Why I’m Passionate about Veteran Community Leaders

What was at first a volunteer passion project has turned into a career.

By Nitza Rivera, volunteer

I have been able to see first-hand how something that may seem so insignificant to one person, can improve the quality of life for another.

Nitza interviewed by the press for her Veterans Day 2018 service.

I truly believe that veteran leadership in our communities is just as important for the veteran as it is for the community it’s impacting.

With all my military moves through the different parts of this country and abroad, one thing remains constant, and that is the lack of leadership within our communities. It doesn’t necessarily mean that communities don’t care, I think that a lot of the times community members don’t know who to reach out to or where to look for guidance.

Planting and Clearing Garden Beds at Seeds of Faith Community Garden

For me, and other veterans, leaving the service left a void in our passion to serve others. Having the opportunity to use our leadership experience to serve and help mentor members in our communities fills that void. It also provides a platform of peer support for other veterans within the community, and the opportunity for the community to interact and learn about veterans.

Continue reading “Why I’m Passionate about Veteran Community Leaders”

A Last Salute: Reflections from the Fellowship Program

August 17, 2018

Now that our final class — Alpha 2018 — of fellows have completed their term of service, we’d like to reflect on the legacy of fellows throughout the program’s 11 years. Here are a few fellow alumni from across the country on where they are now and what the fellowship meant to their personal growth and professional leadership. Continue reading “A Last Salute: Reflections from the Fellowship Program”

How Two Rockstar Volunteers are Supporting Hawaii’s Keikis

August 10, 2018
By Lori Respicio, Nonprofit Partner

About a little over 11 months ago, Errol Ingram Jr. reached out to the Hale Pono Clubhouse and expressed an interest in becoming a volunteer. He shared his passion for helping and mentioned that he was volunteering through The Mission Continues. Surprisingly, the mission of The Mission Continues was right along the lines of the Boys & Girls Club movement.

Errol was volunteering five days a week, and our youth, especially our teens built a positive rapport with Errol. He even became Coach Errol to our basketball youth and has since continued to mentor our youth on and off the court.

Hale Pono Boys & Girls Club

The impact he was making became more than noticeable, and one member in particular took to him. One of our male members age ten did not have much social interaction skills, causing him to display certain behaviors. He signed up for our basketball season — and was placed on Errol’s team.

In the beginning, this member expressed his frustration, but with the help our staff and Coach Errol, he stuck it out the whole way through. As time went by, I noticed a change in his behavior. This member displayed a higher level of social skills and was able to express himself in a more positive manner!

Hale Pono Boys & Girls Club
Mission Continues Fellow Errol coaching basketball

After the basketball playoffs and celebrating their championship win, his mother had approached me and said, “he’s amazing.” At first, I thought she was referring to her son, but she clearly pointed out Errol. Continue reading “How Two Rockstar Volunteers are Supporting Hawaii’s Keikis”

Woman Fashion Designer, Veteran, and Immigrant Turns Challenges into Opportunities

July 31, 2018

Inspired by her childhood in Mexico, Carolina was destined to become a fashion designer with a purpose. Carolina said, “I used to observe my mother making clothes for my siblings and myself. Seeing her transform fabrics into garments intrigued me to the point that it motivated me to come to the United States.”

At the age of 18, Carolina left everything she knew in the hopes of attending design school in the United States. “The simple pleasures that most natives took for granted like simply understanding a movie in English was a daunting task,” she describes.

Thrust into a different culture and language was challenging — but she pushed herself to adapt to her new environment. For five years she worked during the day and completed English as Second Language classes (ESL) at night. Continue reading “Woman Fashion Designer, Veteran, and Immigrant Turns Challenges into Opportunities”

Veterans Create Stars of Hope in Puerto Rico

May 24, 2017

On Saturday, April 28, veterans from The Mission Continues Puerto Rico Service Platoon partnered with Panamericano Hospital for an impactful day of service they dubbed Stars of Hope.

Since Hurricane Maria struck the island, veterans and community members from The Mission Continues Service Platoons in Puerto Rico, Miami and Orlando have been working hard to provide support and service to the individuals, families and communities impacted by the hurricane’s devastation. Continue reading “Veterans Create Stars of Hope in Puerto Rico”

You Are Never Too Far Gone to Make it Back Again

May 23, 2018
By Luke Merideth, Fellow

I have been a medic, a nurse, an electrician, a drug dealer and a chaplain. That last career change was, of course, the most substantial. This is the story of how I overcame drug addiction and am now helping others do the same.

