I spent my early childhood in Mexico, where my father was a doctor and my mother was a nurse. Life was peaceful at first, but the cartels took that away, and we fled to the United States–leaving everything behind in an instant. I went from being a rich kid to living in an industrial ghost town. I felt attacked on all sides, as if everything about me was wrong. My language was wrong. My food was wrong. My clothes were wrong. My skin tone was wrong. Inside the home we were Mexican, butinside my head all I could hear was Be MORE American.
Neighbors vandalized our home, and classmates beat me up. One day as I was being pummeled by bullies, the kicks and blows suddenly fell away. I looked up to see the uniformed Marine Corps recruiter who had sent the bullies packing. In that moment, he was my superhero, and I wanted to be just like him.
Mass Deployment 2018–Operation Watts Is Worth It was a unique service opportunity, and we wanted to share the results with you. See for yourself what veterans accomplished in Watts!
Thank you to all the veterans who stepped up to SERVE AGAIN this summer! Know that you are leading positive change through your commitment to your communities. We can’t wait to see you for our September United In Service campaign!
Hundreds of gallons of paint covering walls with colorful murals, tools of all kinds shuttling between busy arms, and coolers of donated water and stockpiles of sunscreen keeping volunteers protected in the waning summer sun were all part of a typical scene at this year’s weeklong Mass Deployment.
Called Operation Watts Is Worth It, this year’s Mass Deployment was a community service project of grand proportions, with over 100 veterans serving arm in arm for a week of nonstop service. Veterans along with community partners and sponsors transformed five different project sites across the Watts community in Los Angeles.
All throughout the commotion of each busy project day, our volunteers remained focused on the mission with the support of our trusted partners there serving alongside them.
Partners like CarMax, for the second year in a row, stepped up to support a Mass Deployment. As the 2018 Platinum Sponsor for Operation Watts Is Worth It, CarMax made this opportunity for community impact and connection among our veterans a reality.
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.
June 29, 2018 By Regan Turner, West Region Executive Director
The Mission Continues launched our service platoon program in Los Angeles just over four years ago. Since then, we have engaged more than 1,000 local veterans and community members in service with our three service platoons, and have grown our local staff from two remote employees to seven full-time staff in an office in the LA Promise Zone.
It was actually right here in Los Angeles that The Mission Continues piloted our very first “operation,” which has now become our national model for collaboration and community impact.
Thanks to encouragement and introductions made by our friends at Bad Robot and The Wasserman Foundation, we connected with an organization called the Partnership for LA Schools more than three years ago.
The Partnership serves some of LA’s most under-resourced schools in Watts, Boyle Heights and South LA by providing their staff and community with additional resources to improve educational outcomes.
In speaking with the Partnership staff, we realized that they had not just one school in need of renovation work, but an entire portfolio of almost 20 schools that could use the help of The Mission Continues and our veterans.
Since our first project at Stephenson Middle School in 2015, The Mission Continues has performed more than 15 projects at Partnership Schools. We were honored to receive their Community Partner of the Year award in 2016.
Many of those school projects were in Watts, at Markham Middle School, Grape Street Elementary, Gompers Middle School, and 107th Elementary School, among others.
The veterans’ nonprofit seeks to create ongoing improvement to strengthen historic LA neighborhood with its third-annual Mass Deployment, “Operation Watts Is Worth It”
LOS ANGELES (PRWEB) MAY 31, 2018 — More than 80 veterans from cities nationwide, as well as corporate partners, professional sports teams, city officials and local organizations, will come together June 21-28 for a series of high-impact projects to create a lasting, visible impact in Los Angeles’ Watts community.
The veterans are volunteers with The Mission Continues, a national nonprofit organization that empowers veterans to find growth, purpose and connection through community impact. Although the nonprofit has been active in the neighborhood for years, the week-long service marathon, dubbed Operation Watts Is Worth It, will provide a surge of resources to benefit under-resourced schools, aging public housing, under-utilized community spaces and much more.
