DOWNEY – Several volunteers with weed whackers and other various tools in hand took to the American Legion Hollydale Post 723 on Saturday as they began work on an extended beautification and rehabilitation project.
The campaign was led by the Living Tree Foundation.
The Living Tree Foundation is a nonprofit organization that provides assistance for military veterans who find themselves in need after their service to the country has ended. Its founders, Rick and Lupe Rodriguez, created Living Tree three years ago after their two sons returned from war.
“My oldest son came back, he was a Sgt. 1st Class in the 4th Infantry Division of the US Army, and he had 42 soldiers who came out of the army when he came out,” said Rodriguez. “Immediately he came home and he came to our family business to help work it and run it and he said, ‘Dad I’ve got 42 soldiers who need jobs’…So we created a back-to-work program for veterans.”
Living Tree soon expanded to be involved in more than just job assistance, as Rodriguez started to come across veterans who had other complications and needs. Living Tree then started to offer other forms of aid, such as counseling, religious study, resources, and various forms of relief.
Living Tree’s current project, “Operation Clean-Up,” brought as many as 60 volunteers to the rundown American Legion Post that resides on Gardendale Street and Garfield Place.
The American Legion is another nonprofit organization dedicated to support of military veterans. This particular post was suffering from an overrun of weeds and dirt. Bruce Lee Cameron, the Commander of Post 723, described the American Legion as “home.”
“We don’t have a lot of money; we’re a nonprofit organization. This is what happens,” said Cameron. “With the help of this foundation, it’s going to be gorgeous.” Cameron served as a US Army Jag Officer from 1955-1962.
Living Tree was not the sole workforce at Saturday’s clean-up effort, as there were several other organized bodies who answered the call, such as recovery homes House of Jeramiah and House of Esther.
Also on hand was the Warren High School Humanitarian Society. Spanish teacher and club advisor Jackie Pardo and several Warren students cleaned tables and helped get rid of weeds all in the name of helping those who have served the country.
“It’s so sad and unfortunate that their facilities haven’t been taken care of. It looks like an abandoned place and that’s not what we should be doing,” said Pardo. “We should be somewhat giving back to our heroes that have come back, and those that have passed away fighting for our country.”
One of the Warren Students, Senior Alyssa Jimenez, found that the day’s volunteer work had special meaning to her besides her passion for volunteering.
“It means a lot to me personally because I do know people who are in the army,” said Jimenez. “It hits close to home.”
Downey Mayor Pro Tem Alex Saab was also present and lending a hand. Saab expressed his deep pride to see members of the local community stepping up to help those who needed it.
“This is important for multiple reasons. Not just because it’s the right thing to do to help our veterans, but it’s also an opportunity for our community to come together and show the humanity in people; whether it’s from City Hall, service clubs, businesses, corporations,” said Saab. “It shows that even though we’re a huge city, 113 thousand people in the city of Downey, at the end of the day we’re one big family with a responsibility, that comes together to help those in need, especially our veterans.”
Living Tree hopes that Saturday’s effort will be the first of many. Rodriguez said that they hope to work on the American Legion Hollydale location every 90 days until “[The American Legion] is able to do it on their own.”
Those who are interested in more information about The Living Tree Foundation and their volunteer opportunities are encouraged to visit yourlivingtree.org