I don’t remember a time when my mother was not on drugs, and I do remember being hungrier than I should have been. Though my mother struggled, she taught my siblings and me how to love others even when she was not very good to herself. I moved out when I was 16 years old, forging paperwork to sign myself into high school as a minor.

Once I was in the military I soon found a camaraderie and acceptance I had been looking for. I wasn’t the poor kid, I was an equal. There was no black or white or brown, we were all green. (Or blue, or tan, depending on which uniform we were wearing, but you get the idea.)

Then came 9/11…Afghanistan…Iraq. I had no idea what to do. What I found is that all of the people getting deployed with me to a war zone were regular human beings like me. We banded together and did the job, but the job was ugly.

I was a Naval Hospital Corpsman deployed in support of the Marines to Al Qi’Im, a city in Iraq near the border of Syria. We received mortar fire, but much worse were the casualties from the patrols in town.

I ate breakfast with friends and then saw them die on my table hours later. We banded together and we did the job, the ugly job, and we decided to bottle it up and feel it later.

It took a while… but later came. Continue reading “You Are Never Too Far Gone to Make it Back Again”

Now a Veteran, Chicago Native Volunteers to End Gun Violence

May 16, 2018

Rogelio was born and raised in the South Side of Chicago, and found his sense of purpose when he joined the Army National Guard in 2005. Three years later he deployed to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.

As a gunner Rogelio’s primary job was to be the eyes and ears for his truck team, and first line of defense for his convoy. However, the most challenging part for him during his deployment was being separated from his two young daughters. To push through, he focused on his mission and duty to his team.

However, the most challenging part for him during his deployment was being separated from his two young daughters. To push through, he focused on his mission and duty to his team.

After six years of service, Rogelio was honorably discharged from the US Army in 2011. “Some of the challenges I faced reintegrating back in the civilian life were pretty rough,” Rogelio recounts. “My second daughter was only about 7 months old when I deployed. I came back a year later she didn’t know who I was, and would run away from me when I tried to hug her.”

When Rogelio returned home to Chicago he also struggled to find work. He said, “I needed a mission in my life to help me deal with my personal issues, one of these being PTSD.” Motivated by his sense of civic duty, he found a new mission volunteering as a mentor at the YMCA’s Urban Warriors program, which connects at-risk youth with veteran mentors. Continue reading “Now a Veteran, Chicago Native Volunteers to End Gun Violence”

A Veteran Mother, Embarking on Her Post-Military Career

May 13, 2018
By Sarah Silva, Fellow Alumna

My fellowship with The Mission Continues has had an incredible impact on my life. I spent five years in the Marines. During that time, I met my husband, and we had our two sons.  When I left the Marines in 2011, I was lucky to be able to spend a few years at home with the boys while they were still tiny.

Once they were both in school, I went back too, finally completing my bachelor’s degree. However, as I reached my final year of college, I was no closer to figuring out what I wanted to do with my degree once I had it.

Since moving here, one of the things my family has loved the most about San Antonio is its parks. In particular, we spend a lot of time at Hemisfair, a downtown park that is being redeveloped.  We watch movies on the lawn, attend festivals, and the kids see how filthy they can get between the splash pad and the sand area. We’ve spent a lot of amazing Saturdays together there.

I saw on Facebook that the Hemisfair Conservancy, which handles philanthropic support for Hemisfair, was looking for a veteran to spend six months assisting them in their mission and learning from them as a Mission Continues fellow. Continue reading “A Veteran Mother, Embarking on Her Post-Military Career”

In Pittsburgh, the Story of How I Made My Veteran Identity Meaningful

March 29, 2018
By Patricia Gerhauser, Platoon Leader

Patricia Gerhauser is a Navy veteran and Mission Continues rockstar. She is not only a fellowship alumna, but is supervising a current fellow, and platoon leader for the Hazelwood Platoon in Pittsburgh, Pa. Patricia was recently selected to attend this year’s Women Veterans Leadership Summit. Read her story to get to know one of our kickass attendees. Continue reading “In Pittsburgh, the Story of How I Made My Veteran Identity Meaningful”

The Start of a New Mission in Puerto Rico

March 24, 2018

It’s been six months after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, and U.S. Army veteran Frankie Perez is on a mission to galvanize veterans to build a legacy of service on the island.

