Every time Dave Pedersen visited La Esperanza, a full-time shelter for abandoned and abused girls in Mexico City, he'd see one child over in the corner, too shy to approach him.
Then, finally, Pedersen got a small smile out of her, as she watched her friends run to the Legionnaire and throw their arms around him. A few feet away, other girls grabbed the hands of Alan Seeger Post 2 members Tom Murphy and Mark Walker, eager to show them their living spaces and how well they can jump rope.
La Esperanza receives food and money every month from Post 2, as does a boarding school for blind children in the city. Though the shelter is sanctioned and licensed by the Mexican government, La Esperanza receives little assistance, and its building desperately needs plumbing and electrical repairs.
"Our post has some handy Legionnaires, but some of these problems are beyond our scope," Pedersen says. As Post 2's adjutant, he'd like to hire and monitor outside help, and hopefully raise enough money to buy the facility a new washing machine.
Founded over 50 years ago, La Esperanza is run by Sister Maria Duran. The six-floor shelter houses 41 girls, five to seven in each room. The youngest are 4, the oldest in their early 20s. With physical and/or mental disabilities, many of them have been deemed "unadoptable."
On Dec. 3, Murphy visited La Esperanza for the first time. He took along some photo books he thought the girls would enjoy – one on the world's natural wonders, the other about animals.
To Murphy's surprise, the books were a hit. One by one, the girls flipped through their pages, wide-eyed and smiling, pointing to the pictures and giggling.
"They're starved not just for affection, but for learning," Pedersen says.
A week after their visit, Legionnaires brought the girls of La Esperanza pizza and pinatas, and each one received a Christmas present.
Even so, Pedersen dreams of doing so much more for the shelter, and for other local designated charities.
"Our post has existed since 1920, and although expatriates technically, we consider ourselves part of the community where we live," he says. "We see this as just taking care of our neighbors."
To help support La Esperanza, send donations to American Legion Alan Seeger Post 2, Celaya 25, Colonia Hipodromo Condesa, 06100 Mexico, D.F., or contact Post 2 Adjutant Dave Pedersen at email@example.com . All contributions are tax deductible.
Click here  to read "Good Neighbors, Part I"
Click here  to read "Good Neighbors, Part II"