February 15, 2018 By Rahiel Alemu, City Impact Manager
I’ve discovered that “helping” is not as simple as it sounds. It takes a lot more than just “showing up” to make the kind of impact that is actually needed in a community.
I have always been passionate about nonprofit work, and have dedicated my career to the nonprofit sector. Part of what fulfills and drives this passion is my background and my desire to pay it forward.
Let me take you back twenty years ago when Ethiopia instituted the Diversity Immigrant Visa program. It’s a lottery system with a prize of a life-changing opportunity: a plane ticket and green card to America. With its unveiling, tens of thousands of people applied.
Over the year, marks of our individual identities were on public display like never before: on hats, stickers, and t-shirts – and almost inescapably – on our social media profiles, banners, hashtags, retweets and newsfeeds.
Unfortunately, our reactions to these displays have not made our country more unified.
Instead of embracing our differences as opportunities to understand one another, we’re using them as grounds to divide into teams and to separate these teams with walls. More unfortunate yet, our team uniforms, mottos and chants prevent us from seeing the countless ways our identities are similar.
To name just a few: We are all Humans. Residents. Children. Survivors. Servants. Consumers. Friends.
At The Mission Continues we too are deeply focused on identity.
Veterans and their families were once members of a distinct and identifiable institution: the military. One of our primary missions as an organization is to restore this strong sense of identity they may have lost as they transitioned from lives in the military to lives in new communities.
We do not, however, restore this sense of identity by emphasizing their differences as veterans. Instead, we seek to connect veterans to non-veterans through their similarities: as Civilians, as Neighbors, as Community Members and as Servants. When veterans and non-veterans embrace these shared identities, new venues for unity and connection emerge at the local level.
I was fortunate to see these venues emerge, and to see this unity and connection on display throughout the year.
I saw them on Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday in the Sunnyside neighborhood of Houston, where hundreds came together to help build a nine-acre urban farm with the mission of eliminating a local food desert.
I saw unity and connection on Earth Day in the South Bronx, where hundreds gathered in the rain to remove litter and debris from the Bronx River.
I saw them this summer in Atlanta, when hundreds gathered over six days in the Westside community to provide a surge of effort supporting local efforts to revitalize the area.
I’m proud to report that in 2017, these hundreds joined thousands of others who unified and connected in similar ways – as humans, as neighbors and residents – at over 1,300 different events in 38 metro areas across the country.
Our work is long from over. As The Mission Continues moves into 2018, we’re seeking even greater unity and connection – as an organization, as a network of communities and as a country. Many of us are veterans or their family members. Some of us are still in the military.
But we are also teachers, doctors, cops, artists, techies and grandparents. Some are liberal, some conservative. We represent all ethnicities, ages, genders, sexual orientations and religions. We hail from every state, and our heritages trace across the globe.
We are unified by our humanity, and by our shared desire to grow, to connect and to have impact – through service. It’s with this unity of effort that we’ll march forward into 2018. We have high aspirations for the upcoming year.
We’ll roll out our new Empowered Veteran Index, which will enable us to assess the Personal Growth, Connectedness, and Community Impact of our programs as they engage veterans in service.
In July, we’ll introduce a new-and-improved fellowship program that will further prepare veterans for reintegrating into civilian work and life.
We’ll deepen the impact of our operations in the 38 metro areas we’re currently serving in, and we’ll lay the groundwork for expanding to other communities in need.
We’ll deploy to the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles with a major infusion of resources and energy, plugging into on-going efforts to make progress on fighting under-resourcing, depopulation, disinvestment and underemployment.
We’ll conduct major service campaigns around MLK Day, 9/11, and Veterans Day.
We need you to make this vision come to life. A gift today will help us build stronger communities in 2018. Many young and impressionable eyes are upon us. It is our duty to ensure they don’t only see our bumper-stickers and banners, our hashtags and tweets – but also see what happens when we choose to unify and connect as humans.
