Introducing Operation Nourish

As our country continues to navigate the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, there is no doubt our social support network has been debilitated–evidenced by the lines of cars snaking for miles, with families waiting for hours to pick up food at pantries, schools, sports stadiums and more. Food insecurity statistics in America are staggering. Since the beginning of the pandemic, rates of household food insecurity have doubled and the rates of childhood food insecurity have quadrupled1.

And while communities where we serve are disproportionately impacted by hunger, COVID-19 has also led to sharp increases in loneliness, social isolation, and job insecurity, which takes a huge toll on mental health, affecting the veteran community in serious ways.

To address these challenges, today, we announce the launch of Operation Nourish. Operation Nourish is a nationwide initiative to generate the resources and awareness that prioritize veterans’ mental health by mobilizing them in service of combating food insecurity.

Like many other times of crisis in our country, veterans are answering the call. For the first time in our history, we’re mobilizing our highly trained national force of veterans, volunteers and community partners in service of one singular mission: to help fight hunger in communities across the country.

Continued service and peer support is a proven approach to mitigating the negative factors impacting mental health of veterans. Our work, as shown in the Empowered Veteran Index, is designed to offer exactly those kinds of service opportunities.

From distributing food to homebound seniors and hosting neighborhood cookouts, to assisting in distributing produce boxes through local food pantries and to fostering and planting seeds for community gardens, our platoons are pulling together, innovating, and adding much needed capacity to help feed our communities and to provide opportunities for veterans to continue serving.

And we need your help. You can join the fight to support veterans in three simple ways:

  • Donate: Ensure veterans have the resources they need to complete their mission.
  • Volunteer: Join a platoon near you—or online—to serve. Here are upcoming events that focus on meeting the needs of food insecurity.
  • Spread the word: Share our call to action on your social media channels and include the hashtag: #OperationNourish.

Please join us in supporting Operation Nourish. The work we do in serving others and connecting veterans does more than fill bellies. It nourishes our heart and soul. It nourishes our purpose. It nourishes justice. At a time when people are examining how they can contribute to a higher cause, here is something we can all do to make the world a better place.

Charlie Mike,

Mary Beth Bruggeman
President, The Mission Continues

The Moment is Calling Us

In the support of the #PassTheMic movement, our national communications this week is coming from Dr. Gina Rosen, our Senior Director of Programs.
—-
The Mission Continues has been volunteering with and conducting service projects alongside local nonprofits in communities of color for more than a decade. We are an organization filled with veterans from these communities and find strength in our diversity. We unequivocally believe that Black Lives Matter.

We have regularly evolved our programming approach and in 2019, launched our most ambitious endeavor yet–the Service Leadership Corps. This six-month, intensive program was designed for veterans who desire to become skilled community-based leaders. Our diverse and rigorous curriculum dives into subjects ranging from Asset-Based Community Development and Cultural Competency to Advocacy, Building Community Partnerships, and more. We have intentionally incorporated these subjects into our leadership programs–because they are indelibly tied to our work in under-resourced communities.

Next week, we welcome the first cohort of our virtual Service Leadership Corps program, another evolution, to expand our reach to more communities. For the next three months, over 40 military veterans–more than half of them people of color–will come together remotely to learn new skills and to connect with a network of like-minded servant leaders. They will gain an appreciation for the history, complexity and breadth of systemic challenges from some of the most dynamic and impactful local leaders, partners, and activists across the Mission Continues network.

The hyper-local nature of our work requires that the veterans in our programs “show up” with a readiness to listen to the vision that the community has for their own future. The veterans who come to The Mission Continues seek opportunities to continue their service in communities and they have an obligation to be culturally competent. They have an obligation to be advocates and lend their considerable social capital as veterans to amplify the voices that have, for too long, fallen on deaf ears. We simply won’t be effective or accomplish our mission if they’re not.

The very insidious nature of inequality and systemic racism means it is everywhere. That also provides near endless opportunities to work together to dismantle racist and divisive policies, systems, and practices so that the wealth and prosperity of this nation is shared among all. We know that our veterans want to be a part of something important. We are proud of the beautifully diverse veterans that come to The Mission Continues to serve others and then stay because they find belonging with this family. If you identify as a veteran who is looking for that belonging, please consider joining our movement.

Charlie Mike,

Dr. Gina L. Rosen

Gina is the Senior Director of Programs at The Mission Continues. Gina joined TMC in 2015 from the University of Southern California where she was an adjunct professor. She has decades of experience working in the public and private sector engaging in research and evaluation for program development including the First 5 LA program, the LA County Probation Camps, community health clinics to promote healthy lifestyles and the impact of the Affordable Care Act, as well as various community coalition groups. She has a Masters in Public Policy from American University and a PhD in Social Welfare from University of California Los Angeles.

The Veteran Community Needs to Be Better

To hear how many of our Black colleagues, volunteers and partners have felt unsafe and unsupported before and during this time was a wake-up call to those of us who aspire to be allies, advocates, accomplices and even co-conspirators. It is heartbreaking. We are humbled by your candor, vulnerability and willingness to be your authentic selves and to share your truth with us.

