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”

Sharing Veterans’ Voices: Continue To Serve

May 30, 2015

Liz Skilbeck grew up listening to stories of her grandfather’s service as a U.S. Navy Captain. Although she tried out college she couldn’t shake the urge to enlist. In 2001, she raised her right hand and served nearly four years as an explosive ordnance disposal technician in the Air Force. Her position took her on Secret Service missions all over the Middle East before she was medically discharged in 2005.

When she got out of the military Liz felt lost. She missed the structure and purpose the Air Force provided. Things changed with she found The Mission Continues in 2012. Continue reading “Sharing Veterans’ Voices: Continue To Serve”

We Will Never Forget

May 22, 2015

 

From the American Revolution to the conflicts around the world today, U.S. troops have sacrificed for our nation’s values in peace and in war. On Memorial Day, we pause to reflect on those who gave their lives in defense of the nation. It’s a tradition that dates back to the Civil War, when veterans and non-veterans gathered to reflect on those who left us too soon.
Today we carry that tradition forward. Every year on Memorial Day, a national moment of remembrance takes place at 3:00 p.m. Our team at The Mission Continues paused to honor those who have been killed in the line of duty. We will never forget.

Continue reading “We Will Never Forget”

Land of the Free, Because of the Brave

May 20, 2015

More than five million men and women have served our country in uniform since 9/11. Each May, our nation reflects on the achievements, successes and sacrifices of our military as part of National Military Appreciation Month.

From celebrating the end of World War II on V-E Day to recognizing soldiers’ loved ones on Military Spouse Appreciation Day, and honoring the men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice on Memorial Day – May is a month we honor every generation’s legacy of service to our country. Continue reading “Land of the Free, Because of the Brave”

The Three Ways Student Veterans Can Succeed

Marlowe Dickerson
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We called it Combat Outpost 569, a bare patrol base in Iraq’s Anbar Province, but it was really home for my Marine infantry unit. The outpost had what you’d expect: stockpiles of ammunition, food rations and torn magazines from back home.

One thing stuck out, though: a math book to practice algebra between missions.

I was eager to begin a new life as a student after four years and three deployments. My buddies and I spoke eagerly about plans for our education at COP 569, and how school would be a welcome change after spending our early twenties at war.

I enrolled at Santa Monica College in spring 2008 and signed up for 18 units. Linda Sinclair, the veterans counselor on staff, warned me that I might overburden myself, and that it might be wise to consider a lighter course load while I readjusted to civilian life.

I laughed off her warnings and assured her that a hard-charging Marine like me could easily handle a few college classes.

Within a week, Ms. Sinclair’s words were echoing in my ear. I found myself overwhelmed by the throngs of students moving about the campus. I also found myself irrationally angry at my fellow students for perceived disrespect, like talking in class, arriving late.

I skipped classes, with these slights as an excuse to avoid fellow students. By the time the semester ended, I had failed one course and withdrawn from two others. I found myself in Ms. Sinclair’s office at the end of the semester sobbing and disappointed in myself.

Ms. Sinclair reassured me that I could correct my path. She also connected me with resources, like the post-deployment program at the local VA. But I failed to follow up.

Within a year, I was divorced and unemployed. I struggled to reconcile the fact that as a Marine, I had led patrols and was given great responsibility, but I could not even finish a full semester. The dream born at COP 569 would have to wait a while longer.

I began to realize that I had never made a connection to the campus or to any of my fellow students. I would arrive on campus with my earbuds in my ears for the sole purpose of avoiding contact or conversation with other students. I didn’t know other students well enough to study with them or ask for help if I missed class. I let my discomfort prevent me from utilizing all of the resources that were available to me.

Luckily I found a way to focus on success. Five years ago, I started work at the Hollywood Veteran Center, where I served fellow veterans by guiding them to resources. More importantly, I was a peer who would listen and understand their challenges.

I met a veteran and social worker named Jim Zenner. Mr. Zenner encouraged me to return to my studies so that I could better serve my fellow veterans when it was my turn to be the strength of others.

Mr. Zenner put me on a glide path by stressing three components to my education.