September 7, 2017 Barry Mattson, Central Region Executive Director
It has been heartening to see our Mission Continues family rally together to help us in Houston during Hurricane Harvey. As we have worked with Houston communities for years, it is saddening to see the damage done. While our platoon members and staff are focused locally with neighbor-helping-neighbor efforts as well as working with their operational partners right now, we are planning our long-term recovery efforts too.
I know there are no quick fixes for all that Houston has endured. We weathered this storm and we are committed to rebuilding our communities. We are adjusting the objectives of all five of our Houston operations to include long-term, ongoing recovery operations. This is what Mission Continues is all about — we’re in it for the long haul.
Today is a big day for The Mission Continues — it’s our 10th birthday! Over the years we have strengthened and expanded beyond our core programs, and now have even more innovative opportunities for veterans to serve again, so that the next decade of service can be as kickass as the first.
The Mission Continues family is made by its people — fellows, alumni, platoon members, and supporters. We know that if you want to be part of a community of motivated veteran leaders, this is the place to be. To best support our dedicated volunteers, we are are constantly looking for ways to empower veterans and communities, and do it well.
Here’s what we’ve done to improve and expand our impact, and how we’re going to make it even better:
Expanding Our Reach
Today we have a presence in 36 metro areas, dedicating attention to cultivating relationships with veterans and communities in each. By 2020, we plan to be in at least 40 cities. This means more veterans across the country will have access to a service platoon, a fellowship, and our network of veteran leaders.
Deploying to a New City Each Year
In June 2016, our first Mass Deployment brought 75+ veterans to Detroit for Operation Motown Muster, and proved this model could work. With our second Mass Deployment, Operation Westside Surge, we took the program a step further, focusing our efforts on the learning and development to seed future leaders.
Future Mass Deployments will build on the successes of their predecessors, so that communities and veterans will both reap the benefits of the lessons we learn along the way. You can expect to see an evolution of the training and leadership development components, as well as the role Ambassadors play as team leaders.
Supporting Women Veterans
Over the years it has become clear that women veterans participate in our programs at higher rates than expected — a whopping 30-40%. This inspired us to create an annual Women Veterans Leadership Summit. The goal of this summit is to empower women veterans to serve in their communities with the confidence and tools to lead.
Summits feature inspirational speakers, hands on workshops and networking opportunities — not to mention a service project. We’re excited to see that this is an effective way to support women veterans, and aim to make each Summit new, unique and empowering.
Opening our Doors to Guard and Reservists
In January of 2018, we will pilot a new effort within our Fellowship Program to award a limited number of fellowships to Reservists and Guardsmen. (Applications are now being accepted for our next fellowship class!)
It is still true that all fellows must have served in the United States Military after September 1, 2001, and must have residency in one of their 36 metro areas.
Giving our Platoon Volunteers a Boost
The leadership development for Platoon Leaders has gone from 2.5 days at orientation to a continuous full-year curriculum. The full scope and sequence of the 12-month curriculum includes a variety of learning opportunities that utilize self-paced learning, in-person learning with regional staff, as well as self-identified areas of focus.
We have also re-imagined our Platoon Leadership Summits. We bring every platoon leader and one member of their leadership team together once a year to focus on connecting to learn from others, to provide established learning from an external source, and task our platoon leaders to leverage their leadership to improve the Platoon Leadership Program.
We’ve got a strong start on building the leadership skills of our volunteers — and will continue to innovate to address volunteer needs and interests.
On May 26-29th, two teams of amateur baseball players, including military veterans, will gather in the St. Louis, MO area in an attempt to break the world record of the “Longest Marathon Baseball Game” ever played. The game is being held in support of The Mission Continues in order to raise awareness for veterans. We empower veterans to reintegrate into civilian life through community service, and are excited about this opportunity to share our message with the greater population. The players will try to establish a new record of over 72 uninterrupted hours of baseball, surpassing their 2015 record of 70 hours, 9 minutes and 24 seconds.
