Our Next Mass Deployment: Operation Watts Is Worth It

The Mission Continues -- Operation Watts is Worth It

Next Stop: Watts, Los Angeles

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.

The Mission Continues veteran volunteers
The Mission Continues veteran volunteers in Watts.

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.

The Mission Continues volunteers
Youth volunteers at a service project with The Mission Continues in Watts.

Why Watts?

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.

Los Angeles Platoon
The Los Angeles Platoon

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.

How to Get Involved

Applications for veteran participants open February 2018. Interested in applying? Visit missioncontinues.org/deployments to sign up for application alerts.

For information on how to make a financial contribution to OWW, please contact development@missioncontinues.org.

In My Service Platoon, I Can See the Impact I Have Is Real

June 20, 2017
By Majken Geiman, Platoon Leader

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.

 

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.

Undocumented: How One Word Changed My Life

May 5, 2017
By Nestor Ramirez, Staff Member

Imagine you were barred from legally getting a job, a driver’s license, or if you wanted to go to college, financial aid. This was my reality for many years and it made me fearful and confused. I want to share my story with you to show you the struggles and experiences that led me to find my purpose in life which is to contribute to my community and country.  And I want to discuss how my experiences relate to those of immigrants in America.

I was born in Guadalajara, Mexico. And when I was three years old, I was brought to the U.S. by my mother. She wanted a better life for me and my sister but she couldn’t bring us here legally. As a result, I lived the next 20 years of my life undocumented. A few years later my father reunited with us.

When I was seven years old my father casually told me at a family gathering that I was undocumented and that I was different from other people. His words seared in my mind. Undocumented.  How could one word change my life?  I didn’t feel different; I didn’t look different, but I was now set apart. Growing up I had a difficult time resolving in my head that I was undocumented and I was going to be legally barred from getting a job. At the same time, I had people around me encouraging me to do well in school. I remember in 7th grade my teacher told our class: “each of you has the opportunity to go to college and get a good job. You just have to work hard enough.” Continue reading “Undocumented: How One Word Changed My Life”

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”

Forging Doghouses, and Bonds, with The Mission Continues

June 10, 2015
By Jessica Broussard

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Whenever I tell anyone that I am a middle school math teacher, the typical response is, “Oh, I’m sorry. I was never good at math!”

Math needs a real good PR guy.

I love the rules, the creativity that it allows, how often you get to make mistakes and learn from them. I just finished my sixth year as a teacher in the second largest school district in the country, Los Angeles Unified School District, where my students build, design and learn. Most of our students are bused from the inner city every day.

My colleague and mentor Jeff Nielsen and I came up with this crazy idea: students would use geometry to design and build dog houses, sell them and then donate the money to local animal shelters. The only problem was that neither of us knew how to build a dog house.


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I have no idea what made me think of veterans to help us. For some reason they seemed like people who would know how to take a team of kids and build something. So I googled “veterans helping their community.” Best Google search of my life. The Mission Continues website was the first hit and I clicked. As soon as I got in touch with Tristan Williamson and their team, I knew this would be a life affirming experience.   Continue reading “Forging Doghouses, and Bonds, with The Mission Continues”

On Memorial Day, Living and Serving for Those We Lost

By Jess Egan
May 24, 2015

On a biting winter afternoon a little over four years ago, I flipped a switch, just as I had done a hundred times before in Afghanistan, and the whining of the hydraulic pump kicked on. Lowering the ramp was always a slow process, but this time it felt like an eternity. No words could have prepared me for the two columns of Marines I saw lined up at the rear of the aircraft. The men belonged to a unit that would suffer a large number of casualties in the coming months while fighting valiantly in an important village. As the somber procession of Marines carried the flag-draped coffin towards me, I gave my slow salute and they marched silently up into the rear of the aircraft.

For some, Memorial Day is just that—a day. One that people envision as the cause for a long weekend of summer kick-off celebrations. But for those who have served in the military, Memorial Day extends well beyond 24 hours at the end of May. Remembrance is constant. Every day we carry with us the brave men and women who have sacrificed their lives in defense of our nation. Their gifts to us shaped who we have become, and we live our lives to honor their memory.

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The author in Afghanistan.

Back on that aircraft, I did not know this Marine’s name but I knew he was willing to sacrifice everything for what he believed in. He did not fight out of hatred for what was in front of him, but rather out of loyalty to the Marines on either side, and to protect all those behind him. He embodied selfless service to others, and like him, there have been many laid to rest far before their time. Since returning home, I have witnessed more friends buried with full military honors than I would like to count.

