“When I look at the youth in Boyle Heights, I see myself”

November 30, 2017
Majken Geiman, Former Platoon Leader

For a long time I let the fear of disappointment hold me back. Life in Chicago’s south side as the eldest child of a single mother was what you’d imagine. I attended a large public high school, spent hours every day commuting on the bus and subway, failed multiple classes, pawned 35 cents off my friends daily so that I could buy reduced-price lunches, and never intended to pursue education beyond a high school diploma.

Even if I made it as far as college, I knew I wouldn’t be able to pay for it.

All of that changed when I stumbled upon the United States Army’s website. Free college and a commission as an officer? I was sold. By some incredible stroke of luck, I made the cut. That unusual success changed my entire attitude toward life.

I suddenly had people telling me I could be a leader—that I had the ability to inspire others. Being afraid to try was replaced by a belief that I could lead and change the world.

After transitioning from active duty into the National Guard I didn’t have the same type of discipline or feeling of empowerment in my life. But then a Marine friend invited me to attend a service project with The Mission Continues in Pittsburgh.

It was incredible–for the first time I found myself surrounded by people who knew what I was going through and who I could talk and joke with veterans as if I’d known them for years. Finally that sense of purpose and leadership came back.

When I decided to move to Los Angeles I didn’t know anyone, but I did know how to look up the local platoon. I ended up joining the Los Angeles 2nd Platoon, which focuses on youth development and education in Boyle Heights, a low income neighborhood in East LA.

The opportunity to lead the platoon came in 2015. My time as a platoon leader transformed me in ways I never expected. I no longer let fear hold me back; instead I remember my strengths as a leader.

After two years of dedication, we have strong connections with several schools and organizations in Boyle Heights, and regularly hold service projects with and for the students.

I’ve taught a group of teenage girls how to use a drill, and saw their faces light up when they built a bench completely by themselves. I’ve talked to students about college and shared my own experiences. I’ve put veterans and kids together in charge of things when they weren’t sure they knew how, and watched them crush it!

When I look at the youth in Boyle Heights, I see myself. I see kids who have the drive and ability to make it, but who might be afraid to try.

The military helped me push myself at a time when I needed it the most. In the same way my mentors did, I hope I can look the youth of the next generation in the eye and tell them, genuinely, “you can change the world.”

With your support today, veterans like myself can make an impact in neighborhoods like Boyle Heights across the country. I serve and will continue to serve all of them. Please join me by giving this year.

 

Yours in Service,

Majken Geiman

 

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.

My Opportunity to Serve, Lead and Learn

November 25, 2017
Brayden Yoder, Platoon Leader

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.

The Mission Continues Boston
Brayden Yoder at a service project for Charlie Orientation in Boston.

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.

Brayden Yoder with the principal of Carver Middle School, Letasha Buck

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.

 

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.

Our Next Mass Deployment: Operation Watts Is Worth It

The Mission Continues -- Operation Watts is Worth It

Next Stop: Watts, Los Angeles

On June 21-28 2018, we’re deploying 85 veteran leaders to Watts in Los Angeles for our third Mass Deployment, Operation Watts Is Worth It (OWW).

Veterans are a powerful force when called upon to serve. Since leaving the military, tens of thousands have continued to serve in their local communities. They bring hard-earned leadership, exemplary training, and a mission-focused work ethic that is in short supply today.

For the veterans who attend, Mass Deployment is a week of personal growth and community impact. They forge new connections that become lifelong bonds of friendship and support. They undergo technical skill training and team building exercises.

And June is just the beginning of their impact. These leaders will deploy back home and get to work in their own communities.

We’re making an ongoing commitment to Watts — and the more than 500 local veterans of The Mission Continues — who will be at the heart of sustaining our progress.

The Mission Continues veteran volunteers
The Mission Continues veteran volunteers in Watts.

Mass Deployment in a Nutshell

The Mission Continues’ Mass Deployment program is a team-based event that mobilizes veterans alongside local partners and volunteers in a single city for a week of community impact.

We select areas that will benefit from an influx of resources, and that have the potential for sustainable change, ensuring our efforts have a long-term impact.

The Mission Continues volunteers
Youth volunteers at a service project with The Mission Continues in Watts.

Why Watts?

A community with a history older than the state of California, Watts has been called the most powerful neighborhood in Los Angeles. As with many urban areas in America, residents face daily trials related to under-resourced schools, depopulation, disinvestment and underemployment.

