If you were to mention the name Logan Heights to the residents of San Diego whose experience with the historic neighborhood amounts to driving past it on Interstate 5, it’s likely that their reaction would be largely informed by the decades-old stigma brought on by the Tijuana Cartel-allied gang bearing this community’s name – the Logan Heights Gang. You would hear about the 1-square mile community’s reputation for violent crime, how its poverty level sits three times higher than that of San Diego, or its quadrupled population density compared to the rest of the city.
You probably wouldn’t hear about the culture of historic resilience in Logan – how what was once the largest Chicano population on the west coast became displaced by new infrastructure as San Diego grew, sowing the seeds of grassroots activism and neighborhood advocacy.
There’s a certain grit about Logan Heights derived from that legacy of collective efficacy that has made neighbors out of co-residents. Shared trust and solidarity bring neighbors out of their homes to keep an eye on the side streets and alleyways or to help a neighbor in need.
After 2 years of working at Edison High School, Philadelphia 1st Platoon is expanding their operation to include additional schools throughout the district.
In order to ensure that the expansion and growth is done in a strategic, human-centered way, our staff (City Impact Manager Stephanie Grimes and Regional Project Specialist Marvin Cadet) traveled to Philadelphia to facilitate a visioning and design session with stakeholders from the Philadelphia School Districts Office of Special Education and leadership and JROTC students from Martin Luther King High School.
This event was a new opportunity for the Columbus 1st to help fight food insecurity through the creation of an urban farm learning lab! Through a partnership with Hamilton Township High School and the YMCA of Central Ohio, the platoon was able to rehab an old greenhouse and the surrounding outdoor space at Hoover YMCA Park which is about ½ a mile from the high school. Students and staff from the school joined veterans from The Mission Continues for this impactful day of service.
Kim Tapia, a member of the Columbus 1st Leadership Team stepped up to lead the project. 20 volunteers including nine veterans and six students put in 90 volunteer hours total for our Veterans Day campaign with Hamilton Township High School (HTHS).
It was an awesome day with good people and a great project for the community. I will definitely do more projects in the future. Being involved with The Mission Continues has really opened my eyes to see that our community needs help and I’m happy to be involved.
Ever since I joined Boy Scouts, my ultimate goal was to reach the rank of Eagle Scout — the highest rank in Boy Scouts. One of the many requirements for this rank is to complete a service project.
This year, at the age of 16, I was able to become an Eagle Scout by leading a service project in the Pittsburgh neighborhood of Hazelwood in collaboration with The Mission Continues’ Hazelwood Service Platoon.
While many Americans are aware that there is a “proper” way to raise, fold and store the American flag, not many actually know the rules by heart. Air Force veteran Angel Gual is one exception. Recently, Angel noticed that the Boys & Girls Club where he volunteered had an old flag pole — with no flag. Just in time for Independence Day, Angel helped the Club obtain a flag, but he just didn’t stop there.
Motivated by his love for the American flag and his desire to share it with the youth at his local Boys & Girls Club, the Nan Knox Club, it was important for Angel to teach them about the flag’s history and significance. And so began Operation Raise the Flag.
Angel worked tirelessly to secure a flag donation and coordinated with the fire department to install it. He then held a workshop explaining how to raise, lower, and fold it properly, and organized an art project where veterans from the Broward County 1st Service Platoon in Florida joined youth to paint the American flag on their hands.
“I taught them that the flag represents all of us as Americans. That men and women from all walks of life and cities wake up every day under this flag to protect their rights,” said Angel.
“It meant so much to see how truly excited the kids were at the opportunity to learn about the flag and how to handle it and what it means. I could see how gently they held the flag with the sole purpose of not letting it fall out of their hands.”
City Impact Manager Matthew “Mateo” Tanner for The Mission Continues explains, “The Nan Knox Club, where Operation Raise the Flag took place, is located in a historically black community known as the Sistrunk Boulevard. This small community faces the daily challenges of extreme poverty and lack of local businesses and resources for residents.”
Angel’s commitment to youth goes way back. Growing up, Angel regularly volunteered with the Boys & Girls Club in his hometown of New Jersey. It’s even where he landed his first job at the age of 16, and maintained good relationships with the youth and their families over the years. “I helped take care of and mentor younger inner-city kids. The staff there helped mold me into the man I am today.”
The reason Angel returned to volunteering after 20 years of military service is because without it, “I felt lost and empty. For several years I searched for a new mission.”
That new mission came to him when he found The Mission Continues, a volunteer organization for veterans looking to help under-resourced communities. When he joined The Mission Continues’ Broward County 1st Service Platoon as its platoon leader, “I felt complete again.”
As its platoon leader, Angel collaborated with Mateo to build a relationship with The Boys & Girls Club, advocating for it to become the platoon’s operational partner. This meant that the platoon would work primarily with and through The Boys & Girls Club for the benefit of the community.
For Angel, it’s all about coming full circle. “For me, returning to help the Boy’s and Girl’s Clubs after all these years feels like I’m coming back home and doing what I love.”
