The Start of a New Mission in Puerto Rico

March 24, 2018

It’s been six months after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, and U.S. Army veteran Frankie Perez is on a mission to galvanize veterans to build a legacy of service on the island.

To understand his mission, you have to understand Frankie’s story and what this would mean to veterans in Puerto Rico.

The youngest of 10 brothers, Frankie was born and raised in Puerto Rico. He enlisted in the military just months before the attacks of September 11, 2001 and deployed to Iraq in 2005. But when he came back to live in Puerto Rico in 2006, he knew he wasn’t the same anymore. Two years later, Frankie attempted suicide.

This experience motivated him to enroll in programs with the Wounded Warrior Project to manage the challenges that come with PTSD and to connect with other veterans facing the same things. As he became more involved within the veteran space, he built up a veteran network, and it was through this veteran network that he found The Mission Continues in 2017.

The timing couldn’t have been more perfect.

It was around that time that Vu Nguyen and Matthew “Mateo” Tanner, City Impact Managers for The Mission Continues, were doing research in Puerto Rico with the goal of starting a volunteer group made up of military veterans to serve the island.

They came knowing two things: They knew there was a need in many Puerto Rican communities for revitalization and empowerment, and they knew that was exactly what The Mission Continues already did in communities across the country.

According to Frankie, veterans are misunderstood in Puerto Rico, perhaps to a more extreme degree than they are on the mainland. “I feel like a second class citizen. People think we are crazy people that use pills or get drunk.”

This lack of public understanding bothers him. “They don’t see the resiliency. They don’t understand that some veterans are lost because they’re not in a team effort environment anymore. It just seems like a crazy, selfish world to us. And that’s why we struggle the most.”

The Mission Continues had planned to launch a service platoon in San Juan by the year 2020, but the devastating effects of Hurricane Maria introduced an immediate need to activate veterans to help rebuild.

This call to serve struck a chord with Puerto Rican veterans like Frankie who yearn to be at the forefront of a veteran-led movement. “The hunger of the people to do good and be part of change — that’s something I’ve never seen in my life, after the military. That core is our core.”

Frankie is now the leader of the Puerto Rico 1st Service Platoon. “I’m excited because we’re going to provide opportunities for veterans and civilians to change Puerto Rico for the better. The Mission Continues is going to be part of positive change for the entire island.”

One important aspect of this positive change is that it is sourced from Puerto Rican veterans themselves and their fellow community members.

“Part of the magic of The Mission Continues is that the service platoons work under the direction of the local veterans, and value the context they provide,” added City Impact Manager Mateo Tanner. “This couldn’t be more true for our approach in Puerto Rico. The culture, veteran experience, and obviously, challenges associated with Hurricane Maria, are different than what we experience on mainland.”

In addition to starting a service platoon made up of a group of volunteers, The Mission Continues also awarded two fellowships to veterans in Puerto Rico. These two veterans — Jaime Lugo and Jose Cruz — have both committed to six months of volunteering in nonprofits for 20 hours per week. Jaime will be serving with the American Red Cross, and Jose will be with Disabled American Veterans. They will also receive support from Mission Continues staff to set and achieve personal and professional growth goals.

“I used to do logistics to send weapons to kill people. Now I’ll be sending food and water to save people,” said Jaime, a US Marine Corps veteran. “I’m excited to put back to work a lot of things I learned in the military during the war to help as many people as I can.”

Jaime is looking forward to get back in action. He’s helping the American Red Cross improve their strategy for delivering aid to Puerto Rico, given the challenging island terrain. “Coming back after being in surgery for so many years, being able to put my experience to work is going to be awesome.”

Now more than ever, Puerto Rico needs veterans like you to serve again — this time, as their neighbors. If you too are looking to get back in action with The Mission Continues, this is your chance. We invite you to serve alongside veteran leaders like Frankie, Jaime and Jose at our first service project in Puerto Rico in April 2018.

Planned and executed by the newly-formed Puerto Rico 1st Service Platoon through our Service Platoon Program, this project is kickstarting sustained, veteran-inspired impact in Puerto Rico.

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.

The Battle for (Bio)Diversity

February 23, 2018
By David Riera, Fellow Alum

Social equality – or the lack thereof — has played a deciding role in how communities identify, thrive, survive, or die. Every community — from the veteran community to the conservation community — has to actively find those voices that have been left out of the conversation, and empower them to be heard.

As I reflect on the works of African American legends like Dr. King, George Washington Carver, the Buffalo Soldiers, and other personal heroes of mine, I am prompted to be mindful where social, economic, and environmental justice for all can (and needs to) be intertwined.

Volunteering with the National Parks Conservation Association through The Mission Continues Fellowship Program catapulted me into my desired field: environmental conservation.

Now as a veteran, scientist, and conservationist, I’ve begun to think more about the social dynamics of conservation. Continue reading “The Battle for (Bio)Diversity”

Meet Latonya Wilson, Mark Weber Award Recipient

February 3, 2018

Latonya Wilson is a veteran and a breast cancer survivor. She earned a Mission Continues Fellowship in 2017, where her dedication to service shone brightly. Here is her story, and why she is exemplary of the values of our dear friend Mark Weber and the Mark Weber Award.