First, he suggested I connect with other students in a meaningful way. I built bonds and friendships with student veterans, and after a while, I looked forward to school knowing that I would get some good “smoking and joking” time with my vet buddies after class. We’d often talk for hours about how far we’ve come, and how far we’d go, just like at COP 569. But I also made an effort to befriend nonveterans so I could be comfortable with anyone I sat next to in class.

Second, there are resources for the taking, Mr. Zenner explained, that I could utilize when I needed help. I took advantage of the office of student services and the disability resource center, which helped me focus on my studies.

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Lastly, I had to work on myself. Luckily I had my newborn son to motivate me. He taught me that life happens even when you’re in school, so not achieving perfection in everything was not the end of the world.

With these tools in hand, I was ready to move on to a four-year school, and Arizona State University accepted me the following January to finish my degree. I signed up for a huge course load and felt confident I had the tools to finish the objective. The resources available helped strengthen my studies, and I found refuge with other student veterans when it got challenging.

When I began practicing self-care, connected to resources and my classmates, life got easier. Negative self-talk became transformed into quiet affirmations whispered during exams. Withdrawals and failing grades turned into As.

I worked through seven years of doubt and hardship, and it paid off–I graduated this week with honors with a degree in public policy.

Now I plan to attend graduate school and earn my master’s degree in public administration. And I can make it happen now that I have a plan that works.

I don’t know if Combat Outpost 569 is still around, but education and successful lives after the war are no longer a distant dream. We’re living it now.

Marlowe Dickerson is a Marine Corps veteran and a 2015 Alpha Class Fellow. He serves at Volunteers of America in Los Angeles, where he provides veterans, service members and their families with resources and support necessary for successful reintegration to civilian life.

Interested in serving again, and putting your education to practical use through a Mission Continues Fellowship? Learn more here. 

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How to Raise a Badass Woman: A Mother’s Guide

May 9, 2015
Yolande Goodman

My 12-year old daughter, Adira, is still trying to figure out what to do with life after school. One thing she knows: she wants to serve, just like her mom.

Recently she brought up my fellowship at The Mission Continues, where I served for six months working as an advocate on the Rape Recovery Team at The Women’s Center of Jacksonville. But of course, you have to serve in the military before continuing your service in the first place. So did she have an interest in joining up?

“Umm, a little,” she answered. I asked her why.

“Because there needs to be more badass women in the world!”

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Continue reading “How to Raise a Badass Woman: A Mother’s Guide”

Our Return to the Ferguson-Florissant School District

May 2, 2015

It could not have been a more beautiful day. The Mission Continues returned to the Ferguson-Florissant School District for the second service event this month (we had a blast during our Bravo 2015 orientation project). This time the team served alongside more than 40 hardworking volunteers from our friends at PNC Bank.

In just under five hours, the team tackled several much-needed projects around the Ferguson-Florissant’s Early Childhood Center to foster a safer and more vibrant place for local youth to learn and grow.

The team built raised gardening beds

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Repaired the playground storage shed

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Painted walkways

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Beautified a green space

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And planted new trees surrounding the outdoor playground

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“I was overwhelmed by everyone’s enthusiastic support and boundless energy for the many-faceted project at our center,” said Joy Rouse, Director of the Ferguson-Florisssant Early Childhood Center. “Right this minut,e a class of 3-year olds is outside with big buckets of water dipping in their sprinkling cans to water trees. Your efforts have brought nature closer to us and given our children authentic ways to learn.”

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A Local Mission for a Global Cause

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Roxana Mejia

Planting trees and protecting the wildlife has always been a part of who I am. Since a very young age I have been active in many community-based habitat restoration efforts. This lifestyle helped me to see the earth as a living organism that we all must take a responsibility to protect.

After my military service, I wanted to continue my path as an environmentalist.

Thanks to The Mission Continues Fellowship Program, I was able to complete a six-month fellowship at a local environmental non-profit organization in San Diego, California.  Continue reading “A Local Mission for a Global Cause”

“I Always Dreamed of Being a Hero and Catching Bad Guys”

February 27, 2015

Jonas Jones was thinking about service and justice even as a little kid. “I dreamed of being a hero and catching bad guys,” he says.

