With the majority of COVID regulations expected to be lifted across statewide businesses this week, the Palo Verde Valley community is eager and excited to get back into the swing of things at staple locations around town.
For the veterans and members of the Frank Luke American Legion Post 24, a grand "re-opening" was in order on Friday night.
With a taco truck on-site, friends and familiar faces came together at the local veterans' nonprofit to herald moving forward in 2021.
Along with the renewed beginning, Blythe's new Post Commander and proud local U.S. Navy veteran – Joseph Williams – also welcomed folks back to the hometown hotspot.
"I came and moved out to Blythe in 2003. Before that I was, of course, a veteran of the United States Navy – very proud of that; I joined the Navy in 1983, from '83 to '87," noted Williams, whose military occupational specialty was Aviation Fire Control Technician working on A-6 Intruder radar units. "I'm a very, very proud veteran of the United States Navy; I would serve again. I believe our country is well-worth it; even with the problems that we have, I still believe we have one of the greatest countries in the world. And, to me, there's nothing like being a veteran. Where this, right here says – 'PROUDLY SERVED' – I mean that. So, after serving, I came back and went to college. I went to school, became a teacher – and that's what brought me to Blythe in 2003, being a teacher."
In the past, the driven educator – who began teaching in 1996 – taught at Blythe Middle School for about eight years before transferring to the Community Day School, subsequently Twin Palms High School.
Today, the California State University (San Bernardino) alumnus is now a Principal at the California Department of Corrections & Rehabilitation's (CDCR) Ironwood State Prison (ISP).
"I work at Ironwood (now;) but I got hired at Salinas Valley State Prison – where I started in January 2014. I was only there a couple of weeks and then I transferred to CRC (California Rehabilitation Center) in Norco, and I was there seven months. And then I transferred here, to Ironwood. Been at Ironwood since September of 2014," noted Williams. "Blythe, as a community – it is a great place to raise a family. It is an absolutely amazing community when you think about – just, knowing people. And being able to build relationships with people. A lot of small towns you move to, you're an outsider and you're going to stay an outsider. From coming to Blythe and being here, I have developed some very, very great relationships with people from all over the place out here. It has been a great opportunity for me, for my children. We bought our first house out here because I wanted to stay out here. It's a wonderful community – when things happen, the community seems to pull together. Such as, everybody knew we were struggling during the pandemic. And we were directed towards the Community Improvement Fund (CIF) – and they were able to give us the funding that we needed to fix the things we needed to fix and get back open. You can't do that in every community."
With a pro-active and grassroots veteran-driven approach to community, Williams initially struck up a conversation with members and discussed being a part of the local American Legion post.
"(Frank Luke American Legion Post 24's then-Commander) Mark (Razo) constantly talked to me – 'Hey man, you know – come be an officer.' You know, 'Yea man, I'm willing.' So, he signed me up; I became the first vice. And, of course, I still didn't know what was really going on with all that – but I was here; being as much a part of it as I could. And as time went on, Mark continued to talk to me," said Williams. "'Commander?' Really? So, I really didn't know what all it entailed but I was willing because I'm willing to serve. So, eventually, it came to the point where Mark said, 'I have to step down. And I want you to really take a good look at it and think about it.' So, after careful consideration and a lot of prayer – I decided I would do it," said Williams.
For the new commander, one priority will be to underline the priority the post places on serving the community's veterans and youth.
"A lot of the people in the community look at the American Legion as a bar; they don't really understand that our main focus and purpose is to serve the veterans of the community and the youth of the community," said Williams. "I want to bring more people in – especially, there's a lot of young veterans around here. A lot of young veterans, who are not a part of what we're doing. We need all the veterans in Blythe to be able to be a part. Because now, we can actually serve those veterans that need help with their house; need help paying for something because we're fundraising and we have enough money to be able to say, 'OK, you're having trouble paying your rent or you need some repairs on your house – here's the money to get that done.' Or, go and do it if we don't have the money to be able to do it. Making sure we're visiting the veterans that are sick, and letting them know that – Hey, you're not forgotten."
Communicating information, providing updates, showcasing veterans, and relaying knowledge is also a plan in the works, with Williams exploring a hopeful once-a-month update in the Times' publication.
"Besides that, I want to bring more family-oriented activities," noted Williams. "To begin to change that image, so that people see us as a community service organization – which is what we are."
With a challenging 2020-2021 impacting the American Legion, Williams noted the drive and support of community members that kept the organization alive.
"The biggest person that I can say helped us through this – number one, there were a lot of people who volunteered to do things when we didn't have money. But I have to absolutely say, first and foremost – Dolly. Dolly Razo, she just...This would not have happened if it was not for her. Because – as much as I love being a part of this and being all that I can be for this – I still have to go to work and take care of my family. Dolly dedicated countless hours, here, to be able to make sure that everything that was supposed to get done got done," said Williams. "Then, you look at Glenn Johnson – the money, and the effort, and the energy, and the time that he spent to make sure that the repairs got done. There's a few other ones, but those are the two biggest contributors. And, of course, the Community Improvement Fund giving us the funds to be able to make the repairs – without that, we would not be open."