Columbus 1st Platoon’s Veterans Day with Hamilton Township High School

By Ian Haynes, City Impact Manager

This event was a new opportunity for the Columbus 1st to help fight food insecurity through the creation of an urban farm learning lab! Through a partnership with Hamilton Township High School and the YMCA of Central Ohio, the platoon was able to rehab an old greenhouse and the surrounding outdoor space at Hoover YMCA Park which is about ½ a mile from the high school. Students and staff from the school joined veterans from The Mission Continues for this impactful day of service.

Kim Tapia, a member of the Columbus 1st Leadership Team stepped up to lead the project. 20 volunteers including nine veterans and six students put in 90 volunteer hours total for our Veterans Day campaign with Hamilton Township High School (HTHS).

Students from Hamilton Township High School join The Mission Continues for a service project

It was an awesome day with good people and a great project for the community. I will definitely do more projects in the future. Being involved with The Mission Continues has really opened my eyes to see that our community needs help and I’m happy to be involved.

Dana Erikson, platoon and community member

Our work with HTHS focused on the rehab of a greenhouse at Hoover YMCA Park. The project was part a new partnership between Hamilton Township High School, the YMCA of Central Ohio and The Mission Continues and was the culmination of several months of discussion and planning between the three organization.

Corey O’Brien, an Army veteran and high school science teacher at HTHS approached The Mission Continues over the summer with the idea of turning a greenhouse into a learning lab for his Environmental Science students. He was searching for a way to provide opportunities for his students learn an employable skill, earn some of their volunteer hours required for graduation and to connect with veterans.

I think the task for last Saturday went very well, and in my opinion this was proven by the before and after pictures. Some of the other pictures show that even despite the cold, we all came together as a team, and had fun doing it.

Chris Ray, veteran

As one of the first Purple Star Schools in the nation, HTHS has a major commitment to students and families connected to our nation’s military and is always looking for ways to connect with veterans. Over a cup of coffee Corey shared his vision with Ian Haynes, a City Impact Manager with The Mission Continues, and asked there might be a way to collaborate.

Hoover YMCA Park, which is about a half mile from the school, happened to have a greenhouse that had fallen into disuse. They offered it to the school on the condition that the school make any repairs needed to get it up and running.

A survey of the space revealed that the structure of the greenhouse was in great shape, but that there was a ton unused space inside and outside that could be tapped for gardening. With a bit of TLC, this would be the perfect space for the 25 students currently interested in urban farming to gain valuable hands on experience. And, with the potential for up to 90 students to be a part of the program, there was space to grow at the park.

This work is important to me as a veteran because like many veterans I still have a strong, intrinsic need to find meaning and purpose in my work. This is part of what attracted me to the military. This work allows me to feel like I am still doing good in the world and giving back to my community.

Katherine Scheutte, veteran, platoon member and Service Leadership Corps member

The Veterans Day project in Columbus was the first step in making this a reality. The project focused on returning the inside of the greenhouse to a clean slate, adding growing capacity inside and outside the greenhouse, purchase of an irrigation system and general grounds maintenance.

Inside the greenhouse, the two garden beds were cleared of all weeds and plants and had leaf compost added to the soil to enrich it over the winter. Additionally, another garden bed was added to the greenhouse to increase the growing capacity.

Finally, an irrigation system was purchased to be installed in the spring. The system, designed to run on a timer, was a major need since student will have limited time on site during the school year.

Outside the greenhouse, we built two garden boxes to go with the one garden box already in place. Further, we cleaned up the space around the greenhouse and added three cubic yards of mulch.

By the project’s end, the new HTHS Learning Lab at Hoover YMCA park totaled more than 550 sq ft of growing space, including 168 sq ft of new space in three new garden beds. Three cubic yards of mulch and two cubic yards of leaf compost had been added and the entire space was cleared out and prepped for growing in the spring!

“What was compelling about this particular service project, helping restore a greenhouse space for Hamilton Township High School, was that there was so much passion behind why the teacher of the school helped launch this partnership. The teacher spoke about using this space to help teach his students to be good people. As he mentioned, often times teachers only focus on academics because this can be easily measured. To hear a teacher talk about his obligation to also help teach students how to be good people by giving back to others was amazing. It was awesome to see a fellow veteran using other veterans to help teach his students about the importance of giving back.”

Katherine Scheutte, veteran, platoon member and Service Leadership Corps member

Here’s a lovely note from Corey O’Brien, who is a veteran and Environmental Science teacher at Hamilton Township High School:

There is no gift greater than that of your time. Freely giving your time to someone to work shows commitment, builds character, and is the American way. We help those in need. It makes me feel a positive energy to help someone, to do something good.