Part of my difficult transition back into civilian life was reflecting on the experiences I had and the brothers I had lost, but I began to use my grief to motivate me to work harder and strive for better. I vowed to keep their spirit and memory alive through my actions. I learned that my service did not have to end. My military background, along with the legacy of post-9/11 veterans, provides a unique opportunity to accomplish so much.

We have our own stories of challenges and success at The Mission Continues. My legacy of service continues in the newly formed Los Angeles 2nd Service Platoon, which redeploys veterans to serve at-risk communities in South Central LA. I also mentor student veterans as they strive to learn new skills after service In the fall, I will continue my education at law school, which will help develop the tools I need to serve my community in more impactful ways.

The author, left, at the Service Platoon Summit in November 2014.
The author, left, at the Service Platoon Summit in November 2014.

I do these things for the living. Too many do not have the chance. I wake every day with purpose—one to live my life to the fullest, help those in need and keep my head held high knowing I am part of something greater: a new generation of warriors and leaders who continue to served their country courageously, just like those who came before us.

It is vital that we make an effort to reach out and support the loved ones of those who have given up their lives, as well as our fellow veterans who have returned home and face challenges reintegrating back into society. In the process, we should share stories of courage and selflessness of those we have lost along the way, and encourage our fellow Americans to take a moment to reflect on the true meaning of this day. Side by side with fellow veterans, as well as with members of the community, we can inspire and create change through positive and meaningful avenues.

This weekend, may you stand tall for those who cannot, in a moment of silence honoring all the men and women who have made the ultimate sacrifice so that we can live our lives in freedom, seize innumerable opportunities. And continue to do great things—together.

Jess Egan is a Marine Corps veteran who served five years active duty as a KC-130J Crew Chief, including an 11 month tour in Afghanistan. She currently serves as a squad leader in the newly formed Los Angeles 2nd Service Platoon. She will attend Pepperdine University’s School of Law this fall.

Want to solve the biggest challenges in your community? Join a service platoon.

Reporting For Duty in East Los Angeles

March 9, 2014

Stevenson Middle School lies in the heart of East Los Angeles in a neighborhood where many children find it difficult to make it safely to and from school.  The school’s student body is 99 percent Latino, most of whom come from an economically disadvantaged background.  Gangs actively recruit young people in the area, adding complexity to an already challenging educational environment.  But Principal Leo Gonzalez, himself a native of East L.A., does not let these challenges deter him and his staff from their jobs.

“I grew up just down the street from Stevenson, and many of the other teachers grew up in this community,” says Principal Gonzalez.  “We have a special relatability to these students and know the challenges they face.  Our primary goal is to make the connection and lead them to colleges and careers.”

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It Wasn’t Just a Project. It Was a Mission.

February 19, 2015
Naomi McSwain
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I am always happy when a group of volunteers come to help out at our youth center. All the hard and unsung work you’ve done trying to make a difference in your community is somehow substantiated when people think enough to take time out of their schedules to help you out. It’s always a special time for me, but it’s never been as emotional as it was when the veterans from The Mission Continues came to our door. I felt an immediate connection.

My cousin Al Wooten, Jr. was killed in a drive-by shooting in 1989. His mother, Myrtle Faye Rumph, founded our youth center a year later in his honor. His murder and the potential impact of gang violence on our youth is a major driving factor in our lives. When I greeted the veterans who came to volunteer, I thought about the violence some of them had endured and how, despite their turmoil, they were here at our doorstep wanting to serve once again. It reminded me of my aunt pushing past her trauma to help others.

Continue reading “It Wasn’t Just a Project. It Was a Mission.”

Project Zowie – The Mission Continues at Good Shepherd Shelter

October 1, 2014
Astrid Quinones

Closing Ceremony Mission Continues

The Charlie Class of 2014 reported for duty on Saturday, September 13th at the Good Shepherd Shelter (GSS). Veterans in blue t-shirts from all over the country poured out of their buses to embark on what the GSS staff called “Project Zowie.” The sun beamed down on Los Angeles, showing no mercy, but the Mission Continues Fellows were ready and eager to get to work.

Continue reading “Project Zowie – The Mission Continues at Good Shepherd Shelter”

Remembering 9/11

September 16, 2014

Nearly 3,000 Americans lost their lives in the events of 9/11. And five million men and women have stepped up to defend our nation in uniform since that day. Last week, The Mission Continues deployed in communities across the country for a day of service to mark the 13th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. Volunteers built playgrounds for at-risk youth, provided much needed maintenance for a domestic violence shelter, and rehabilitated a community river trail  — all in honor of those lost in the events of 9/11.

Continue reading “Remembering 9/11”