November 30, 2017 Majken Geiman, Former Platoon Leader
For a long time I let the fear of disappointment hold me back. Life in Chicago’s south side as the eldest child of a single mother was what you’d imagine. I attended a large public high school, spent hours every day commuting on the bus and subway, failed multiple classes, pawned 35 cents off my friends daily so that I could buy reduced-price lunches, and never intended to pursue education beyond a high school diploma.
Even if I made it as far as college, I knew I wouldn’t be able to pay for it.
All of that changed when I stumbled upon the United States Army’s website. Free college and a commission as an officer? I was sold. By some incredible stroke of luck, I made the cut. That unusual success changed my entire attitude toward life.
I suddenly had people telling me I could be a leader—that I had the ability to inspire others. Being afraid to try was replaced by a belief that I could lead and change the world.
After transitioning from active duty into the National Guard I didn’t have the same type of discipline or feeling of empowerment in my life. But then a Marine friend invited me to attend a service project with The Mission Continues in Pittsburgh.
It was incredible–for the first time I found myself surrounded by people who knew what I was going through and who I could talk and joke with veterans as if I’d known them for years. Finally that sense of purpose and leadership came back.
When I decided to move to Los Angeles I didn’t know anyone, but I did know how to look upthe local platoon. I ended up joining the Los Angeles 2nd Platoon, which focuses on youth development and education in Boyle Heights, a low income neighborhood in East LA.
The opportunity to lead the platoon came in 2015. My time as a platoon leader transformed me in ways I never expected. I no longer let fear hold me back; instead I remember my strengths as a leader.
After two years of dedication, we have strong connections with several schools and organizations in Boyle Heights, and regularly hold service projects with and for the students.
I’ve taught a group of teenage girls how to use a drill, and saw their faces light up when they built a bench completely by themselves. I’ve talked to students about college and shared my own experiences. I’ve put veterans and kids together in charge of things when they weren’t sure they knew how, and watched them crush it!
When I look at the youth in Boyle Heights, I see myself. I see kids who have the drive and ability to make it, but who might be afraid to try.
The military helped me push myself at a time when I needed it the most. In the same way my mentors did, I hope I can look the youth of the next generation in the eye and tell them, genuinely, “you can change the world.”
With your support today, veterans like myself can make an impact in neighborhoods like Boyle Heights across the country. I serve and will continue to serve all of them. Please join me by giving this year.
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.
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.
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.
On June 21-28 2018, we’re deploying 85 veteran leaders to Watts in Los Angeles for our third Mass Deployment, Operation Watts Is Worth It (OWW).
Veterans are a powerful force when called upon to serve. Since leaving the military, tens of thousands have continued to serve in their local communities. They bring hard-earned leadership, exemplary training, and a mission-focused work ethic that is in short supply today.
For the veterans who attend, Mass Deployment is a week of personal growth and community impact. They forge new connections that become lifelong bonds of friendship and support. They undergo technical skill training and team building exercises.
And June is just the beginning of their impact. These leaders will deploy back home and get to work in their own communities.
We’re making an ongoing commitment to Watts — and the more than 500 local veterans of The Mission Continues — who will be at the heart of sustaining our progress.
Mass Deployment in a Nutshell
The Mission Continues’ Mass Deployment program is a team-based event that mobilizes veterans alongside local partners and volunteers in a single city for a week of community impact.
We select areas that will benefit from an influx of resources, and that have the potential for sustainable change, ensuring our efforts have a long-term impact.
A community with a history older than the state of California, Watts has been called the most powerful neighborhood in Los Angeles. As with many urban areas in America, residents face daily trials related to under-resourced schools, depopulation, disinvestment and underemployment.
The capacity and resources of social services organizations in the area are spread thin, so those who need assistance most often find it hard to access help.
Through it all, Watts has maintained a unique and vibrant identity and its residents deserve a brighter future.
Now more than ever, reasons to hope abound. City officials, corporate leaders and philanthropic organizations are coming together to make investments in the neighborhood and positive progress is on the horizon.
