Our Most Memorable Projects of 2016

December 21, 2016

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

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Damion at Women Veterans Leadership Summit with attendees

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

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Joshua speaking at the Bravo Orientation service project

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

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Teresa with the Tacoma 1st Platoon

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

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Jess kicking off the Charlie Orientation service project

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

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Marvin at Ellis Island, with platoon volunteers

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…

 

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.

For Veterans, Their Mission Continues in National Parks

September 8, 2016
By Rose Feroah, Platoon Member

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With a September’s breeze on this late summer night, we will soon be reminded of sacrifice and service.  It is in this honor and service that we will be at Fort Battery Ricketts—Mile Marker Zero of the Hiker Biker Trail, all hands on deck, doing what we do best.  Having worked along the Trail throughout Southeast DC, we are going to hold our biggest project yet on 9/11 at its trailhead.  

Who are we? We are volunteers from The Mission Continues, veterans who are stepping up to serve our communities.

Since its inception, The Mission Continues’ 4th Platoon in DC, funded by Boeing and partnered with the National Park Service, has been caring for and connecting its veterans, members and communities to the culturally rich parks in the Northeast and Southeastern quadrants of the city.  Working the land in these parks has allowed veterans to connect to our military heritage, reminding us of the salt and grit from which we were forged.

Historically, there has been a divide—a divide between veterans and civilians.  In the military, our bonds grew through blood and sweat, earning our place among our brothers and sisters, trusting those to our right and left to hold the line.  Selfishly, we show up to The Mission Continues projects because we want to see and support each other; we like the reminder that our country still needs us; we are fulfilled knowing we are still working towards the greater good.

It is absolutely refreshing to show up to an event and know that we can be ourselves in all of our flaws and patriotism.  Yet, something else is happening too.  We are finding ourselves bleeding and sweating again, but this time we have our community members getting down and dirty with us, reinforcing our lines.

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While digging holes, we start chatting and the conversation moves casually from light-hearted to stories of casualties from the broken hearted, as pain and tragedy knows no civilian-veteran divide.  Building tables and garden beds seems mundane, yet we all eventually bleed our own history over the course of the day, recognizing that all of our blood is red, white and blue.

At the end of the project, our new friends offer to shake our hands, saying thank you for your service; we decline the handshake and pull them in for a hug, saying “Thank you for your service today,” and imploring them to come to the next.  Guess what? They always do, eager to get down and dirty, eager to show their own grit and salt.

In our first year, DC 4th platoon has had the fortune to serve with new and faithful partners on various projects:

  •   For Earth Day, we laid siege to Fort DuPont’s Community Gardens under torrential rains with the Wounded Warrior Project, the Student Veterans of America, and the bravest community gardeners, our favorite Rangers kicked us off; we created and maintained garden plots, installed pallet compost bins, and restored a bee farm.
  •   On National Trails Day, we cared for those spawning and spanning Fort DuPont with the Wounded Warrior Project and the Student Conservation Association.
  •   We joined So What Else? collecting heaps of garbage from Anacostia Park and river.
  •   We have also installed fitness equipment along Fort Mahan, making eager friends in the community throughout the day.  

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For Memorial Day this year, we held an event at the Battleground National Cemetery where we tended the hallowed grounds, gathering at the end to remember their honor and sacrifice.  We closed out the event with Taps—crooning from the rostrum, our lone bugler brought a patriotic mist to every eye.

It was here, with perfectly placed placards of words not to be forgotten, with our Park Rangers imparting the past upon us, that my children started to learn and appreciate the history that created the city they call home.

It was here, with the bowed head of veterans and their families, with flowers and wreaths being laid upon headstones, that my innocent daughters started to understand why their mom chose to become a United States Marine.  These national cemeteries and memorials, though part of a landscape collectively, are individual beacons of perseverance, prompting us to share their history and importance to the curious young minds inquiring.

On the Fourth of July, we were back at Fort DuPont celebrating our independence and enjoying the fruits of our labor with a banging BBQ. Each time we go back, we smile at our contributions, rewarded when we see people walking the trails we cleared and created, or bringing vegetables to the BBQ from the Community Gardens we personally nourished.