To volunteer alongside veterans like Angel, sign up for the Broward County 1st Service Platoon’s next project! You don’t have to be a veteran to volunteer with us – non-veterans are most welcome too.
Contributing Sponsors of the Broward 1st Service Platoon are All Within My Hands and The Henry & Ruth Blaustein Rosenberg Foundation. We thank them for their support, which makes stories — and impact — like this possible.
“I felt for the first time like we were on the same page while volunteering for the service project,” said Nissa Salas, a Mission Continues volunteer in Dallas.
Nissa met her husband Mark Salas after he had separated from the U.S. Marine Corps. Nissa noticed Mark had a hard time relating to her and to other civilians. “He had only one or two friends, and did not trust anyone. His habits were very much military-style and he was shut down from any social activity,” she said.
At the recommendation of their counselor, Nissa and Mark tried volunteer service with The Mission Continues.
As every Army officer knows, the best job you’ll ever have is Platoon Leader.
No matter how far up the ranks you travel, no command or staff position would ever rival what it was to be a young lieutenant with soldiers not much younger than yourself – and with NCOs who are older, wiser, and tougher.
If you have ears to listen, those sergeants will train you while calling you “sir” or “ma’am” – and they will even brag on you if you become a squared away LT because they know that you are a reflection of them.
Gaining their trust is the name of the game, for what truly makes a leader is people’s desire to follow.
I learned those leadership lessons in the military and I kept them close this past June, as I stepped into service as a Mission Continues platoon leader for Los Angeles. No matter how much I thought I might have to offer, I needed to first learn what this platoon was all about from the volunteers who had built it up long before me.
This would present a different challenge than I faced during my 2016 Mission Continues fellowship, when I had to learn how to fit into a civilian workforce again. As a Mission Continues platoon leader, I had to represent the operation within the community, which I could not do without understanding just what those operations were.
Thankfully, I was fortunate to fall in on a strong leadership team, beginning with my predecessor and fellow soldier, Majken Geiman. Majken took me on a right-seat ride of a service project at Roosevelt High School, which she had begun planning but would fall on me to execute even before my official induction at Charlie Class Orientation.
From Majken, I learned how to do a site visit and to make the principal’s priorities for the school our own – and I saw how much she cared about the work and the platoon. I knew I would have some big shoes to fill, and I resolved to do my best to maintain the standard for the Los Angeles 2nd Platoon.
Since June, I have now served as platoon leader for two successful service projects, including our combined 9/11 Day of Service at Carver High School, which attracted some 170 volunteers.
Yet the truth is that we have had several outstanding leaders who helped to ensure their success, like my CIM, Behkie Aguilar, and 2nd platoon’s indispensable man, Chris Barreras.
If it takes a village to raise a child, then the Mission Continues family has picked me up through my platoon leader infancy and nurtured me through the growing pains as I’ve gotten my service legs under me.
As I look forward to my third service project scheduled for MLK weekend in January, I am ahead of the curve and further along in the planning process than before – and I know it is because of the great support The Mission Continues and the 2nd Platoon has afforded me.
It is a special thing to be part of a team and to have others invested in your success as you are invested in theirs.
The mission of the Los Angeles 2nd Platoon is to serve public schools in Boyle Heights, and I am thankful for a job that takes me to neighborhoods in my city that I never knew of before. I am humbled by the work of the dedicated educators and volunteers I have met, who strive every day to provide a quality education for the children in Los Angeles.
But above all, I feel blessed to be part of something bigger than myself again, which demands connection, commitment, and community.
In this week of Thanksgiving, I am truly grateful for this opportunity to continue to serve – and I hope when it’s my time to pass on the guidon, I can pay it forward to the next platoon leader as my teammates did for me.
This weekend’s Alpha Class 2017 Orientation in San Diego is pretty special. As you may know, each class’s Orientation takes place in a different city, but this time, for our 20th Orientation, we are returning to San Diego, where we held our first ever Orientation back in 2012. Since then we’ve developed a lot of momentum and sustained service there. This class of Fellows and Platoon Leaders can look forward to spending a day helping the San Diego service platoons’ efforts with some of the city’s public schools.
San Diego has over 1 million residents, and over 100,000 of them are veterans. We’ve worked hard to establish a strong presence through the San Diego 1st and 2nd Platoons, both of which have dedicated members who are totally rockin’ it. They concentrate on City Heights, a densely populated area where 85% of K-12 students qualify for free or reduced lunches.
We work with the San Diego Unified School District to help enact community-based school reform so that City Heights can have the kind of quality schools every student deserves. Our goals are to help improve literacy, overall graduation rates, and to make the schools safe and attractive. So far the platoons have renovated and beautified a community garden, added playground features to Rosa Parks Elementary, and more. Continue reading “Alpha Class 2017’s First Act of Service: Supporting San Diego Schools”
As an artist supporting The Mission Continues Service Learning Project series with Democracy Prep Harlem Middle School in Harlem, I learned as much about service from the students as much as they’ve learned from me. I volunteered and led three classes of 6th grade students to create a mural through their own visual and literary submissions. Continue reading “Inspiring Service through Art”
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.
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.