When back home in Alaska, American Legion Auxiliary Legislative Chairman Lisa Williamson would rather try to show prospective members what the Legion family is doing, rather than trying to tell them.
That’s why, for the second year, Williamson joined other Legion family members in an Aug. 26 volunteer event during the national convention. Williamson and other members of the Legion family went to three different houses in Cincinnati to repair a wheelchair ramp, stain decks and do yard work.
“I truly believe that doing projects like this, it’s like the ‘Field of Dreams’ movie: If you build it they will come,” she said. “I’m not a real great membership recruiter when it comes to handing applications out. But people come up to me and say, ‘Hey, I love what you’re doing. How can I be a part of it?’ That’s the key to me.”
Williamson was at the home of Korean War Marine veteran Roscoe Gatewood Sr. and helped stain a wheelchair ramp that volunteers also fixed up with some new wood planks.
“It helps (Gatewood) remain at home and not go into a nursing home for safety reasons,” said Ja’Lah Willingham, Gatewood’s granddaughter. “(Gatewood) has a history of construction, so he had actually tried to put together this ramp for my grandmother … but he wasn’t able to do the best job because of some of his (health conditions). To have (the Legion family) come and correct it in the right way means a lot to us.”
Korean War Army veteran Henry Robinson suffered a stroke a few years ago and now cannot put too much pressure on his right leg. So when volunteers showed up at his house to mow and stain his back porch, he was very grateful.
“It means a whole lot to have The American Legion come out here and help me out,” Robinson said.
One of the volunteers working at Robinson’s home was Past National Commander Fang Wong, who has participated in every Legion community event at the national convention since 2013. “As Legionnaires we believe you always want to improve your community (and) always want to serve your community,” he said. “It may not be a professional job, but we want (Robinson) to know, and the community to know, that there are people out there looking out for their benefits, looking at for their well-being, and that the Legion is obviously one of them. Hopefully if they run into trouble and they need help they will think of us.”
At another resident’s home, Past National Commander Mike Helm was busy with other veterans painting and staining a front porch and rear deck while cleaning up the yard. “You really make a difference,” said Helm, also a participant in every convention community event since 2013. “The lady we’re doing this for, she came by earlier and she’s just so excited about it. I think we really do make a difference. And the people who do this on a regular basis, they appreciate us coming in and showing we care what they’re doing.”
The Legion worked on the project with local nonprofit People Working Cooperatively (PWC), which provides thousands of low-income, elderly and disabled homeowners with home repairs, energy conservation and weatherization, mobility modifications and maintenance services.
“It’s incredibly valuable,” PWC Volunteer Program Manager Aaron Grant said of the Legion family effort. “These are people connected to the armed services, and they wanted to make sure that the impact they had here in Cincinnati was related to veterans. It’s really important to connect those two groups of people.”
Williamson felt that connection. “I just had five minutes with (Gatewood), and just to know that we’ve helped him out … it’s heartwarming,” she said.