To understand his mission, you have to understand Frankie’s story and what this would mean to veterans in Puerto Rico.

The youngest of 10 brothers, Frankie was born and raised in Puerto Rico. He enlisted in the military just months before the attacks of September 11, 2001 and deployed to Iraq in 2005. But when he came back to live in Puerto Rico in 2006, he knew he wasn’t the same anymore. Two years later, Frankie attempted suicide.

This experience motivated him to enroll in programs with the Wounded Warrior Project to manage the challenges that come with PTSD and to connect with other veterans facing the same things. As he became more involved within the veteran space, he built up a veteran network, and it was through this veteran network that he found The Mission Continues in 2017.

The timing couldn’t have been more perfect.

It was around that time that Vu Nguyen and Matthew “Mateo” Tanner, City Impact Managers for The Mission Continues, were doing research in Puerto Rico with the goal of starting a volunteer group made up of military veterans to serve the island.

They came knowing two things: They knew there was a need in many Puerto Rican communities for revitalization and empowerment, and they knew that was exactly what The Mission Continues already did in communities across the country.

According to Frankie, veterans are misunderstood in Puerto Rico, perhaps to a more extreme degree than they are on the mainland. “I feel like a second class citizen. People think we are crazy people that use pills or get drunk.”

This lack of public understanding bothers him. “They don’t see the resiliency. They don’t understand that some veterans are lost because they’re not in a team effort environment anymore. It just seems like a crazy, selfish world to us. And that’s why we struggle the most.”

The Mission Continues had planned to launch a service platoon in San Juan by the year 2020, but the devastating effects of Hurricane Maria introduced an immediate need to activate veterans to help rebuild.

This call to serve struck a chord with Puerto Rican veterans like Frankie who yearn to be at the forefront of a veteran-led movement. “The hunger of the people to do good and be part of change — that’s something I’ve never seen in my life, after the military. That core is our core.”

Frankie is now the leader of the Puerto Rico 1st Service Platoon. “I’m excited because we’re going to provide opportunities for veterans and civilians to change Puerto Rico for the better. The Mission Continues is going to be part of positive change for the entire island.”

One important aspect of this positive change is that it is sourced from Puerto Rican veterans themselves and their fellow community members.

“Part of the magic of The Mission Continues is that the service platoons work under the direction of the local veterans, and value the context they provide,” added City Impact Manager Mateo Tanner. “This couldn’t be more true for our approach in Puerto Rico. The culture, veteran experience, and obviously, challenges associated with Hurricane Maria, are different than what we experience on mainland.”

In addition to starting a service platoon made up of a group of volunteers, The Mission Continues also awarded two fellowships to veterans in Puerto Rico. These two veterans — Jaime Lugo and Jose Cruz — have both committed to six months of volunteering in nonprofits for 20 hours per week. Jaime will be serving with the American Red Cross, and Jose will be with Disabled American Veterans. They will also receive support from Mission Continues staff to set and achieve personal and professional growth goals.

“I used to do logistics to send weapons to kill people. Now I’ll be sending food and water to save people,” said Jaime, a US Marine Corps veteran. “I’m excited to put back to work a lot of things I learned in the military during the war to help as many people as I can.”

Jaime is looking forward to get back in action. He’s helping the American Red Cross improve their strategy for delivering aid to Puerto Rico, given the challenging island terrain. “Coming back after being in surgery for so many years, being able to put my experience to work is going to be awesome.”

Now more than ever, Puerto Rico needs veterans like you to serve again — this time, as their neighbors. If you too are looking to get back in action with The Mission Continues, this is your chance. We invite you to serve alongside veteran leaders like Frankie, Jaime and Jose at our first service project in Puerto Rico in April 2018.

Planned and executed by the newly-formed Puerto Rico 1st Service Platoon through our Service Platoon Program, this project is kickstarting sustained, veteran-inspired impact in Puerto Rico.

 

Report for duty in your community with The Mission Continues. Serve with a Service Platoon at an upcoming service event near you or apply for a fellowship. You can learn more about our programs on our website and stay updated on the latest news and announcements on Facebook and Twitter.