Members of American Legion Post 21 in Philadelphia speak with City Coucilmember Kenyatta Johnson (Photo via The Philadelphia Tribune).
By Daryl Bell
PHILADELPHIA — Melvin James has a dream that he’d like to see fulfilled. As the commander of American Legion William P. Roche Post 21 in Southwest Philadelphia, James can see a revitalized headquarters welcoming area residents.
“We’ve got some big plans for this place and it’s coming soon,” James said recently after accepting a $100,000 revitalization check from City Councilmember Kenyatta Johnson, D-2nd District, at the post at 6400 Paschall Ave.
“We’ve got some great things that we’re going to do to this building that will help the community. The American Legion William P. Roche Post 21 has been around for more than 100 years,” James continued. “It’s a fixture in this community and the community has been very supportive in everything that it has done. We’re proud and happy to be here.”
William P. Roche Post 21 began around 1920 and has always been at its present address. It is widely considered a pillar within the community and provides help to veterans of all wars.
Community service is very important to this American Legion post. Post 21 members help the homeless, distribute meals to families during Thanksgiving, and toys to children in the community for Christmas. Many of the families that have been helped in recent years have experienced gun violence.
“The leadership of the William P. Roche Post 21 came to my office more than one year ago seeking help to obtain city funding to help keep this important institution in operation,” Johnson said. “I was able to secure a grant in the city of Philadelphia’s current Fiscal Year 2023 Operating Budget to help this American Legion Post. I have known of William P. Roche Post 21’s mission and service to the community for years. We share the same mission and dreams for creating safe environments for the community and providing a place that veterans can call home.”
The American Legion is the largest wartime veterans’ service organization with nearly 2 million members and more than 12,000 posts in communities throughout the United States. Poor conditions such as the ones at Post 21 are increasingly being seen around the country as American Legion memberships lessen.
“This is something that is very dear to me,” Johnson said. “They’re going to be here for a long time and I want o make sure that things are easier for them. I pushed very hard to get the grant for this job and I’m happy to see that it came through.”
One of the major repairs is installing a large dance room downstairs. When complete, which Post 21 members hope will be in November, the Post will be able to host shows that should help its financial situation. There are other rooms in the one hallowed mansion that will be worked on individually.
“We are going to get this done and bring it to the community,” Frank McKelvey, the post’s vice chairman, said. “We’ve done a lot of work in here already but there is so much more that we have to do. If we keep going at this steady pace, we’ll be fine.”
What James and McKelvey are excited about is that the post will soon be able to welcome visitors.
“We can welcome people now but once we’re through with the basement (where the large dancing room will be housed) it’s really going to bring people,” James said. “I’m really looking forward to that.”
Daryl Bell is a correspondent for the Philadelphia Tribune, where this story first appeared.
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