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My children and I love going back, whether on a drive to Fort DuPont’s skating rink or to roam the very trails we’ve tended.  They point out “Mommy! That’s where the snake pooped on me!” or “Hey! That’s where we went mountain biking and I finally made it up the hill without stopping!”  The adventure and pride in theirs eyes reassures me that being part of the National Parks along with our community service is giving them something that only nature and the parks can provide.

As encouraged, platoon members frequently attend every event offered by The Mission Continues, creating a reliable, well-oiled machine.  And we have logged enough hours digging holes to have nearly exterminated the width and breadth of hole-jokes, however we persevered and have yet to run out.  We are all about #ReportingForDuty!

We epitomize honor when we serve the very roots our country sprang from—doing as the founding fathers and mothers intended, to connect communities with the playful environments that surround them.

With luck on our side, we get to celebrate the centennial of the National Park Service with the communities that surround them.  If we do it right, we have the opportunity to turn strangers into friends, and to inspire the next generation to keep our National Parks alive while continuing the bonds we have forged with the community—our community.

 

Rose is a post-9/11 Marine Corps veteran, and a leader in The Mission Continues’ Washington, DC4th Platoon.  She is an entrepreneur and a small business owner, as well as the mother of beautiful twin girls. This post was also published on the National Park Foundation’s blog.

 

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.

Blazing Trails in Our National Parks

June 8, 2016

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Our nation’s national parks were originally protected by the military, and for the past few months, The Mission Continues New York 3rd Platoon has continued to do just that. The platoon has sustained involvement with the largest national park in New York, Gateway National Recreation Area, which is home to both wildlife and historic forts.

Together, they have protected New York Harbor for over 200 years. Today, they remain among the oldest military installations in the country. To preserve this rich history, platoon members have worked over the past few months to rehabilitate a nature and history trail within the park. This trail, which has not been open to the public for decades, can now be used in educational tours that are the backbone of interpretation at the park. As the summer tourist season is about to begin, the opening of this trail could not have come at a better time.

Continue reading “Blazing Trails in Our National Parks”

Bravo Class 2016 Answers the Call of Service

April 27, 2016

Platoon leaders, fellows, and Mission Continues staff complete a service project at Rainier Beach High School

This past weekend, our Bravo Class of 2016 mobilized in Seattle, Washington for their Mission Continues orientation. This class is 81 Fellows and 16 platoon leaders strong. The fellows will be serving at a diverse set of nonprofits, from The National Parks Conservation Association of Miami, Florida to the Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Atlanta. Our platoon leaders will be stationed from Nashville to Jacksonville to Portland, Oregon, and tackle issues including childhood hunger and public lands conservation.

Bravo Class of 2014 alum Mark Coffin provided welcoming remarks and talked about his experience as a fellow. We’d like to share his story and words of wisdom here.

When I went to my fellowship orientation there was a mix of excitement and anticipation and maybe even a little bit of nervousness, but I can tell you that throughout that event, meeting everyone, working together, and preparing to return to our respective non-profits was a great experience.

I believe in the mission of this organization, the way it opens up opportunities for veterans, and how it lets them to choose to do something you have a passion for, and get to actually do it.

My parents and grandparents were hardworking folk who sought not only to improve the lives of their family, but also help others around them. Whether that was cooking meals for the sick and shut in, volunteering at their church, to sharing their crops with those in need. I saw their example for years, and it inspired me to serve others, as well as my Christian faith.

I attended a small liberal arts university called Elon in North Carolina. After two years I ran out of money to pay for school, but was able to get a two year Army ROTC scholarship to finish my college education. Toward the end of college, I had to choose how I fulfill my military obligation. I could apply for active duty, reserves or National Guard.

At the time I had no true idea of what I wanted to do or where I wanted to be, no resumes written, no job prospects, so I thought, let’s go active duty – I can do my four years of active service on my head and then get out and finish in the reserves and move on with my life. But life sometimes has a funny way of making other plans.

Alumni speaker Mark Coffin addresses Bravo Class 2016

I served in a variety of positions with various responsibilities throughout my career.  My first assignment was in South Korea as a Platoon Leader running three remote intelligence monitoring sites along the DMZ. Before long I had completed my four years, and I found myself enjoying the travel and jobs and had no desire to get out.

