Bringing Peace to a Mind at War

May 3, 2018
By Kazimieras Urbonavicius, Platoon Member

My experiences in the military and transition back home has been anything but easy. It’s been a constant struggle dealing with the demons in my mind, and the environment back home that surrounds me.

Everyone’s experiences in the military are different, but many result in the same outcome: lost. Lost in life, lost in understanding, just good plain old lost. And since leaving the military, service has been the only way that I have found happiness and contentment. Continue reading “Bringing Peace to a Mind at War”

Why I’m Looking Forward to Women Veterans Leadership Summit 2018

April 24, 2018
By Karen Quiles, Platoon Member

77 dynamic women veteran leaders will gather in DC for this weekend for our 3rd annual Women Veterans Leadership Summit. Together they’ll engage in communication and writing workshops, experience inspiring speakers, and grow their personal and professional networks.

This is a unique forum to exchange ideas and solutions around the challenges women veterans face while developing pathways to increase women veteran leadership within their communities.

As we countdown the days to the summit, we want to highlight some of our participants and how they came to The Mission Continues. Here’s Karen Quiles’s story.

 

How the Military Empowered Me

Mission Continues volunteers Karen Quiles and Frankie Perez in Puerto Rico

I was born and raised in Puerto Rico. I grew up in a very humble environment and I had a simple upbringing. Growing up in Puerto Rico was hard for me in many ways. I felt like a lot of programs were out of reach. I started working when I was 15 and became homeless in my late teens, on top of a lack of educational opportunities, family problems, and an unstable government.

I enlisted a little bit after 9/11 with the Marine Corps and had an opportunity to travel and live in other countries. The military was my ticket out of my negative environment. Enlisting opened so many doors that would have otherwise never been available to me. Continue reading “Why I’m Looking Forward to Women Veterans Leadership Summit 2018”

The Scars Within Us and the Landscape

April 22, 2018
By David Riera, Mission Continues volunteer

My experience in war-torn Iraq makes me reflect that the land under my feet this very moment in Miami is also embattled, and this time the mission to help it belongs to all of us.

~~~

When I was discharged from the Marine Corps, I had a collection of over 40 MRE (Meal, Ready-to-Eat) Tabasco sauce bottles filled with sand from every place I was deployed in Iraq. They reminded me of my bond to the places I would sooner forget.

As the CH-53 Super Stallion helicopter flew us to secure our first target in Iraq, I saw the landscape cracked and cratered. The sand was piled high to create 10-foot defensive burms. The lakes and streams were poisoned, littered with rotting carcasses. In that moment the price of conflict was grafted onto me.

That’s when I knew scorched earth operations did not just change the land – it changed me too. It was not just about the loss of human life on all sides. It was also about trying to survive in a place where our missions violated the environment every day.

Because the environment, like a warrior, carries its history upon its face. Continue reading “The Scars Within Us and the Landscape”

Columbus Ohio 1st Service Platoon Tackles Food Insecurity

April 19, 2018
By Ian Haynes, City Impact Manager

We had an amazing service project recently in Columbus Ohio to kick off our partnership with the Mid-Ohio Foodbank! Our volunteer operations are focused on combating food insecurity on the Southside of the city through work with an urban farm and multiple food pantries. We had 34 volunteers participate, comprised of 14 veterans and 4 new platoon members. This amounted to 136 service hours in which we completed four projects at two sites. Continue reading “Columbus Ohio 1st Service Platoon Tackles Food Insecurity”

The Path to Transforming Veterans and Dallas Public Schools

April 6, 2017

Finding That Connection

“I felt for the first time like we were on the same page while volunteering for the service project,” said Nissa Salas, a Mission Continues volunteer in Dallas.

Nissa met her husband Mark Salas after he had separated from the U.S. Marine Corps. Nissa noticed Mark had a hard time relating to her and to other civilians. “He had only one or two friends, and did not trust anyone. His habits were very much military-style and he was shut down from any social activity,” she said.

At the recommendation of their counselor, Nissa and Mark tried volunteer service with The Mission Continues.

Nissa describes their first project. “Our first assignment was painting a computer lab at the Interfaith Housing building, when my husband had just experienced knee surgery. We participated while he was on crutches, and my husband had a smile on his face the entire time.” Continue reading “The Path to Transforming Veterans and Dallas Public Schools”

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.

Divided We Serve

March 15, 2018
By Lauren DelRicci, Platoon Member

Volunteering with The Mission Continues has exposed me to people that come from all walks of life

We live in a time when our nation is divided along many lines. Political affiliations, religious beliefs, and personal convictions all set people apart. We hold tight to our beliefs and our individuality, pledging allegiance to the causes we deem worthy.

There is nothing wrong with that.

Because I see that this division stems from the passion that American citizens have for the land we call home. Ultimately, we all want the best outcomes for our country; we strive for brotherhood and unity. We are all unique, and no two people are exactly the same.

I believe that’s what makes us strong as a nation.

And yet, among this division, there is an even more powerful force that can draw even the most divided close.

This force is service!

When we shift our focus to serving as a unit, which I’ve learned is The Mission Continues way, something occurs that is hard to put into words. It illuminates the human spirit. Continue reading “Divided We Serve”

A 40 Year Journey for Unity in My Childhood Community

February 27, 2018
By Derrick Clark, Platoon Leadership Team Member


As a child growing up in the inner city of Pittsburgh, I was always made aware of the importance of Black History Month. So when February came around, we students knew there was going to be some cool classroom projects, autobiographies, and pictures surrounding the classroom that month for us to learn more about African American culture and Black History.

We learned about Marcus Garvey, Harriet Tubman, Dr. Martin Luther King, Thurgood Marshall, and a host of other well-known African American leaders. Some of us would even get to dress up and reenact their life stories in plays, skits and musicals.

