Veterans, neighbors and students join forces for cleanup

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The Travis Manion Foundation’s Operation Legacy Service Project leads to mass enhancements on South Philly streets.

On Saturday, veterans, neighbors and students joined forces for a colossal cleanup, as the Travis Manion Foundation’s Operation Legacy Service Project partnered with the Point Breeze Day of Service, leading to mass enhancements on South Philly streets. St. Joseph’s Preparatory School seniors Jack Winters, Christian Giuliani and Haoran Zhang sweep leaves at Chew Playground. (GRACE MAIORANO/South Philly Review)

With rakes and brooms in hand, more than 100 high school students, alongside dozens of local residents and veterans, scattered across South Philly streets on Saturday, cleaning up several neighborhoods while paying respect to fallen heroes.

From tree planting to alley decluttering, the network of community service pulsating from Graduate Hospital to East Passyunk marked the second annual alliance between the longstanding Point Breeze Day of Service and the Travis Manion Foundation’s Operation Legacy Service Project. The event at Chew Playground marked round two of the Fall 2018 Point Breeze Day of Service, which succeeded a cleanup at Wharton Square Park the weekend prior that welcomed former President George W. Bush.

The Travis Manion Foundation, a national nonprofit uniting veterans for youth and community empowerment programs founded upon the legacy of fallen Marine 1st Lt. Travis Manion of Doylestown, and students from St. Joseph’s Preparatory School partnered with 12 civic and community organizations to spruce the city.

“On Travis Manion Foundation’s side, we’ve got some amazing youth mentors and some amazing youth who want to do service through Operation Legacy in honor of fallen heroes,” said South Philly native and infantry Army veteran sergeant Charlie Elison, the northeast regional manager for the Travis Manion Foundation. “And it doesn’t really matter what that service looks like.”

Although Saturday’s event featured park cleanups, trash pickups, alley cleanouts, vacant lot cleanouts and tree plantings from the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, the project was dedicated to a handful of local fallen heroes.

Navy Veteran Jimmy White IV and St. Joseph’s Preparatory School teacher Susie Cook sweep leaves at Chew Playground. (GRACE MAIORANO/South Philly Review)

The honorees included Army Major John Pryor, a surgeon who was killed in action in Iraq in 2008, Army corporal and Philadelphia police officer Gennaro Pellegrini, who was killed in action in Iraq in 2005, Army Lt. Demetrius Frison, who was killed in action in Afghanistan in 2011, and Army sergeant and medic Matthew J. Sandri of the 82nd Airborne Division, who was killed in action in Iraq in 2004.

For the St. Joseph’s Prep students who have been teaming up with TMF since 2014 through a “leadership academy” in the fall and spring semesters, the morning signified more than community service opportunities to enhance college resumes.

“What brought me out here today is — I have the utmost respect for our military and what they do for us, what they sacrifice. It’s something I want to partake in and give back to them for all that they do,” said St. Joseph’s Prep senior Christian Giuliani. “Military is something that’s so great and it should be respected and admired. And we should do everything that we can to give back no matter what. … So, cleaning up around the community — the military goes overseas to foreign countries and coming back to areas or neighborhoods where the community is just a mess or it’s just in so much violence or whatnot, it’s hard coming back from war and then coming back to something similar. Because, you want to be treated with respect. You want to have a great life when you come home.”

Throughout the morning, students lent their helping hands to gracious neighbors by partaking in a scope of enhancements, encompassing planting close to 100 trees around South Philly, sweeping the schoolyard of G.W. Childs Elementary School and alleyways like one on 18th and Federal streets where South Philly native and Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran Jimmy White IV was raised.

The naval veteran, a 1998 graduate of the Girard Academic Music Program in South Philly and the naval Nuclear Power School, worked as a nuclear electrician on board the USS Montpelier before returning home to South Philly.

For White, who leads character-building programs through TMF at local schools, it was surreal seeing students and residents come together to sweep his native alleway located behind Annin Street just north of Federal Street.

“When I was at war and doing operation Iraqi Freedom, I wasn’t hearing a lot of information from home. And what I found out, when I came home on leave, was that my neighborhood was being shot up,” he said. “My home, my front door, my windows had bullet holes in it from the gun violence that was going on in my own neighborhood. So, here’s the dichotomy — I’m at war fighting a war overseas, when at home, there’s a war waging on our very streets.”

Although he says the community is changing, some struggles still persist, such as gun violence and drug abuse, so TMF’s South Philly presence through cleanup projects and the “Character Does Matter” program feels especially crucial.

St. Joseph’s Preparatory School students prepare for a turkey drive giveaway throughout South Philly — one of the several services the high school volunteers performed on Saturday. (GRACE MAIORANO/South Philly Review)

Looking ahead, the TMF and Point Breeze Day of Service marriage intends to continue this semi-yearly project, as a similar event is tentatively scheduled for April.

But, volunteers stressed the assistance flushed out all morning is not exclusive to one day.

“I think, overall, neighborhood response is amazingly positive,” Elison said. “My challenge to all the neighbors out there — please get involved in projects like this, and please lead your own small group.”

To learn more about the Travis Manion Foundation, visit https://www.travismanion.org/.