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American Legion Post 178 aims high with Shooting Sports program

MILLERTON — Thanks to recent funding from Dutchess County’s “Learn, Play, Create: Supporting Our Kids” grant program, the American Legion Post 178 in Millerton was granted additional support to continue offering local youth the chance to partake in the Shooting Sports program where they can learn the safe, ethical use of both firearms and archery equipment.

The “Learn, Play, Create” grant program was launched this past June as part of Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro’s “Dutchess Invests” initiative, which seeks “to direct $57 million in one-time funding allocated to Dutchess County through the Federal Government’s American Rescue Plan (ARP) to areas the community has recognized as priorities,” according to a recent press release from Molinaro’s office.

The grant program “provides $3 million in one-time grants to local nonprofit youth organizations in the categories of expanded learning — arts, libraries and athletics — that were deprived of a year of fundraising or participation due to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Totaling $387,700, the 10th round of “Learn, Play, Create” grant awards was distributed on Monday, Nov. 1, to fund 22 projects from local nonprofit organizations.

Of those 22 projects, the American Legion Post 178 at 155 Route 44 in Millerton, received $20,000 for materials, equipment and supplies for archery and shooting sports pop-up educational events throughout Dutchess County.

Starting late 2013, American Legion Post 178 Historian Sean Klay said the Legion has sponsored the county’s 4-H Shooting Sports program, becoming one of its largest sponsors and getting a number of its own members involved as instructors.

More widely known as the Dutchess County Long Rifles program, it’s affiliated with the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Dutchess County (CCEDC) and is open to any child ages 8 to 18, according to the Legion’s website, www.legionpost178.org.

“This has been a great blessing for both the Post as well as for the youth throughout the county,” Klay said, “and it’s turned into great reciprocal relationships.”

Before COVID-19, Klay said the program typically had around 250 participants over the course of the year.

“The good thing is not everybody came at once because we’re in competition with other youth activities,” he said, naming baseball in the spring and field hockey in the fall as examples.

Because of COVID-19, the Shooting Sports program took a big hit, receiving 125 to 150 participants last year. However, Klay said the Legion had a lot of program outreach during the Dutchess County Fair this past August and has since received a huge boon of interest.

Asked how the program works, Klay said the Legion starts participants who are at least 8 years old with archery, while participants ages nine and up work on handling air rifles. Around age 12, participants are introduced to firearms like shotguns and rifles.

As part of the program, Klay said they hold field target training and teach participants about their equipment and how to safely handle it.

As they get better and develop more self confidence, he said the Legion is then able to take participants to the next level and introduce them to competitive shooting.

Klay himself primarily teaches archery and shows participants the proper way to use and handle a bow.

One of the most interesting parts of the program, Klay noted, is that 60 to 70% of the program’s participants are typically girls.

“It surprises a lot of people,” he said, “and they — no joke — clean the clocks out of the boys… It’s kind of cool and fun to watch because you see a lot of guys get humbled. It’s a lot of fun and the kids have a good time.”

Along with the skills they acquire through the program, American Legion Post 178 Treasurer Bob Jenks said, “One of the big things that youth gain is confidence, and confidence in youth is important.”

Participants also have the chance to earn scholarships based on their shooting ability. Since 2013, Klay said they’ve had 13 to 14 scholarships awarded, adding all but two of them have gone to girls.

As the Legion continues to support the Shooting Sports program, Klay said one of the things it’s is looking to do is use the “Learn, Play, Create” grant to continue to expand Post 178’s outreach.

Enrollment for the Shooting Sports program is open year-round; for more information, go to www.dclongrifles.org.

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