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 welcomes retired four-star U.S. Army General Ray Odierno, the 38th Chief of Staff of the Army, to its Board of Directors. In this role, Gen. Odierno will help guide The Mission Continues in its mission of empowering veterans who are adjusting to life at home to find purpose through community impact.
“Gen. Odierno is one of the most respected military leaders of our time. His track record of effective leadership over his nearly 40 year military career will no doubt be a tremendous asset to our organization,” said Spencer Kympton, U.S. Army veteran and president of The Mission Continues. “He was ‘in the fight’ with this generation of veterans—and is deeply committed to their continued success. As we work to empower veterans to be a force for good in at-risk communities across the country, Gen. Odierno’s experience and vision will be most welcomed and valued.”
The military isn’t the only way one can be of service to country.
The drive to serve isn’t borne by servicemembers and veterans alone; it is the flag under which veterans and civilians unite.
An integral part of our philosophy is that while continued service can play an important role in veterans’ lives, change can only happen when we join hands with the next generation of Americans: our youth. Just as we enlist veterans to serve where their community needs it most, AmeriCorps enlists young adults to do the same.
In our experience, both AmeriCorps alumni and veterans come away from their experience with a drive to continue serving. While it’s no question that the military and AmeriCorps are vastly different, there are a few notable common threads. Like the military, AmeriCorps provides young adults in their formative years a unique opportunity to shape their careers, experience comradery, grow personally, find their niche, and even find a sense of purpose. In this way, government programs like AmeriCorps are an important part of the service ecosystem in which we live.Continue reading “AmeriCorps: Another Way to Serve Your Country”
As we gathered as an organization and in our teams to discuss our goals for the upcoming year, we also thought it important to take stock of moments in 2016 where we felt like we totally rocked it, so that we may continue to learn and grow. To that end, each member of the Regional Resource team, our amazing project planners, took some time to look back on 2016 and pick out one project that really spoke to them.
Regional Resource Specialists are dedicated to planning and managing their projects, and often collaborate and work alongside Mission Continues volunteers. Creating a meaningful and impactful experience for volunteers, community members, and The Mission Continues is what a RRS is all about.
Here’s a look at what they came up with.
Women Veteran’s Leadership Summit, New Orleans
Damion Martin, Central Region
Since this was our first ever Women Veteran’s Leadership Summit, I felt some pressure to not mess up. I really enjoyed seeing the excitement, appreciation, and engagement of the women veterans and non-veterans involved as they took complete ownership of their roles in making this summit a success. Everyone wanted to help prove its worth and make it an annual event.
We found a local school (Langston Hughes Academy) as part of the New Orleans FirstLine Schools charter system that partnered with The Edible Schoolyard program to provide healthy relationships with healthy eating in schools and at home.
We were collaborative from the start and worked alongside the AmeriCorps VISTA program that placed teachers in the school to ensure the kids had the encouragement, education, and healthy eating habits to carve out a path to achieve their dreams. What helped us become successful with this project was getting to know the volunteer force, really taking time to find kick-ass projects, and including students during the prep days.
Bravo Orientation 2016, Rainier Beach High School, Seattle
Joshua Arntson, National Events
Rainier Beach Valley is one of the most diverse communities in the country. It is underserved, so having our orientation service project at the high school was really important to the local community and the Seattle 1st Platoon.
Our volunteers had already done a couple projects in the local area but this really helped immerse the platoon in that community. One of the major tasks that the school asked us to look into was revitalizing the front of the school. We were able to dig up all the dead plants, bushes and trees and replace them with new ones. We also brought in several cubic yards of mulch to give it a fresh look and brought in several cubic yards of gravel to refurbish the existing path that was overgrown with weeds and would flood when it rained. It is now handicap accessible as well.
One of the things that made it a special project was being able to work with Nick Sullivan (Seattle 1st Platoon) and Ryan Mielcarek (South Sound 1st Platoon). Those two are what all Platoon Leaders should strive to be. They really care about what they are doing and will go above and beyond to help others. The success of the service project could not have happened without them. We were able to get all the project task completed and make a significant impact at this most deserving school.