Latonya enlisted in the United States Army at the age of 17 and served for nearly 13 years, with deployments to Korea and Afghanistan under her belt. After separating from the military, she served overseas as a government contractor for nearly eight years.

During this time, she was diagnosed with breast cancer twice and underwent numerous surgeries, chemotherapy and radiation.

By 2016, Latonya was diagnosed with stage IV breast cancer. Many people might have given up at this point and been resigned to living out their days in search of relative comfort and peace.

But not Latyona. Inspired by the values she developed in the Army, Latonya dedicated her life to service again. She volunteered with The American Cancer Society, visiting VA Cancer Treatment Facilities to inspire and encourage female cancer patients, fed the homeless at shelters, and assisted a senior housing facilities with daily activities. Continue reading “Meet Latonya Wilson, Mark Weber Award Recipient”

Alpha Class of 2018 Helps Preserve Miami Park Post-Irma

January 29, 2018

Alpha Class 2018 begins their continued service with The Mission Continues in Miami, FL

The Miami 1st Service Platoon welcomed over 100 new fellows and platoon leaders with open arms on Friday, January 26th. The purpose? To convene for a weekend of learning, connecting, and preparing for their new mission.

To show these newcomers what we’re made of, the weekend kicked off on Saturday with a Mission Continues must-have: a service project.

 

New Fellows Get Five Pieces of Advice

Fellowship alumnus Derek Auguste and Fellowship Program Specialist Jim Robbins
Fellowship alumnus Derek Auguste and Fellowship Program Specialist Jim Robbins

Veteran Derek Auguste spoke to the incoming class of fellows, leaving them with five pieces of advice as they begin their journey. Listen to his full speech below.

Continue reading “Alpha Class of 2018 Helps Preserve Miami Park Post-Irma”

MLK’s #LegacyofService: Fighting a Different Kind of War

January 16, 2018
By Jeffrey Davis, Fellow Alum

I’ve learned that there’s more than one kind of veteran. There’s me: someone who’s been in the military. Then, there’s the kind of veteran who fought a different kind of war — a war here at home, and many would say the struggle is ongoing. It is the fight for equal rights.

I completed my Mission Continues fellowship at the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change, commonly referred to as The King Center. During my fellowship I have learned so much about Dr. and Mrs. King’s work, and now have a far better understanding of the Civil Rights Movement.

While much of my work at The King Center has been in researching, writing, and relationship building, part of my work has been helping with a program called Students with King — and it’s what I want to tell you about today. Continue reading “MLK’s #LegacyofService: Fighting a Different Kind of War”

Nailed It: Using My Fellowship to Construct a New Beginning

December 22, 2017
By Rana Moore, Fellow Alum

 

Residential construction is not a field in which many women choose to make their careers, but I have found that the time management, organization, strategy, and leadership skills — all skills I learned in the Marine Corps — are highly valuable there.

I originally joined the military wanting to make a little difference in the big world, and I wanted to challenge myself. I discovered that ability to make a difference and to challenge myself in the military. I served my country for five years, and when I had to leave to raise my children, it left me with a hole in my heart after which I found myself wandering and wondering what to do with my life after leaving the Corps.

I needed to be a part of the big picture again. The Mission Continues Fellowship Program gave me the opportunity to begin the path to a new career. My fellowship host site, Pensacola’s Habitat for Humanity, offered me the opportunity to make a big difference in a small community. Continue reading “Nailed It: Using My Fellowship to Construct a New Beginning”

Years After My Fellowship, I Still Live for Others

December 15, 2017
By Tyler Thompson, Fellow Alum

A few years ago, we published a blog post by Tyler Thompson’s mother, Robin Herzog. Today, years after his fellowship has concluded, Tyler still serves his community. “Why?” do you ask? His story will answer your question.

The day I returned to America from Iraq in 2005 was the most pleasurable moment of my entire existence. I felt sheer ecstasy from cheating death several times that year, and knew I would never have to dodge bombs and bullets again in that desolate wasteland.

I separated from the military and began studying Criminal Justice, while working full-time as a supervisor at Starbucks. After a couple years of keeping myself extremely busy, I started to slow down.

And that’s when the PTSD hit me hard. Continue reading “Years After My Fellowship, I Still Live for Others”

The Start of Long Term Recovery in Houston

October 20, 2017

The Mission Continues service project with veterans

While shoppers all over the country rushed to grab Friday the 13th sales, 90 veterans from all over the country rushed to grab rakes, power tools, and paint brushes to help restore Houston neighborhoods after the damage Hurricane Harvey dealt.

Immediately following the devastation brought by Hurricane Harvey, volunteers with The Mission Continues responded with neighbor-helping-neighbor efforts and rallied together to execute an inspiring 9/11 Day of Service project shortly thereafter.

In the time since then, we have committed to help Houston communities with long-term recovery efforts. Rebuilding in Houston is a mission that will take years to accomplish, but with a little help from Delta Class of 2017, it was off to a great start. Continue reading “The Start of Long Term Recovery in Houston”

How Disabled Veterans Proved Them All Wrong

October 17, 2017

Today we bring you three stories directly from veterans who have overcome incredible challenges post-military, and are now changing their lives and others’ through their Mission Continues Fellowships.

From their stories you will get a glimpse into what happens when veterans are told, “we still need you,” and are given the opportunity to serve again.

Continue reading “How Disabled Veterans Proved Them All Wrong”