Jonas was born and raised in Hazelwood, Missouri just north of St. Louis. He was taught at a young age “to take care of the people who take care of you,” as he puts it. At 29 years old, this particular life lesson brought him to the office of a U.S. Army recruiter.

“I joined the military because I wanted to create a better life for me and my family. I wanted the best in life. The Army gave me the opportunity to fight with the best, and be the best man I could be – someone who reflected respect and good character.”

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Jonas served nearly four years as an Army infantryman. In 2010, his unit deployed to Afghanistan. Jonas served on the front lines as a gunner in his unit’s weapons squad. He led soldiers in combat, and in operations to capture prisoners of war.

His childhood dream of “catching the bad guys” became a reality.

During the same deployment, while returning from a mission, Jonas’s truck was struck by an IED. The truck commander and an Afghanistan local who had accompanied Jonas’s troop on their mission were thrown from the vehicle, and Jonas, along with three other soldiers, were stuck inside.

“That blast was so intense, I blacked out,” he says. “When I came to I felt extreme pain running throughout my whole body and a sergeant screaming asking if we were all okay inside the truck.”

Jonas sustained a traumatic brain injury and deep lacerations from the explosion, earning him a Purple Heart. A few weeks later, his deployment ended and Jonas returned home. Initially, he began training for his next deployment but later decided it was time to hang up his uniform.

Jonas needed to decide what to do next. He had a passion for law enforcement and serving his community, so he decided to pursue an education in criminology and psychology. Meanwhile, his wife introduced to The Mission Continues Fellowship Program.

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In September 2014, Jonas was awarded a six-month Mission Continues Fellowship at the St. Louis County Police Department. As a Fellow, he serves alongside Sgt. Jeremy Romo, who leads the department’s Crisis Intervention Team Program. The program connects individuals who are struggling with mental health disorders to the right resources, which helped steer them away from the correctional system.

“Most of our work is done with the community. We work with the elderly who are battling Alzheimer’s, the homeless, veterans who struggle with post-traumatic stress or substance abuse issues, and youth who are fighting mental health issues,” says Sgt. Romo.  “We connect these individuals to resources that keep them out of jail or the justice system, because they don’t belong there.”

Jonas is about one month away from completing his fellowship. During the last several months, he devoted 20 hours a week to enhancing the Crisis Intervention Team Program. From attending community meetings, to engaging in productive conversations with city officials, and educating more than 55 Police Officers on veterans’ mental health issues, Jonas has served as a tremendous asset for the St. Louis County Police Department.

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“Jonas has incredible work ethic. He’s punctual, respectful and one of those guys you can tell is truly enjoying himself every day – he is just so service oriented” says Sgt. Romo.

Recognizing that Jonas repeatedly went above and beyond the call of duty, Sgt. Romo nominated him for the department’s Citizen Service Citation award, which recognizes a citizen who plays a crucial role in empowering the police department to give back to the community.

“Similarly to military soldiers, police officers are often told to separate their emotions from work and ‘toughen up.’ Well, Jonas was here while the events in Ferguson took place, which put a tremendous strain on police officers and the St. Louis community as a whole,” says Sgt. Romo. “He would share stories of his military experience, which really helped build morale and provide support for the officers. He also grew up in North County, near Ferguson, and was able to offer a unique perspective on the community.”

Sgt. Romo and the St. Louis County Board of Police Commissions presented Jonas with the Citizen Service Citation on February 11.

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“I was truly pleased, honored, and humbled to receive the Citizen Service Citation award from Sgt. Jermey Romo,” says Jonas. “He has also been a great mentor to me. The St. Louis County Police Department treated me like family and instilled in me the passion to continue to always fight the good fight, especially for those who cannot do it for themselves.”

Jonas recently graduated with a bachelor’s degree in criminology and psychology, and is currently enrolled in graduate school. He plans to pursue a career in law enforcement, and get back to “catching bad guys” combatting crime in the cyber security sector.

“None of this would’ve been possible if it wasn’t for The Mission Continues and Moses Maddox who is another great mentor of mine and works with The Mission Continues,” says Jonas. “My fellowship gave me the encouragement and the blueprint to be successful in any endeavor.”