Local community groups have been actively engaged in creating a better tomorrow for themselves and the families who live there.
Now, veterans are responding, too. By reporting for duty alongside The Mission Continues, residents can take part in creating solutions to address these challenges and ensure positive progress continues.
Here Are the Facts
Watts is a community in transition, yet decades after the 1965 riots, it remains a community still dealing with poverty, unemployment and crime.
Watts — a historically black community of roughly two square miles and home to about 40,000 residents — has grown more multiracial. About 70 percent of the people here are Latino, 28 percent are black or African-American, and 2 percent are from other ethnic groups.
Roughly 1 out of 4 current Watts residents holds a high school diploma or GED, resulting in underemployment and limited economic opportunities.
Unemployment in California has improved since the latest recession, recently averaging about 5.8 percent. Nevertheless, the unemployment rate around Watts has lagged, hovering around 7 percent.
When people ask me why I joined the Army, I usually talk about my desire to serve, wanting to challenge myself, and the satisfaction and pride that I feel being able to help my soldiers learn new skills and develop as leaders. I could gush for hours about happy I am that I signed on the dotted line at 17 years old.
It would all be true, but it wasn’t why I joined. I usually leave out the less glamorous reality – I would likely never have served if it hadn’t meant free college through my ROTC scholarship.
I grew up on the south side of Chicago as the eldest child of a single mother. I attended a large public high school, spent hours every day commuting on the bus and subway, failed multiple classes, pawned 35 cents off my friends daily so that I could buy reduced-price lunch, and never intended to pursue education beyond a high school diploma – if I even made it that far.
I was mostly concerned that if I applied and was accepted into a university, I would never be able to pay for it. Parental assistance wasn’t a reality, and for a long time I let the fear of disappointment prevent me from considering that route.
All of that changed when I stumbled on the Army’s website. Free college and a commission as an officer? I was sold.
By some incredible stroke of luck, I made the cut. That unusual success changed my entire attitude toward my life. I suddenly had people telling me (as wrong as I was sure they were) that I could be a leader—that I had the ability to take care of and to inspire others.
From my first terrible APFT, at which all of the older cadets circled back and ran an extra two laps to finish with me, to graduating with the top GPA in my ROTC Battalion and being trusted to take over my own platoon, I found myself in an echo chamber of support.
Through the military, I learned about brotherhood and the importance of building up the people around you.
I have done my best to take that lesson with me from Chicago to Pittsburgh, to Missouri, and most recently, here to Los Angeles.
The Mission Continues Los Angeles 2nd Service Platoon is a volunteer group geared toward veterans, and is focused on youth development and education in Boyle Heights, a low-income neighborhood in East LA. When I took over as platoon leader in 2015 we were almost brand new. We had a few dedicated volunteers, but not many. We didn’t have an operation.
Two years later I barely recognize the platoon I stepped into. Now we have strong connections with several schools and organizations in Boyle Heights and have completed countless service projects both with and for the students. People reach out to the platoon when they need help – we rarely have to look hard for new projects or opportunities to serve the community.
When I look at the students in Boyle Heights, I see myself. I see kids who have the drive and ability to make it, but who might not yet have the confidence or the resources to try. I know they can get there.
I’ve taught a group of teenage girls how to use a drill, and saw the way their faces lit up when they were able to build a bench completely by themselves. I’ve negotiated with parents in terrible Spanish to be able to give their kids a ride to an LA Galaxy game to thank them for helping us revitalize their school campus. I’ve talked to students about college and shared my own experiences with them. I’ve spent 12 hours getting sunburned while waiting on Home Depot deliveries. I’ve painted murals. I’ve put volunteers and kids in charge of things when they weren’t sure they knew how, and watched them crush it.
The military helped me push myself past the limits I had set for myself at a time when I needed it the most. In the same way that my mentors did, I hope that I can look these next generations in the eye and tell them, genuinely, “you can change the world.”
I serve and will continue to serve for all of them.