Veterans have helped to fight the war on drugs, to fight the war on terrorism, why not help the fight the war on hunger? We’ve helped others around the world, and now we can help those in our backyards and community.

The project helps serve a greater purpose and is multifaceted:

  1. It will help fight hunger in our community, which is compelling in and of itself, but there are many other positive ripples from this project.
  2. It is a teachable opportunity to demonstrate to younger generations how to grow food, which can lead to and help with self-sustenance.
  3. It builds confidence in the ability to actually grow/produce food.
  4. It allows people to get their hands dirty and promote connections to the Earth and stewardship of the planet.

There is a food insecurity on the south side of Columbus and Operation Southside Thrive helps us grow food specifically to help fight this battle. We are trying to help fulfill a need of those in our area.

I value the ability to contribute and feel meaningful, to make a difference, and promote selflessness through servitude. There were times in my life where I felt invisible, unnoticed, unimportant, and meaningless. They were dark days and they were hard to push through. I lost my focus, lost my fire, lost my way. I struggled with being normal, again. I was feeling isolated, alone, and separated. Being able to help someone else when they needed it is a motivating force. It gave me purpose.

Veterans help other veterans. If it helped me, it may help them, too.

Thanks to our supporters!

We had in kind support from Kurtz Bros Landscaping (donation of leaf compost), Polanko Consulting (speed bump to protect garden hose running across road). Additionally, Kirk Caudill from the Makery Company, a professional photographer, took the photos for us. Finally, we greatly benefited from the free tool rentals from Rebuilding Together Central Ohio.

Overall, we had a great Veterans Day service project with a new mission partner and, given the weather Saturday morning (20ish degrees and wind!), we had a pretty good turnout!

A Boy Scout’s Mission: Hazelwood Food Insecurity and Literacy

July 19, 2018
By Christian Polk, Volunteer

Platoon Leader Patti Gerhauser and Boy Scout Christian Polk

Ever since I joined Boy Scouts, my ultimate goal was to reach the rank of Eagle Scout — the highest rank in Boy Scouts. One of the many requirements for this rank is to complete a service project.

This year, at the age of 16, I was able to become an Eagle Scout by leading a service project in the Pittsburgh neighborhood of Hazelwood in collaboration with The Mission Continues’ Hazelwood Service Platoon.

I was motivated to do it there because of my strong family roots in the community. My grandmother grew up in Hazelwood throughout her childhood and attended Burgwin Elementary School. My father also spent a portion of his childhood in Hazelwood. This community means a lot to me and my family. Continue reading “A Boy Scout’s Mission: Hazelwood Food Insecurity and Literacy”

Broward County Veteran Gets Youth Excited About the American Flag

July 4, 2018

Angual Gual with the Broward County 1st Service Platoon, The Mission Continues

While many Americans are aware that there is a “proper” way to raise, fold and store the American flag, not many actually know the rules by heart. Air Force veteran Angel Gual is one exception. Recently, Angel noticed that the Boys & Girls Club where he volunteered had an old flag pole — with no flag. Just in time for Independence Day, Angel helped the Club obtain a flag, but he just didn’t stop there.

Motivated by his love for the American flag and his desire to share it with the youth at his local Boys & Girls Club, the Nan Knox Club, it was important for Angel to teach them about the flag’s history and significance. And so began Operation Raise the Flag.

Angual Gual with the Broward County 1st Service Platoon, The Mission Continues
Angel Gual with the Broward County 1st Service Platoon, The Mission Continues
Angel Gual with the Broward County 1st Service Platoon, The Mission Continues
Raising the flag with Angel Gual, platoon leader of the Broward County 1st Service Platoon, The Mission Continues.

Angel worked tirelessly to secure a flag donation and coordinated with the fire department to install it. He then held a workshop explaining how to raise, lower, and fold it properly, and organized an art project where veterans from the Broward County 1st Service Platoon in Florida joined youth to paint the American flag on their hands.

“I taught them that the flag represents all of us as Americans. That men and women from all walks of life and cities wake up every day under this flag to protect their rights,” said Angel.

“It meant so much to see how truly excited the kids were at the opportunity to learn about the flag and how to handle it and what it means. I could see how gently they held the flag with the sole purpose of not letting it fall out of their hands.”

City Impact Manager Matthew “Mateo” Tanner for The Mission Continues explains, “The Nan Knox Club, where Operation Raise the Flag took place, is located in a historically black community known as the Sistrunk Boulevard. This small community faces the daily challenges of extreme poverty and lack of local businesses and resources for residents.”