The capacity and resources of social services organizations in the area are spread thin, so those who need assistance most often find it hard to access help.

Through it all, Watts has maintained a unique and vibrant identity and its residents deserve a brighter future.

Now more than ever, reasons to hope abound. City officials, corporate leaders and philanthropic organizations are coming together to make investments in the neighborhood and positive progress is on the horizon.

Local community groups have been actively engaged in creating a better tomorrow for themselves and the families who live there.

Now, veterans are responding, too. By reporting for duty alongside The Mission Continues, residents can take part in creating solutions to address these challenges and ensure positive progress continues.

Los Angeles Platoon
The Los Angeles Platoon

Here Are the Facts

  • Watts is a community in transition, yet decades after the 1965 riots, it remains a community still dealing with poverty, unemployment and crime.
  • Watts — a historically black community of roughly two square miles and home to about 40,000 residents — has grown more multiracial. About 70 percent of the people here are Latino, 28 percent are black or African-American, and 2 percent are from other ethnic groups.
  • Roughly 1 out of 4 current Watts residents holds a high school diploma or GED, resulting in underemployment and limited economic opportunities.
  • Unemployment in California has improved since the latest recession, recently averaging about 5.8 percent. Nevertheless, the unemployment rate around Watts has lagged, hovering around 7 percent.

How to Get Involved

Applications for veteran participants open February 2018. Interested in applying? Visit missioncontinues.org/deployments to sign up for application alerts.

For information on how to make a financial contribution to OWW, please contact development@missioncontinues.org.

Catching the Rain: Local Veterans Protect Hawaii’s Water

August 4, 2017

A delicate breeze. A glistening ocean. A beaming sun.

To most Americans, this is our picture of Hawaii. What we don’t picture is all the effort by its residents to keep the islands as beautiful as we imagine they are. But as inhabitants and stewards, it is clear to local Hawaiians that a sustainable and eco-friendly lifestyle is the best for the islands and future generations of residents.

Christina Finley, Platoon Leader for the Honolulu 1st Service Platoon is on a mission to protect Hawaii’s water. Luckily, she’s not alone — other organizations like Plastic Free Hawaii, Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii, and Clean Water Hawaii all share the same vision. Meeting with them, as she said, inspired her “to help with all that they do to protect the waters of Hawaii. My vision is to lend a helping hand with these projects and assist in the solution of these problems.” Continue reading “Catching the Rain: Local Veterans Protect Hawaii’s Water”

In My Service Platoon, I Can See the Impact I Have Is Real

June 20, 2017
By Majken Geiman, Platoon Leader

When people ask me why I joined the Army, I usually talk about my desire to serve, wanting to challenge myself, and the satisfaction and pride that I feel being able to help my soldiers learn new skills and develop as leaders. I could gush for hours about happy I am that I signed on the dotted line at 17 years old.

It would all be true, but it wasn’t why I joined. I usually leave out the less glamorous reality – I would likely never have served if it hadn’t meant free college through my ROTC scholarship.

I grew up on the south side of Chicago as the eldest child of a single mother. I attended a large public high school, spent hours every day commuting on the bus and subway, failed multiple classes, pawned 35 cents off my friends daily so that I could buy reduced-price lunch, and never intended to pursue education beyond a high school diploma – if I even made it that far.

I was mostly concerned that if I applied and was accepted into a university, I would never be able to pay for it. Parental assistance wasn’t a reality, and for a long time I let the fear of disappointment prevent me from considering that route.

All of that changed when I stumbled on the Army’s website. Free college and a commission as an officer? I was sold.

By some incredible stroke of luck, I made the cut. That unusual success changed my entire attitude toward my life. I suddenly had people telling me (as wrong as I was sure they were) that I could be a leader—that I had the ability to take care of and to inspire others.

From my first terrible APFT, at which all of the older cadets circled back and ran an extra two laps to finish with me, to graduating with the top GPA in my ROTC Battalion and being trusted to take over my own platoon, I found myself in an echo chamber of support.

Through the military, I learned about brotherhood and the importance of building up the people around you.

I have done my best to take that lesson with me from Chicago to Pittsburgh, to Missouri, and most recently, here to Los Angeles.

The Mission Continues Los Angeles 2nd Service Platoon is a volunteer group geared toward veterans, and is focused on youth development and education in Boyle Heights, a low-income neighborhood in East LA. When I took over as platoon leader in 2015 we were almost brand new. We had a few dedicated volunteers, but not many. We didn’t have an operation.