It is critically important for the veteran community to be better. That starts with acknowledging that racism exists, and that we are not doing enough to combat it.

In the military we served, lived and fought alongside brothers and sisters across a diverse spectrum of race, color and ethnicity. But striving for diversity is not enough. Service in the military didn’t inherently prepare us to be inclusive or to be anti-racist. As a veterans’ organization, inclusion matters because we know that when people experience inclusion and belonging, the team is stronger—and that creates more impactful program outcomes and lasting community connections.

We are not asking our Black colleagues, partners, friends or family members to educate us on the issues. We own the responsibility to educate ourselves and, for those of us that are part of the white majority, we are going to need to get comfortable being uncomfortable. This is our fight.

Racism, bigotry and hatred will find no quarter in our ranks. The Mission Continues welcomes veterans, volunteers, and supporters who are committed to—or willing to deepen their understanding of—the values we share to support equity, inclusion and justice. For those who do not share those values, our organization is not the place for you. We commit to do everything in our power to eradicate racism from our ranks and unequivocally refuse to remain neutral or silent when we see it.

Charlie Mike,

Mary Beth Bruggeman
President, The Mission Continues

Failure is an option—but quitting isn’t. Charlie Mike.

Charlie Mike. This military term is code for Continue Mission—pushing through adversity no matter the difficulties. That’s at the heart of The Mission Continues: to never quit until we’ve completed our mission.

While we’re currently living in a haze of uncertainty due to the coronavirus crisis, our mission is as clear as ever: to keep veterans connected to other veterans and to communities in need. We are charged with carrying on in the face of challenges.

Today, more than ever, we need your help to push forward. Your continued generosity is essential through this challenging time as we continue our vital work in communities.

While we are adapting our tactics, our veterans remain engaged and service-focused. They are maintaining a presence in communities and offering assistance with grocery shopping, gardening, or other needs to vulnerable community members.

During this time, The Mission Continues is also empowering veterans to continue building their skills and knowledge and is encouraging wellness and self-care, as well as social connectedness. Our goal is to ensure the veterans in our network remain sharp, focused and healthy.

Your generosity is essential to provide them the necessary resources to continue their work now and prepare them for perhaps the most important mission ever: to rebuild and fortify our communities after this devastating pandemic.

Even before this crisis, I’ve seen the impact we make in under-resourced communities through my work with The Mission Continues.

I grew up in a rough neighborhood in Columbus, Ohio, known for its violence and illegal activities. I always wanted to do something with my life but I realized I wasn’t going to be able to do it if I stayed there.

The terrorist attacks of 9/11 brought my life into perspective and crystallized what I wanted to do. When I was 17, I signed up for the Army.

In 2007, I was deployed to Afghanistan for 15 months. After I returned home, I didn’t reenlist. My transition to civilian life was difficult. As I struggled with post-traumatic stress and mental health issues, drugs and alcohol became my refuge.

I finally hit rock bottom in 2015 and decided to turn my life around. I enrolled in college with the goal of helping veterans like me.

A year later, The Mission Continues invited me to join the Service Leadership Corps where I learned leadership skills and met people who helped me see new opportunities.

My experience with The Mission Continues taught me to not count yourself out. Failure is an option but quitting isn’t. Charlie Mike.

Today, I’m pursuing my master’s degree in social work so I can help veterans get a second chance like I had. It’s fulfilling work where I’m combining my personal experience with my education and training.

The Service Leadership Corps also opened doors to community service projects. I am working in my old neighborhood to help others help themselves. I take my kids to service projects to show them the power of giving back. I’ve found my purpose.

These efforts have ripple effects. Thanks to your generous support of The Mission Continues, you’ve engaged thousands of veterans to drive positive change across the country.

Today, it’s more important than ever that veterans have the resources we need to continue our leadership in under-resourced communities. Will you help?

A donation now allows us to continue our vital community work as well as equip, connect and empower more veterans to serve the communities most impacted by the coronavirus crisis.

With your support, the dedication, resilience and compassion of our veterans will—once again—serve as an important example to the rest of the country. Please consider making a donation through our website.

Thank you for helping us accomplish one of our most important missions ever.

Sincerely,

Eric Sowers
Service Leadership Corps Alumnus

Heartbroken, but our spirit to fight injustice is not broken: A message from The Mission Continues Executive Team

The recent events in Brunswick, Ga., Louisville, New York City, and Minneapolis—coupled with a seemingly never-ending list of black people killed, injured and threatened with violence across this country—are heartbreaking. At The Mission Continues, we focus on tackling the most pressing issues facing the communities where we serve. Few issues are more pressing today than those of racial inequity and institutional racism.

This is not an us vs. them problem—this is OUR problem. When blatant injustice and hate touch a single community, it touches all of us.

As an organization, we have forged deep relationships with the communities where we serve. Many of those communities are especially hurting today. We respect the responsibility and acknowledge the privilege afforded to us when welcomed to serve alongside them. To those communities, we say, “We do not take that responsibility lightly. We see you, we hear you, and we love and support you.”