Angel Gual with the Broward County 1st Service Platoon, The Mission Continues
The art project held at the Nan Knox Club. Pictured is City Impact Manager Mateo Tanner with the Broward County 1st Service Platoon, The Mission Continues.
Angel Gual with the Broward County 1st Service Platoon, The Mission Continues
Veterans volunteering with the Broward County 1st Service Platoon, The Mission Continues at Operation Raise the Flag.

Angel’s commitment to youth goes way back. Growing up, Angel regularly volunteered with the Boys & Girls Club in his hometown of New Jersey. It’s even where he landed his first job at the age of 16, and maintained good relationships with the youth and their families over the years. “I helped take care of and mentor younger inner-city kids. The staff there helped mold me into the man I am today.”

The reason Angel returned to volunteering after 20 years of military service is because without it, “I felt lost and empty. For several years I searched for a new mission.”

Angel Gual with the Broward County 1st Service Platoon, The Mission Continues
Having fun at Operation Raise the Flag’s art project. Pictured are Angel Gual and Mateo Tanner with the Broward County 1st Service Platoon, The Mission Continues

That new mission came to him when he found The Mission Continues, a volunteer organization for veterans looking to help under-resourced communities. When he joined The Mission Continues’ Broward County 1st Service Platoon as its platoon leader, “I felt complete again.”

Angel Gual with the Broward County 1st Service Platoon, The Mission Continues
A young girl showing her American flag hand at Broward County 1st Service Platoon’s art project.

As its platoon leader, Angel collaborated with Mateo to build a relationship with The Boys & Girls Club, advocating for it to become the platoon’s operational partner. This meant that the platoon would work primarily with and through The Boys & Girls Club for the benefit of the community.

For Angel, it’s all about coming full circle. “For me, returning to help the Boy’s and Girl’s Clubs after all these years feels like I’m coming back home and doing what I love.”

To volunteer alongside veterans like Angel, sign up for the Broward County 1st Service Platoon’s next project! You don’t have to be a veteran to volunteer with us – non-veterans are most welcome too.

Contributing Sponsors of the Broward 1st Service Platoon are All Within My Hands and The Henry & Ruth Blaustein Rosenberg Foundation. We thank them for their support, which makes stories — and impact — like this possible.

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”

My Opportunity to Serve, Lead and Learn

November 25, 2017
Brayden Yoder, Platoon Leader

As every Army officer knows, the best job you’ll ever have is Platoon Leader.

No matter how far up the ranks you travel, no command or staff position would ever rival what it was to be a young lieutenant with soldiers not much younger than yourself – and with NCOs who are older, wiser, and tougher.

If you have ears to listen, those sergeants will train you while calling you “sir” or “ma’am” – and they will even brag on you if you become a squared away LT because they know that you are a reflection of them.

Gaining their trust is the name of the game, for what truly makes a leader is people’s desire to follow.

I learned those leadership lessons in the military and I kept them close this past June, as I stepped into service as a Mission Continues platoon leader for Los Angeles. No matter how much I thought I might have to offer, I needed to first learn what this platoon was all about from the volunteers who had built it up long before me.

This would present a different challenge than I faced during my 2016 Mission Continues fellowship, when I had to learn how to fit into a civilian workforce again. As a Mission Continues platoon leader, I had to represent the operation within the community, which I could not do without understanding just what those operations were.

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Brayden Yoder at a service project for Charlie Orientation in Boston.

Thankfully, I was fortunate to fall in on a strong leadership team, beginning with my predecessor and fellow soldier, Majken Geiman. Majken took me on a right-seat ride of a service project at Roosevelt High School, which she had begun planning but would fall on me to execute even before my official induction at Charlie Class Orientation.

From Majken, I learned how to do a site visit and to make the principal’s priorities for the school our own – and I saw how much she cared about the work and the platoon. I knew I would have some big shoes to fill, and I resolved to do my best to maintain the standard for the Los Angeles 2nd Platoon.

Since June, I have now served as platoon leader for two successful service projects, including our combined 9/11 Day of Service at Carver High School, which attracted some 170 volunteers.

Yet the truth is that we have had several outstanding leaders who helped to ensure their success, like my CIM, Behkie Aguilar, and 2nd platoon’s indispensable man, Chris Barreras.

If it takes a village to raise a child, then the Mission Continues family has picked me up through my platoon leader infancy and nurtured me through the growing pains as I’ve gotten my service legs under me.

