July 27, 2018
By Melissa Maskulka, Platoon Member
My most vivid memories of my grandma are those in which she exemplified engaged citizenship, a can-do attitude and showcased how powerful a woman could be. She was the first in her family to go to college, valedictorian of her high school class, while working in the restaurant her immigrant parents owned after school and on weekends.
For as traditional as she was, she was also unconventional. She didn’t marry until she was nearly 30 years of age – almost rebellious in the 1950s. Her husband, a World War II Army Air Corps vet and firefighter, passed away after less than a decade of marriage.
Left with two small children to care for, my grandmother went back to school to get her master’s degree in education and spent nearly the next 25 years of her life teaching elementary school while pushing two successful young adults to pursue their dreams.
She did this while proving she didn’t need to subscribe to the traditional family structure of the time – husband, wife and 2.5 kids. She fiercely proved her independence and place in society even when others questioned her ability to do so.
Through years as a public school teacher, dedicated volunteer at the Historical Society, Garden Club and Ronald McDonald House, and her consistent involvement in local politics, it was easy to have a commitment to service ingrained in my lifestyle. I had seen it consistently for 33 year of my life.
We lost her one year ago, after she quietly made a profound difference for 96 years on this earth. It wasn’t until after I had finished cleaning up from Baltimore’s first #HerMission project on May 20th that I realized it had been a year since she passed. Exactly one year since her memorial service.
And I can think of no other way to honor her life than to have been asked to take the lead in a project that combined so many of my grandma’s passions – education, veterans’ wellness and empowering young people to do good.
The idea spawned from a viral news clip – a group of parents painted the girls bathroom at a local school with empowering messages and lots of bright color. It had taken the group 37 hours over the course of two days. Clearly this group of parents had never met the power of a group of women veterans with The Mission Continues.
I was drawn to this project particularly, as I see bathrooms as a sanctuary of sorts. Sure, they serve a specific purpose, but how many of us have slipped into a stall just to take a deep breath, hide some tears, or just try to escape for a moment? I can imagine that these students might need to do the same. So why not make the bathroom an environment that can remind these girls of their awesomeness?
About 20 badass women spent the afternoon at Roots and Branches school sprucing up four bathrooms, leaving positive messages, bright colors, and a staple Mission Continues abstract art mural. It was a short, sweet impactful project, which tapped into the amazing talents of our Baltimore and Washington, D.C. veteran community.
As we wrapped up for the day, I asked each volunteer to leave the students of Roots and Branches with one more gift – a sticky note with something they might need. That might be a hug, a smile, confidence, a friend, strength, hope etc. We stuck each of these notes on the mirrors of the bathroom with a simple message – “Take what you need.”
On Monday, the students returned to school, and the fresh bathrooms were well received. They were so well received that a teacher posted photos on her Facebook page and shared that when her young male students saw the sticky notes, they commented that they, too, sometimes need a smile, hug, hope, etc., as depicted on the notes. The young women in the class shared their sticky notes with the boys, and even made more to share amongst each other.
This is the gift in inspiring future generations. An unintended result of our project spread continued positivity, support and community. Sometimes we don’t know what impact we will have or who we will inspire.
And, like the purpose of the “Take what you need” project, sometimes it’s difficult to articulate what you need until you see it right in front of you.
I didn’t know I what I needed a year after my grandmother’s death. But, when I saw her years of dedication to the community reflected in our service project, I knew it was a gentle reminder that she’s still inspiring future generations and that a fraction of her engaged citizenship has been instilled in me.
So, to the women who participated in Charm City #HerMission and the students of Roots and Branches: thanks for giving me a full heart, which is exactly what I needed.