Two years later I barely recognize the platoon I stepped into. Now we have strong connections with several schools and organizations in Boyle Heights and have completed countless service projects both with and for the students. People reach out to the platoon when they need help – we rarely have to look hard for new projects or opportunities to serve the community.

When I look at the students in Boyle Heights, I see myself. I see kids who have the drive and ability to make it, but who might not yet have the confidence or the resources to try. I know they can get there.

I’ve taught a group of teenage girls how to use a drill, and saw the way their faces lit up when they were able to build a bench completely by themselves. I’ve negotiated with parents in terrible Spanish to be able to give their kids a ride to an LA Galaxy game to thank them for helping us revitalize their school campus. I’ve talked to students about college and shared my own experiences with them. I’ve spent 12 hours getting sunburned while waiting on Home Depot deliveries. I’ve painted murals. I’ve put volunteers and kids in charge of things when they weren’t sure they knew how, and watched them crush it.

The military helped me push myself past the limits I had set for myself at a time when I needed it the most. In the same way that my mentors did, I hope that I can look these next generations in the eye and tell them, genuinely, “you can change the world.”

I serve and will continue to serve for all of them.

 

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.

Undocumented: How One Word Changed My Life

May 5, 2017
By Nestor Ramirez, Staff Member

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”

From Clashing Cultures in Baghdad to Building Bridges in Honolulu

March 29th, 2017
By Brayden Yoder, Fellow

Brayden with filmmaker Tobias Reeujwijk, the Princess of Bhutan, and HIFF Executive Director Robert Lambeth after the screening of Reeujwijk’s documentary film 1,000 Hands of the Guru: Saving Bhutan’s Sacred Arts

It was the desert that answered, years after I first heard the question: “Ohhh, Soldier,” we used to sing, “ where have you been?”  Those that have marched to this cadence can recite the answers of previous generations, who had been to Korea and Normandy, San Juan Hill, Lexington, and all around the globe, “fighting for liberty; dying for freedom.”  After 9/11, my brothers and sisters in uniform and I could contribute a new verse: I’ve been to Baghdad.

I felt proud that years from now, when my grandson asks me what I did in the great war on terror, I wouldn’t have to tell him, (to paraphrase General Patton),  “I sat on the couch playing video games next to Mama.”  Yet like many of us, I left Iraq and the military strangely unfulfilled by the war I always thought I wanted. Every question the desert answered about my abilities as a leader opened up others for me as a human being. Continue reading “From Clashing Cultures in Baghdad to Building Bridges in Honolulu”

Alpha Class 2017’s First Act of Service: Supporting San Diego Schools

January 24, 2017

160320-lamb-006

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”

Connecting Across Generations: Learning from Pre-9/11 Veterans

January 22, 2017
By Mike Plue, San Diego 2nd Platoon

rrm_1209

On the blog we’ve discussed the identity and experiences of post-9/11 veterans a lot. But we also want to hear from pre-9/11 veterans with their wealth of experience and dedication to service. The two generations share more in common than meets the eye. We interviewed Mike Plue, a stalwart member of the San Diego 2nd Service Platoon, to talk about his perspective and experience as a pre-9/11 veteran.

Over the years he has collected these inspiring takeaways:

The veteran bond transcends generation

rrm_1545
Mike volunteering with the San Diego 2nd Platoon

Throughout my civilian career I have come into contact with veterans, and regardless of branch or era, I have felt an immediate bond and higher level of trust. (I even was hired by my current employer based upon the referral of a veteran that I met over 10 years before.)

But what really solidified this lesson for me was when I had the honor of visiting the VA hospital in San Diego delivering care packages. I spoke with veterans who had their careers in the military and some who had only served for a few years. All who I spoke with had worked to establish successful civilian careers, and had raised families after coming home. At the end of the day, all agreed that the military was the greatest time in their life, and that enlisting was the best decision they could have made.

I’ve realized whether you are a pre-9/11 or post-9/11 veteran, there is always the common calling to get involved with something “bigger than yourself.” With time comes perspective, and like the veterans I visited at the VA, you realize the calling to serve whether it be to pick up a rifle or a paint brush. Even after we leave active duty, we are a band of brothers and sisters, and we are here to make the world a better place.

Continue reading “Connecting Across Generations: Learning from Pre-9/11 Veterans”