'This is what The American Legion does'

Eschewing the normal touristy activities associated with traveling, nearly 50 volunteers from the Legion, Auxiliary and Sons of The American Legion chose to give their time helping clean up what one local resident termed a long-time “eyesore.”

The Legion family group teamed up with The 6th Branch volunteers on Aug. 28 in Baltimore to clean up a lot that has been vacant for more than 20 years in the Darley Park neighborhood. Over the course of four-plus hours, the volunteers built garden boxes, picked up trash and cut down tree limbs to set the stage for a future community park.

It was the third such volunteer project the Legion family has staged at national conventions, starting first in Houston in 2013 and continuing last year in Charlotte, N.C. Past National Commander Tom Bock participated in the second event.

“This is what The American Legion does,” Bock said. “Obviously we stand for veterans and kids, but we also stand for our own communities across the country. We want to be able to help, to make a difference.

“This neighborhood needs help. We’ve got the bodies. We’re here for convention. We can have a good time at the convention while we’re making a difference in the community.”

The 6th Branch is a nonprofit founded in 2010 by a group of veterans as a way to continue to serve their community. Based in Baltimore, it conducts community service initiatives around Baltimore. Dave Landymore, executive director of The 6th Branch, said his organization has been working with the Department of Maryland American Legion for two years.

“We just developed a relationship with them, and it’s been fruitful,” said Landymore, a member of Post 95 in Fell’s Point, Md. “Veterans enjoy being around other veterans. It’s been a good way to kind of collaborate, share resources, network, that kind of thing.”

Darley Park, and specifically the vacant lot, are areas of emphasis for The 6th Branch.

“This is one of the main thoroughfares in the city,” Landymore said. “It starts downtown and goes all the way out to the county. Thousands of cars travel this road every day. They really want, when people head down the road and they look this direction, the neighbors want these folks to see that the Darley Park community is on its way back … and has people that care about it.”

Accompanying Bock was Department of Colorado Commander Tom Florez, who said his reasons for volunteering were pretty simple. “You just go out to help people: participate, pitch in, do whatever needs to be done,” he said. “It’s kind of like we we’re doing across the entire United States. It’s always good to lend a hand. This is kind of what we do – always trying to help someone else.”

Community activist Pauline Charles, a resident of Darley Park, was grateful. “The city tore down the houses here 22 years ago, and it’s been an eyesore ever since,” she said. “That’s a project we’ve being trying to get done for years. It means so much to us.”

National Vice Commander Doug Haggan also made the bus ride to Darley Park to help out. “I think it’s pretty neat that we had a whole busload of people come out here and volunteer their time and their efforts when they could be out doing other things: touring or whatever it may be,” Haggan said. “They saw fit to give up (four hours) of their time to come out and do this for the community.”

That didn’t surprise Bock. “We’re a family, and we take care of other families,” he said. “We believe in what we’re doing.”