Passion is the act of having a powerful or compelling emotion or feeling. We hear this word used often in today’s culture: “I’m passionate about rock climbing, music, photography, riding horses, cooking, travel….” The list is endless.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
Whenever I tell anyone that I am a middle school math teacher, the typical response is, “Oh, I’m sorry. I was never good at math!”
Math needs a real good PR guy.
I love the rules, the creativity that it allows, how often you get to make mistakes and learn from them. I just finished my sixth year as a teacher in the second largest school district in the country, Los Angeles Unified School District, where my students build, design and learn. Most of our students are bused from the inner city every day.
My colleague and mentor Jeff Nielsen and I came up with this crazy idea: students would use geometry to design and build dog houses, sell them and then donate the money to local animal shelters. The only problem was that neither of us knew how to build a dog house.
I have no idea what made me think of veterans to help us. For some reason they seemed like people who would know how to take a team of kids and build something. So I googled “veterans helping their community.” Best Google search of my life. The Mission Continues website was the first hit and I clicked. As soon as I got in touch with Tristan Williamson and their team, I knew this would be a life affirming experience. Continue reading “Forging Doghouses, and Bonds, with The Mission Continues”
On a biting winter afternoon a little over four years ago, I flipped a switch, just as I had done a hundred times before in Afghanistan, and the whining of the hydraulic pump kicked on. Lowering the ramp was always a slow process, but this time it felt like an eternity. No words could have prepared me for the two columns of Marines I saw lined up at the rear of the aircraft. The men belonged to a unit that would suffer a large number of casualties in the coming months while fighting valiantly in an important village. As the somber procession of Marines carried the flag-draped coffin towards me, I gave my slow salute and they marched silently up into the rear of the aircraft.
For some, Memorial Day is just that—a day. One that people envision as the cause for a long weekend of summer kick-off celebrations. But for those who have served in the military, Memorial Day extends well beyond 24 hours at the end of May. Remembrance is constant. Every day we carry with us the brave men and women who have sacrificed their lives in defense of our nation. Their gifts to us shaped who we have become, and we live our lives to honor their memory.
Back on that aircraft, I did not know this Marine’s name but I knew he was willing to sacrifice everything for what he believed in. He did not fight out of hatred for what was in front of him, but rather out of loyalty to the Marines on either side, and to protect all those behind him. He embodied selfless service to others, and like him, there have been many laid to rest far before their time. Since returning home, I have witnessed more friends buried with full military honors than I would like to count.
Part of my difficult transition back into civilian life was reflecting on the experiences I had and the brothers I had lost, but I began to use my grief to motivate me to work harder and strive for better. I vowed to keep their spirit and memory alive through my actions. I learned that my service did not have to end. My military background, along with the legacy of post-9/11 veterans, provides a unique opportunity to accomplish so much.
We have our own stories of challenges and success at The Mission Continues. My legacy of service continues in the newly formed Los Angeles 2nd Service Platoon, which redeploys veterans to serve at-risk communities in South Central LA. I also mentor student veterans as they strive to learn new skills after service In the fall, I will continue my education at law school, which will help develop the tools I need to serve my community in more impactful ways.
I do these things for the living. Too many do not have the chance. I wake every day with purpose—one to live my life to the fullest, help those in need and keep my head held high knowing I am part of something greater: a new generation of warriors and leaders who continue to served their country courageously, just like those who came before us.
It is vital that we make an effort to reach out and support the loved ones of those who have given up their lives, as well as our fellow veterans who have returned home and face challenges reintegrating back into society. In the process, we should share stories of courage and selflessness of those we have lost along the way, and encourage our fellow Americans to take a moment to reflect on the true meaning of this day. Side by side with fellow veterans, as well as with members of the community, we can inspire and create change through positive and meaningful avenues.
This weekend, may you stand tall for those who cannot, in a moment of silence honoring all the men and women who have made the ultimate sacrifice so that we can live our lives in freedom, seize innumerable opportunities. And continue to do great things—together.
Jess Egan is a Marine Corps veteran who served five years active duty as a KC-130J Crew Chief, including an 11 month tour in Afghanistan. She currently serves as a squad leader in the newly formed Los Angeles 2nd Service Platoon. She will attend Pepperdine University’s School of Law this fall.
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.
My decision to leave my active duty family didn’t come lightly. I joined the Marine Corps at 17 and was in boot camp two weeks after my high school graduation. The Marine Corps has been all I’ve know my adult life. The friends, leadership styles and experiences have shaped me into the man and the father I am today.
Dozens of Mission Continues Platoon Members formed up into teams and spread out across back alleys in the early morning darkness. Flashlight beams picked out shoes and lumpy sleeping bags poking out from behind dumpsters and under piles of debris. On closer inspection these dark forms became homeless men and women, many of them veterans, camped out on the back streets of Phoenix. The Platoon Members surveyed them one by one, learning about their needs so that a coalition of local agencies could find them housing and support to get back on their feet.
On February 12, 2007 I enlisted in the United States Marine Corps, pledging to defend my country against all enemies foreign and domestic. I knew that my life would never be the same, but I still wanted to serve my country as so many great men and women had done before me. I could have never imagined in my wildest dreams where this would take me and what was yet to come.