~~~

Although it is not blatantly obvious, the undertones of segregation and racial discrimination are prevalent throughout Pittsburgh. To get a glimpse of how separated Pittsburgh can be, one would only have to step one foot into my childhood community, Homewood.

Homewood is a predominately African-American neighborhood in Pittsburgh. When I was a young boy in Homewood, the neighborhood was fun and recreational – there were plenty of activities for children to do around the neighborhood – a skating rink, sports programs, and the like. But the effects of poverty, low-income housing, underemployment, and the drug crisis of the 90’s have since crippled the community.

Pittsburgh has invested millions of dollars into infrastructure and community development, but Homewood was left out of the redeveloping plan. The community still provides programs for youth, but they are not well supported anymore — they have less funding, less manpower, and fewer resources.

Crime is still prevalent in the area and many children and residents have little to no one to look up to. A lot of its residents share the sentiment that no one outside Homewood cares about them.

The struggles of the community and its children resonate with me on a personal level. Like many children in the community today, I grew up with no father in the home. I had a single mother who was addicted to drugs, and it seemed at times that no one cared about the harsh realities of poverty-stricken families in less affluent, drug polluted, communities.

All we had was each other, and with the community being almost completely African American, it seemed as if the outside world simply did not want to deal with the issues in Homewood.

And yet, in the face of this adversity Homewood has always been a proud community. Continue reading “A 40 Year Journey for Unity in My Childhood Community”

Alpha Class of 2018 Helps Preserve Miami Park Post-Irma

January 29, 2018

Alpha Class 2018 begins their continued service with The Mission Continues in Miami, FL

The Miami 1st Service Platoon welcomed over 100 new fellows and platoon leaders with open arms on Friday, January 26th. The purpose? To convene for a weekend of learning, connecting, and preparing for their new mission.

To show these newcomers what we’re made of, the weekend kicked off on Saturday with a Mission Continues must-have: a service project.

 

New Fellows Get Five Pieces of Advice

Fellowship alumnus Derek Auguste and Fellowship Program Specialist Jim Robbins
Fellowship alumnus Derek Auguste and Fellowship Program Specialist Jim Robbins

Veteran Derek Auguste spoke to the incoming class of fellows, leaving them with five pieces of advice as they begin their journey. Listen to his full speech below.

Continue reading “Alpha Class of 2018 Helps Preserve Miami Park Post-Irma”