So I continued. I went through a variety of staff assignments at the company, battalion, division and corp, and even got to command in a Special Forces group. I deployed overseas and did tours in Bosnia, Afghanistan, and Iraq, but my absolutely best assignment ever with the Army is when I got to break and enter legally around the around the world for 3 years with the Army Red Team.  

Next thing you know, I have 20 years of military service.  Never ever thought I would have done that! So when I hit 27 years, I was good to go. I decided to retire. Time to do something different, time for a change.

As I prepared to exit from the military, I found the most challenging part to be “what next”?  I was proud to have served my country and my desire was to continue some form of that service in the local community.

I started volunteering regularly for Habitat for Humanity, and one day the staff asked me if I had ever heard of The Mission Continues. I hadn’t, so I checked out the organization, and saw the Mission Continues Fellowship as a wonderful opportunity to pursue my passion.

During my fellowship, I served on the construction and rehab division of Habitat and I was also asked to be the Veteran Outreach Coordinator in an effort to bring more veterans from the community out to serve, as well as making those veterans aware of the services that Habitat had to offer them through their homeownership and home repair programs.

Through my fellowship experience, I learned land acquisition and development, family selection and training, volunteer management and coordination, public outreach and engagement, as well as on site construction and rehabbing of homes.

Mark Coffin at the service project for Rainier Beach High School
Mark Coffin at the service project for Rainier Beach High School

I chose to continue on the path of service after my fellowship, not only with Habitat, but also with several other non-profits. I represent The Mission Continues in Omaha at military career fairs, I work with the State Foodbank to help feed kids who are food insecure, and I deploy with Team Rubicon to conduct disaster assistance across the nation.

This fellowship facilitates your journey to find out who you are, what you want to do, who you want to be, what mark you want to make in this world. You all as fellows are the movers and shakers, and you are the ones who can effect positive change.

Don’t think everything will change overnight. It is a process that you will go through. Some of it may seem daunting and overwhelming. You might not be able to see your destination from where you are now, but you are embarking on a journey of discovery personally, socially and professionally.

So jump in head first. This is your chance to develop new contacts, build your network, ask questions, empower yourself, and refine and learn new skills. Really use your monthly fellowship assignments as a means to develop your goals and objectives, and most of all, enjoy yourself! What greater thing is there than to be able to work in an area that you are passionate about?

I will end with this quote from Gandhi: “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”

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.

Blue Goes Green for Earth Day!

April 22, 2016

Today we are putting the spotlight on a platoon that cares for the earth year-round. The Washington D.C. 4th Service Platoon has aligned its mission to be in support of National Park Service (NPS), which preserves natural and historical resources for this and future generations to enjoy. For their special Earth Day project, the D.C. 4th Platoon is teaming up with NPS and platoon supporter, Boeing. Continue reading “Blue Goes Green for Earth Day!”

Bringing Boombox Home

March 16, 2016
By Michael Liguori

Mike Ligouri paints a pavilion at Fort Wadsworth for our 9/11 Day of Service in New York.
Michael Liguori paints a pavilion at Fort Wadsworth for our 9/11 Day of Service in New York.

When I was in the Marines, we were taught to have attention to detail. It was a matter of life and death measured in seconds and the more attention we paid to the small things, the more we had a chance to survive. The emphasis on attention to detail also taught me to appreciate the little things like the biweekly paycheck, the honor of serving my country and of course, my prize possession, a Sony Boombox (yes you read that correctly…a Sony Boombox.)

Continue reading “Bringing Boombox Home”

The Veteran Bootprint

November 11, 2015
By Spencer Kympton

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World War I ended with the Treaty of Versailles in 1919, but the fighting had actually stopped months earlier. According to an armistice signed by Germany and the Allies, hostilities ended on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918.

The following year, President Wilson declared November 11th as Armistice Day, forever marking its significance in American and world history. It was a day to honor the sacrifice and service of the men and women who fought in the ‘war to end all wars’. But, as importantly, it was a day to participate in exercises that promoted peace and mutual understanding – in hopes that conflicts so catastrophic would never happen again.

