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  • Jacob Aere

New law expands membership and impact of American Legion in North County

The American Legion Post 416 is fundraising $2 million to renovate the building into a two-story structure and update its partial WWI barrack that has been in operation since 1932 on W F Street in Encinitas. Photo by Jacob Aere

ENCINITAS — President Donald Trump signed the Let Everyone Get Involved in Opportunities for National Service (LEGION) Act on July 30 to allow any honorably discharged veteran who has served in the military since Dec. 7, 1941, to join the American Legion.

Commander Matthew Shillingburg oversees the American Legion Post 416 located on W. F Street in Encinitas. He noted the lack of veteran inclusivity at American Legions under the old law, “Prior to the LEGION Act, the only people that could join as members of The American Legion were within a certain war time criteria.”

The wartime periods included World War I, World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the fighting in Lebanon and Grenada, the fighting in Panama, the Gulf War and the War On Terror.

Previously, military veterans who served in periods of peacetime between wars were not eligible for membership.

Kerry Cortinas is the 1st vice commander of Post 416 and is optimistic about increased membership numbers in the near future for the American Legion. “I think there is going to be a lot more people who are going to be able to be a part of our post who have come and been there to support our Post during some of the public events,” she said.

The American Legion sought the declaration of the bill as a way to honor approximately 1,600 U.S. service members who were killed or wounded during previously undeclared periods of war.

With the LEGION Act being put into law, 6 million more veterans have access to American Legion programs and benefits for which they previously had not been eligible.

Although the team at the San Dieguito American Legion Post 416 is excited for the new membership classification, they are also concerned about the outdated status of their post, which continues to serve food and alcohol, and hosts music acts.

The San Dieguito Post 416 plans to update and modernize their building which features components of early 20th Century San Diego military history. “We are going to remodel, and keep our 1932 World War I barrack, but on the other side we are going to go up two floors and the second floor is going to be a community center and a veterans resource center,” said Shillingburg.

Post 416 plans to raise $2 million for the extensive remodel and its team has created a 501(c)(3) foundation this year to help them on their fundraising journey.

Ralph Bettencourt is the CEO of the American Legion Post 416 Foundation which is in charge of fundraising efforts for the remodel.

“Our mission statement is very simple: It’s to rebuild our post into a proper veterans center that will serve our veterans for the next 100 years,” said Bettencourt.

Post 416 has had a lot of community support in beginning the remodel. According to Shillingburg, they already have had John Stevenson Plumbing, Heating & Air commit to donating the heating, ventilation and air conditioning for the new building.

The foundation CEO expects to keep the timeline for the remodel to be done within one to two years. “I’d like to have this thing built before two years is up — I think we can,” Bettencourt said.

“We have a big task ahead of us in that we have a lot of money to raise. Our tentative budget goal is $2 million, of which we have $100,000 moving forward, but we have a long way to go,” he said.

San Dieguito Post 416 intends to raise the money for the remodel through the foundation, and through grants and private donations.

Cortinas said the new remodel will be aided by the recent attention given to American Legions nationwide. “The LEGION Act opens the doors to other people who had served who may want to become members. The more members that we have, the more ideas we may have for fundraising and participation,” she said.

This upcoming week, Post 416 will be recruiting private donors for the building. The San Dieguito Post will also be on the August 28 Encinitas City Council agenda as Mayor Catherine Blakespear and council members will vote to wavier city fees associated with the Post building remodel.

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