Brayden Yoder with the principal of Carver Middle School, Letasha Buck

As I look forward to my third service project scheduled for MLK weekend in January, I am ahead of the curve and further along in the planning process than before – and I know it is because of the great support The Mission Continues and the 2nd Platoon has afforded me.

It is a special thing to be part of a team and to have others invested in your success as you are invested in theirs.

The mission of the Los Angeles 2nd Platoon is to serve public schools in Boyle Heights, and I am thankful for a job that takes me to neighborhoods in my city that I never knew of before. I am humbled by the work of the dedicated educators and volunteers I have met, who strive every day to provide a quality education for the children in Los Angeles.

But above all, I feel blessed to be part of something bigger than myself again, which demands connection, commitment, and community.

In this week of Thanksgiving, I am truly grateful for this opportunity to continue to serve – and I hope when it’s my time to pass on the guidon, I can pay it forward to the next platoon leader as my teammates did for me.

 

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.

Alpha Class 2017’s First Act of Service: Supporting San Diego Schools

January 24, 2017

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This weekend’s Alpha Class 2017 Orientation in San Diego is pretty special. As you may know, each class’s Orientation takes place in a different city, but this time, for our 20th Orientation, we are returning to San Diego, where we held our first ever Orientation back in 2012. Since then we’ve developed a lot of momentum and sustained service there. This class of Fellows and Platoon Leaders can look forward to spending a day helping the San Diego service platoons’ efforts with some of the city’s public schools.

San Diego has over 1 million residents, and over 100,000 of them are veterans. We’ve worked hard to establish a strong presence through the San Diego 1st and 2nd Platoons, both of which have dedicated members who are totally rockin’ it. They concentrate on City Heights, a densely populated area where 85% of K-12 students qualify for free or reduced lunches.

We work with the San Diego Unified School District to help enact community-based school reform so that City Heights can have the kind of quality schools every student deserves. Our goals are to help improve literacy, overall graduation rates, and to make the schools safe and attractive. So far the platoons have renovated and beautified a community garden, added playground features to Rosa Parks Elementary, and more. Continue reading “Alpha Class 2017’s First Act of Service: Supporting San Diego Schools”

Inspiring Service through Art

July 27, 2016
By Doug Aldrich, Artist

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As an artist supporting The Mission Continues Service Learning Project series with Democracy Prep Harlem Middle School in Harlem, I learned as much about service from the students as much as they’ve learned from me. I volunteered and led three classes of 6th grade students to create a mural through their own visual and literary submissions.  Continue reading “Inspiring Service through Art”

The Mission Continues, Community Partner of The Year

June 10, 2016

Last year we teamed up with Partnership for L.A. Schools (PLAS) to help youth in underprivileged neighborhoods. The Mission Continues was recently recognized for this work as “Community Partner of The Year,” a distinction given to a PLAS partner who “passionately and generously works to develop and strengthen the school community.” The award was given at the Up Awards, which are hosted by PLAS annually to honor parents, teachers, and leaders in the community that support PLAS Schools.

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The Mission Continues 2nd and 3rd Service Platoons in LA served in the Boyle Heights and Watts communities, respectively. Platoon Leaders Richard Krykew and Majken Geiman have lead the way in both leadership and heart to make this partnership flourish.

Continue reading “The Mission Continues, Community Partner of The Year”

Partaking in a Cycle of Service at Democracy Prep

May 31, 2016

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Earlier this month, The Mission Continues worked alongside 1st grade students at Democracy Prep in Washington D.C. to put together a Teacher Work Room. Our regional Executive Director Mary Beth Bruggeman and service platoon member Johanna Ciezczak joined the project, which took place on the last day of the school’s week of service.

The week of service was implemented by teachers who wanted to build a culture of community service for students. While there, we had a chance to talk to 1st grade students about the importance of service and tell them our story. Most important, we shared how much we enjoy serving at their school and why we do it. Continue reading “Partaking in a Cycle of Service at Democracy Prep”

A Reminder of Why I Serve

May 20th, 2016
By Vanessa Thomas, Fellow Alum

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As our nation honors military service and sacrifice on Armed Forces Day, I find myself thinking about one veteran in particular: my father.

He served 24 years in the United States Air Force. We were constantly on the go, moving eight times throughout my childhood. It wasn’t always easy, but the older I got, the more I understood that being a Master Sergeant wasn’t just a job for him, it was a purpose. The example he set ignited something within me too. While many of my classmates were dreaming of growing up to be a doctor, lawyer, or professional athlete, I had something different in mind.

I wanted to serve.

Continue reading “A Reminder of Why I Serve”