September 8, 2017

Civilians and veterans gather to volunteer in their community

The terrorist attacks of 9/11 affected all of us in one way or another. For some, it meant deployment. For others, it meant the loss of a loved one and a charred city. And for all Americans, it meant a shaken country and the dawn of a new era.

“I remember the day well, as most Americans do,” says Melissa Shipley, a longtime volunteer with The Mission Continues. “I remember turning on the television and being in complete shock. I felt so many different emotions–anger, fear, sadness.”

But it wasn’t until she started getting involved with veteran service organizations like The Mission Continues that she met veterans who had actually deployed because of it.

Eric Leverone is one such veteran who enlisted in the United States Army to protect his country right after 9/11. “Up until that point, I had never even thought about joining the military,” he said.

Eric deployed to Iraq in 2003 at the age of 22. When he came back home after 7 years of military service, Eric found a new sense of purpose through volunteering with The Mission Continues. “Volunteering with The Mission Continues was probably my first real experience volunteering in a substantial, meaningful capacity.”

Last year’s 9/11 service project in Washington D.C.

Through The Mission Continues Fellowship Program, Eric volunteered at a nonprofit in Harlem that provided shelter and social services to homeless refugees and political asylees. From there, he joined The Mission Continues New York 1st Service Platoon, and has been attending service projects ever since.

While the camaraderie among his fellow veteran volunteers is heartening, what is to special to him is sharing a service experience with non-veterans. Eric explains, “many community members have never come in personal contact with veterans. Our service projects definitely help bridge that gap. They start to see veterans as caring humans who can also get a job done very fast, efficiently and professionally.”

The feeling is infectious. “This work ethic and sense of civic pride bleeds over to other groups and individuals who join us at projects,” he explained.

As a non-veteran and dedicated volunteer, Melissa couldn’t agree more. “I’ve been so moved seeing veterans and civilians come together to serve in different ways. Getting to know each of them and hearing their stories has inspired me so much.”

Until you experience it for yourself, “You don’t know how impactful it is to walk into a room to see a bunch of blue shirts coming together to serve.”

Last year’s 9/11 service project in Chicago, IL

Eric and Melissa are motivated by this core belief that service is important for all of us, whether or not you are a veteran. When you link arms with a group of people in pursuit of some endeavor — whether it’s painting, planting, building, or digging — you get a feeling that you’re part of something greater than yourself.

While Eric and Melissa are passionate stalwart volunteers who attend many projects throughout the year, they know that 9/11 Remembrance Day stands apart from the rest. 9/11 didn’t just change Eric’s life forever, it changed everyone’s.

That’s why Melissa is joining veterans like Eric for another service project this weekend in honor of 9/11, and you can too. We look forward to seeing veterans come out to serve — but even more special is seeing veterans and civilians serving side by side. Join us.

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.