For nearly two years, Operation Desert Storm U.S. Army combat medic Pete Alexander had been on a waiting list to have a handicap-accessible ramp added to his mobile home in Fleetwood, Pa. Breaking his back in a car accident years ago, he now must use forearm crutches and has fallen down his stairs enough times to limit leaving his home only when necessary.
His neighbor, Lisa Twaddell, has done what she can to help Alexander, but decided that he needed more assistance.
So, she reached out to Betty Kennedy, a member of American Legion Auxiliary Unit 626 in Birdsboro who also is active in Post 626’s American Legion Riders chapter. Within three weeks, Alexander had a ramp installed at his home, thanks to the efforts of Post 626’s entire American Legion Family, as well as some surrounded ALR chapters who chipped in to assist.
“This was a first time for us, as far as building an access ramp,” American Legion Riders Chapter 626 Road Captain and Post 626 member Chris Swenda said. “We have met some other smaller needs from time to time, but this one kind of came out of left field for us. But (Alexander) had basically become a shut-in because he couldn’t negotiate his steps anymore.”
Learning of Alexander’s dilemma, Swenda made up a list of materials they would need to complete the project, which totaled around $1,400. During an ensuing meeting assisting Alexander was unanimously approved. The Post 626 Home Association, which oversees the facility and its social quarters, contributed around 80 percent of the total cost of the project. Chapter 626 also had some money available through its operating account. Additional fundraising took care of the rest of the cost.
Swenda also put out word of the project through a weekly email he sends out to members of Post 626’s Legion Family, as well as the department’s Region 6 American Legion Riders chapters. The result: Three Riders from Chapter 184 in East Greenville showed up the day of construction, while another group from Chapter 234 in Souderton showed up to make a financial donation.
“I would say in the past seven or eight months as things started to open back up from COVID, our Region 6 for the Riders has really begun to get active and start to join together more,” Swenda said. “Through the email chain we kind of all know what we’re doing, and we can go and support each other. It’s fantastic. The reality is together, we’re stronger. And we can do more. That’s something that Region 6 has really been building on … and it’s really working to build some camaraderie and build some lasting friendships.”
Construction of the 40-foot ramp started at around 8 a.m. and was completed by 2 p.m. that day, meeting Americans with Disabilities Act standards. The ramp is wide enough in sections a wheelchair can turn completely around, as well as for Alexander to easily get inside his front door.
The 56-year-old Alexander was there to watch the construction. Swenda and others said the veteran isn’t one to ask for help or to complain.
Alexander reiterated that to the Reading Eagle. “The thing is, I didn’t ask,” he said. “They got everyone together, and they were like a platoon. It was a godsend that they did.”
Alexander’s reaction to the ramp left Swenda emotional. “I think I can speak for our whole chapter when I say it’s very heart-warming,” he said. “I never met Pete until the day we went out there to do that job. For me personally, I have a servant’s heart. That comes from my grandmother. My family and I spent many summer vacations doing mission trips. We taught middle school and high school kids to do home repairs. To be able to translate that into this point in life to helping brother veterans and sister veterans, for me, it’s almost beyond words.”
Swenda also said the effort wouldn’t have happened without the entire post’s Legion Family getting involved. “This was truly a team effort within the Riders as well as Post 626,” he said. “None of it could’ve happened without everyone being on board and jumping into help.”
News of building the ramp for Alexander already has led to Chapter 626 agreeing to build a ramp in December for a local family of a deceased veteran.
“We will be looking for more projects to assist our veterans,” Swenda said. “It is our hope to continue this type of work to help fill the needs of our veterans. This type of work directly impacts the quality of life for those in need. That is where the rubber meets the road. Being this was the first time, seeing the possibilities of what we can do going forward has sort of stoked the fires of serving.
“This is a tangible way where not just our Riders – we have support from our whole post from the commander on down … to include the (Sons of The American Legion), the Auxiliary, the Home Association and Legionnaires – can all work together and try to do as much as we can.”