Continue reading “The Veteran Bootprint”

To Truly Serve Together, The Walls Must Come Down

September 30, 2015
by Jessica Peter

Jessica addresses volunteers at a service project,  July 2015.
Jessica addresses volunteers at a service project, July 2015.

I’ve worked professionally with volunteers for a decade now. I meet a lot of people. Hundreds. Some I see every day, and others every now and then. Many others I just see once and never again.

It’s my job to give them missions, find tasks that suit their talents, work alongside them, even become their friends. They are all just people looking for a little fulfillment or a sense of purpose. They serve, they get warm fuzzies, and they carry on with their lives.

Now I work for The Mission Continues. The bulk of our volunteers are veterans, and some of them are figuring out what’s next. Which doesn’t sound too different than most people I know. You don’t have to return from a battlefield or leave the military to be uncertain about what the future will bring.

But when I tell people that I help put veterans in a position to improve their communities, I typically get two types of responses.

The first? Hero worship.

Continue reading “To Truly Serve Together, The Walls Must Come Down”

Veterans Build a New Generation of Service On 9/11

September 16, 2015

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Fourteen years have come and gone since September 11, 2001, and for many the memory of that day will forever be defined by the sights and sounds of Ground Zero, the Pentagon and Shanksville, Pennsylvania. But in reflecting on the day, we also remember what has come after: sacrifice and continued service.

Five million Americans have served since fall of 2001. Each of their lives were transformed in countless ways by military action worldwide.

In continuing that call to action, our service platoons gathered in New York, Washington, DC, Dallas, Seattle and ten other cities to take part of the National Day of Service.

Platoon members filling dumpsters with debris from Ft. Wadsworth, September 12, 2015.
New York platoon members filling dumpsters with debris from Ft. Wadsworth, September 12, 2015.
Platoon members construct benches at Ft. Wadsworth, September 11, 2015.
New York platoon members construct benches at Ft. Wadsworth, September 11, 2015.

In New York, our local service platoons formed up within view of One World Trade Center to help restore areas of Ft. Wadsworth, a vital piece of U.S. military history, for a two-day project.

In collaboration with the National Park Service and a crew from Team Rubicon, our veteran volunteers removed more than 15 tons of debris and restored a camping area, which will make the historical site more welcoming for visitors in the months and years to come.

New York platoon members haul debris to dumpsters at Ft. Wadsworth, September 12, 2015.
New York platoon members haul debris to dumpsters at Ft. Wadsworth, September 12, 2015.
New York platoon members pose with a historic sign uncovered at Ft. Wadsworth, September 12, 2015.
New York platoon members pose with a historic sign uncovered at Ft. Wadsworth, September 12, 2015.

At our DC project, more than 80 volunteers, including motivated Wounded Warrior Project Alums and staff, gathered at a charter school and revitalized a learning garden for kids, painted a school crest and helped renovate the school exterior.

Kids and volunteers gather to paint, September 11, 2015. Photo credit: GREG CALLAN, DEMOCRACY PREP PUBLIC SCHOOLS
Kids and volunteers from Washington, DC service platoons gather to paint. Photo credit: GREG CALLAN,DEMOCRACY PREP PUBLIC SCHOOLS

Washington, DC platoon members restore the school's exterior, September 11, 2015. GREG CALLAN, DEMOCRACY PREP PUBLIC SCHOOLSWashington, DC platoon members restore the school’s exterior, September 11, 2015. GREG CALLAN, DEMOCRACY PREP PUBLIC SCHOOLS

Volunteers carry wood at Democracy Prep in Washington, DC, September 11, 2015. Photo credit: GREG CALLAN, DEMOCRACY PREP PUBLIC SCHOOLSVolunteers carry wood at Democracy Prep in Washington, DC, September 11, 2015. Photo credit: GREG CALLAN, DEMOCRACY PREP PUBLIC SCHOOLS

The anniversary was significant, and in more ways than some might think. As the projects continued, veterans reflected on how the work they were doing was going to impact tomorrow, not so much about the wars and military experience behind them. A new generation is waiting to take the reins, and the work of our platoons ensures they will know what it means to serve.

Looking to serve your community and inspire the next generation of leaders? Sign up for a service platoon in your area.