United is Service Campaign, Orting Washington
Teresa Crippen, West region
In the beginning of September, I had the opportunity to attend Shawn Durnen’s first project as the Platoon Leader for the Tacoma 1st Platoon in Orting, Washington.
We had meetings with the partners and put together a plan for a successful day for the platoon and volunteers. With about a month to go until the project, we got word that Expedia would like to send 100 volunteers. With this new addition of volunteers, we had to go back to the drawing board for more projects. It was great to see Shawn’s ideas and help him build them out to accommodate the most volunteers and stay within the budget.
Overall, the project at Washington Soldiers Home and Colony was a great learning experience on both sides. I was able to see the different skill sets of our PLs and identify tools that would be helpful while planning for their future events. Shawn got some insight into the amount of prep and diligence needed when it comes to the planning and execution the details of a project.
The biggest takeaway came at the end of the service day when the platoon was sitting around the fire pit gathering area that was created during that day. After all the volunteers left, the platoon stayed behind and talked. It may have been subtle, but it reinforced the community that is behind the platoon.
So while we were there for the work, which all got done, we were also there to build community. And thanks to Shawn, that happened for the platoon at Washington Soldiers Home.
Charlie Orientation 2016, Little Earth, Minneapolis
Jess Peter, Midwest region
The Charlie Orientation project at Little Earth really showed me what buy-in and teamwork looked like.
Our hosts at Little Earth of United Tribes were working collectively from the beginning to bring us the voices of the residents and their priorities. This meant that there was a strong willingness to support us during planning, prep, and execution from their staff and teen program. We were all on the same page and executed through the pouring rain to deliver a complete project.
We worked as a team, taking ownership over different areas and improving overall ability to plan and execute. Each of us had ownership to make decisions independently, knowing the overall goals.
United in Service Campaign, Ellis Island, New York City
Marvin Cadet, Northeast region
This project was part of our greater effort of honoring those we lost on September 11th, 2001. The Mission Continues, in partnership with the National Parks Service, hosted a service project revitalizing parts of Ellis Island. Flood waters from Hurricane Sandy covered almost all of Ellis Island, damaging a majority of its infrastructure. Repairs and recovery efforts help restore Ellis Island, but this was the first time a large group of veterans who call New York City and New Jersey home were able to make contributions to that effort.
The platoons filled three 30 yard dumpsters to the brim with old office furniture, refurbished 8 statues, painted the interior of one of the towers in the Ellis Island Immigration Museum and mulched well over 20 trees.
Working with the National Parks Service and supporting their vision for Ellis Island was an honor. This project was particularly meaningful to me after having completed some formal project management training, I really put that learning to use on the job! Our Platoon Leaders and Fellows based here in the city enjoyed leading parts of the project as well.
Veterans Day, National Day of Service, DC
Katrina Hill, Southeast region
All five DC Platoons came together at the Malcolm X Opportunity Center and Congress Park (two of our operational host sites in Southeast that are across the street from one another) for a great Veterans Day project. We cleaned up existing guarding beds, built adult exercise stations, refurbished picnic tables, fixed up a sad looking set of bleachers, and hauled thousands of pounds of junk, amongst other things.
This project was a particular favorite of mine because it was high impact but relatively low stress. Jackie, our DC 1st Platoon Leader, really pitched in with the planning, and all of our DC PLs stepped up to be team leaders on the project day.
As with all of our projects in the Southeast region, we developed projects that include a wide variety of tasks so that volunteers of all ages and skill levels can meaningfully participate.
In my former life as an AmeriCorps NCCC Team Leader, we talk a lot about the “why behind the what” – essentially connecting what you’re doing to the “bigger picture.” We were fortunate to have Anthony, the site director at Malcolm X, share his vision for the center and really connect those dots. At the end of the day, not only was there a strong visual transformation of the site, our volunteers understood some of the more intangible ways that their labor had had a positive impact.
Finally, we completed a kick ass #mannequin challenge during our Veterans Day project. Still waiting for it to go viral…