 99th year; they are now officially into the big countdown to their centennial celebration. 

The VFW Auxiliary has been involved in the National Home in many ways since the very beginning, as vocal supporters, fundraisers, and volunteers. The National Home became the Auxiliary’s first continuing Program nearly a century ago, as members recognized early on the need for such an endeavor.

In the wake of World War I, Auxiliary members watched brokenhearted as the struggling widows of fallen heroes were forced to split up their families and send their children wherever space could be found for them, which included others’ homes, orphanages, in the workforce or military, and even placed in institutions. The VFW was adamant that no service member’s child should grow up in an orphanage or institution, and the Auxiliary wholeheartedly agreed. The National Home was born of this desire to provide homes for these children – real homes, with comfortable bedrooms, inviting living rooms, plenty of food and happy holiday celebrations, in an idyllic community with a pond for fishing, hills for sledding and beautiful shady trees, with its own hospital, nursery, playgrounds, fire department and room to raise a few farm animals.

The Auxiliary named their first official National Home Chairman in 1927; at that time, they donated $1,300 for the Home’s unspecified use, and within a year they pledged another $17,000 specifically earmarked for the building of the hospital. In total, they raised $35,000 to construct the hospital, an amount which would be equal to more than $640,000 today. The Auxiliary also maintained the responsibility of staffing the hospital. By the time of the hospital dedication in 1930, 100 children were living on campus.

Toward the end of World War II, the Auxiliary set their sights on providing comfortable overnight accommodations to visiting relatives. The Margaret A. Armstrong Guest Lodge and Memory Chapel was dedicated in 1948, named for the Auxiliary’s first National President. A decade later, it was extensively remodeled; it is still open to campus guests today. In the 1960s, the Auxiliary funded the building of a library and donated the books that would fill the shelves. Auxiliary members have donated to renovate and buy new books for the library multiple times since.

As need expanded, hardworking, dedicated members raised funds to open a freestanding Early Education Center to replace the nursery, which National Secretary-Treasurer Ann Panteleakos has said is her favorite place on campus. “During one visit, I had the opportunity to play with the preschoolers. We jumped in leaf piles together and they really got a kick out of the leaves that got stuck in my hair. Seeing their smiles and hearing their laughter brought joy to my heart.”

Over the decades, the National Home took in fewer orphans to be raised by designated “house mothers” and began welcoming more single parents, primarily moms, along with their children. Throughout the early decades, it was common for kids to move to the National Home campus and remain there until they reached adulthood, after which many went to college, found employment, joined the military and/or married and started their own families. As the U.S. foster system and society changed, there was less need to place unaccompanied children in homes, and single-parent requirements ran the risk of splitting up desperate parents, so the National Home adapted. They now welcome whole families; each can live on campus for up to three years, during which time they have access to a number of services including childcare, mental healthcare, job training and more.

Each year, one child from the National Home is selected to be the “Buddy”® Poppy Child. For the first few decades, this child was always a girl and she traveled to the White House to present the first “Buddy”® Poppy of the year. “Buddy”® Poppy Children met with Presidents Truman, Coolidge, Roosevelt (pictured below), Eisenhower, Ford, Johnson and more. This year, the “Buddy”® Poppy Child is Layla, the tween daughter of a Navy veteran who was deployed four times. A few months ago, Layla was able to meet former “Buddy”® Poppy Child Betty Adamson (pictured above just under header in black and white and right with “Buddy”® Poppy Child Layla). Adamson was one of the first “Buddy”® Poppy Children ever, serving in the position in 1932, which was 92 years ago.

For nearly a century, the VFW Auxiliary has been supporting and celebrating the VFW National Home and we hope to continue to do so for another 100 years. This is a Program that has helped countless children and families over the decades in immeasurable ways. 

?Over the next year, be sure to follow the VFW National Home on Facebook and Instagram so you won’t miss a moment of their countdown to 100!

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