Steve Taylor wants to get younger.
But Taylor, post commander of the Secundino Baldonado American Legion Post 81 in Belen, doesn’t want to step into the fountain of youth himself. Instead, he wants young blood to join the local group to help out the community.
Taylor and the other members are starting up two groups â€• American Legion Riders and a Ladies Auxiliary — in hopes that younger veterans and their spouses can expand the group’s membership.
“We want to promote the American Legion in the community and make people aware that we are here,” Taylor said. “It’s amazing how many people live in Belen and don’t know there is a post. There is a lot of veterans who are eligible for membership who don’t know.”
Taylor, a veteran who served in the Army during the Vietnam War, said the group is barely scraping by with private donations and membership dues and could use a jolt in membership.
Of the group’s 92 members, a small portion regularly participate in activities of the legion. A few members live in other states. He said the American Legion needs participants who are in their 20s and 30s.
The American Legion Riders is a motorcycle association that started in 1993 and supports current and former military and their families. The group is geared to promote the goals of the American Legion.
He said the Belen group would like to help out community members who are in need by working on tasks, such as repairing a window or working on someone’s roof.
“Those (younger) guys can get stuff done that a lot of us can’t,” Taylor said.
The post commander said the new groups would have their own board members and could host separate benefits, but would remain part of the Secundino Baldonado American Legion Post 81.
The post is named after Secundino Baldonado, who was a Belen native and veteran of the Korean and Vietnam wars. Baldonado was killed in Vietnam.
Taylor said the motorcycle group needs four to five members to form a charter, and believes the auxiliary would fill up once the motorcycle group gets enough exposure.
He said the auxiliary would organize event, such as a dinners and dances and could help cook and serve food.
“It’s just a matter of getting people’s attention to know we are here and to know what we are looking for,” Taylor said.
Vietnam veteran Jeff Fladd, who was a past post commander, said it’s sometimes hard to get younger people to understand the importance what extra groups within the legion can accomplish.
He said younger folks don’t often join similar clubs because they are busy with their careers and family.
Fladd said younger veterans have a different perspective on past wars â€• one that doesn’t typically show urgency to join a legion group.
“There is kind of a generation gap between the wars,” Fladd said.
But Taylor envisions a group that has different generations in the same building at the same time. He said the local legion will thrive if more people participate in the group.
“That’s what we’d really like to see â€• more of a family-type atmosphere,” Taylor said. “You can have a lot of different functions if you do it that way. You have more people — you have more help.”
Part of the problem garnering support, Taylor said, is that younger generations don’t have anyone they can relate to once they join an organization such as the American Legion.
He said the winning combination is to have a mixed bag of both genders and age groups.
“They figure if it’s going to be a bunch of old guys all the time. These young guys don’t want to hang around,” Taylor said. “But if we can get three or four young guys, we can promote interest for their own age group.”
Johnny Leyba hopes to be a trailblazer with the group.
Leyba, 22, is a Tomé resident who served in the Army in both Iraq and Afghanistan. He was deployed for duty at age 18.
In December, American Legion Riders from Grants presented him with a check to help out after his Veguita home burned down.
He said he is excited for the group to get off the ground and said he can’t wait to ride his Honda motorcycle.
Leyba said the group gives him an opportunity to help strengthen the American Legion.
“They helped me out,” Leyba said. “I want to do the same thing.”
In the meantime, the legion is planning a fundraiser to help the organization stay afloat.
On Saturday, April 14, the post will hold a raffle with proceeds going to support the American Legion. Tickets are $10 with prizes that include a TV and a barbecue grill. For information about the fundraiser, or to join the American Legion, call 864-6709.
The Secundino Baldonado American Legion Post 81 is located at 214 Becker Ave. in Belen. They meet at 1 p.m. on the second Saturday of each month.
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