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.
I also recalled reports of how both veterans and inner city residents are at risk of similar forms of post-traumatic stress due to violence they witnessed. This shared experience oftentimes leads to a motivation to be positive contributors to their communities—as is the case with The Mission Continues and the Wooten Center.
I wanted to hug each one of the veterans who entered our doors (I did) and thank them for their service abroad and at home. My father served in World War II but I had never really understood the level of patriotism that many of our veterans feel in their willingness to put their lives on the line for their country. I witnessed it first hand on another level watching the veterans working hard painting our building interior and exterior. It was clearly more than a project to them. It was a mission. Our new friends were meticulous, patient and committed to doing a good job to help our kids. And we are grateful. No matter what any of us felt about our nation’s recent wars, it was clear that it had nothing to do with the veterans whose passion and purpose stem from their community’s roots.
I could say so much more about the two visits we were fortunate to enjoy last year, and about individuals from Ben Robles, who referred us to The Mission Continues, to Platoon Leader Robert Contreras and staff members Tristan Williamson and Regan Turner, all of whom organized it all. They were very compassionate and professional in all of our dealings and I was and remain very impressed by The Mission Continues because of my interactions with these four gentlemen, in particular.
Thank you everyone for your service and for giving us the pleasure of serving alongside you at home.
Naomi McSwain is the executive director of the Al Wooten Heritage Center.