We will commit to using our platform to amplify messages of justice, compassion and unity–while also calling out instances of inequity, inequality and injustice. We do not profess to have the answers, but we will strive to be allies in the fight. This is an especially important call to action for those of us who have, and continue to, benefit from the advantages of being in the white majority in this country. We are committed to listening to and working with our communities to find solutions together–because the only way we’re going to end this, is to stand together when injustices occur.

To this team, we especially want to acknowledge the uniquely devastating impact these incidents have on members of our Mission Continues family. We can only imagine the pain these latest events are causing you and see that your grief compounded by the on-going stress caused by COVID must feel overwhelming. Remember you have our support. As leaders, we won’t always get this right, but please do not lose hope. The commitment we make to the communities where we serve, is doubly true for the commitment we make to all of you.

Every day, we are humbled and honored to serve alongside a team of both volunteers and staff who care so deeply about each other and your fellow humans. Your empathy is your strength, both as individuals and together. As always, we’re seeking ways to Learn and Grow, and welcome the opportunity to dialog with you all. Our hope is that we can more skillfully have difficult conversations that lead to deeper understanding around the critical issues facing this country, and ultimately take action as leaders to affect the kind of change our country needs.

Jeremy
Mary Beth
Jenn
Laura
Susan

Reporting For Duty, Again

Through this very trying time you have remained optimistic, focused and committed to helping others. We can’t wait to get back out to see you and serve alongside you again. Fostering connections through service brings us joy. As we continue to navigate the COVID-19 era, we are not facing a question of whether we begin to serve in communities again, but how.

Thankfully, in many communities where we operate, COVID-19 indicators seem to be “trending down.” And as we now field requests from community partners to replenish their capacity, we are proud to see our veterans stepping up to fill the void left by volunteer forces that have dwindled or been exhausted during lockdowns.

We want you to feel safe when serving with The Mission Continues. We intend to give our veterans, volunteers, and community partners the in-person experience we all value and look forward to, and we will do so in a way that protects the health and safety of everyone.

We have formed a cross-functional task force that will work with local sites and community partners to ensure these seven elements are addressed, communicated and observed for each and every project:

  • Touchless Online Registration: We will require all volunteers to complete a registration online or on their phones to minimize the need to queue up or to interact with registration staffers.
  • Limiting Capacity: In accordance with local guidelines for in-person gatherings, we will cap registration to limit crowding and enforce physical distancing.
  • Personal Protective Equipment: All participants will be asked to bring personal face coverings and gloves. We will supply those items where we are able.
  • Physical Distancing: All service opportunities will be held at sites that allow for physical distancing. We will keep family units together, and ensure that solo volunteers are provided ample space—no less than 6’ apart—to serve alongside others.
  • Clean Tools: We are cleaning and sanitizing our tools before and after each use.
  • Hygiene Stations: All project sites will have identified stations for handwashing and/or available hand sanitizer to accommodate volunteers.
  • Safety Officers: All Mission Continues projects will have dedicated safety representatives to ensure volunteers have the equipment they need, and that physical distance and PPE guidelines are being followed.

For those individuals and communities that are not quite ready for in-person service events, we will continue to create opportunities to serve and connect remotely, as individuals, and from the safety of your home.

We are motivated to start serving in communities where we are most needed and with partners who are ready to welcome us with open arms (from 6 feet away!), as soon as we are able to safely do so. We see that the need created by this pandemic is tremendous. While service projects will not be exactly like we have come to expect, we will begin responding to the much-needed recovery with the enthusiasm, dedication and focus that have marked our mission since our inception.

Charlie Mike,

Mary Beth Bruggeman
President, The Mission Continues

Veterans COVID Survey Results: What We Learned

The Mission Continues infuses the pillars of personal growth, connectedness and community impact into everything we do. They represent our value proposition to veterans and a commitment to what they can expect when they serve with us. The impact we make collectively is the lifeblood of our mission—and is critical to our work in under-resourced communities across the country. Though COVID-19 has changed many of the ways we operate and engage, The Mission Continues’ veterans have not stopped connecting, learning or leading.

We recently surveyed veterans across our network to assess how they’re coping with challenges related to COVID. What they told us was illuminating, but not surprising. Like most of us, they are busy with work, family and school, and focusing on taking steps to stay healthy. The stressors they are feeling at this time are related largely to their emotional well-being and mental health. They’re acknowledging struggles with energy levels, social isolation and depression.

Our goal is to limit the risk of social isolation and lack of purpose, by providing opportunities for veterans to connect to each other and to important support networks, so that we can help combat the factors that negatively impact mental health. This pandemic has already taken too much—and we’re determined to do all we can to ensure no veteran feels alone, purposeless or forgotten.

We’ve been listening to our veterans and doubling down on events to make those connections easy. Over the past 60 days, we have:

  • Hosted or scheduled more than 300 events to connect and engage veterans, families and support networks in unique ways—and are regularly adding new events weekly.
  • Empowered more than 4,000 veterans to participate in service projects, peer-to-peer “buddy checks,” self-care workshops, and social and professional development events.
  • Launched the application for our first-ever virtual Service Leadership Corps Program—an online track that is ideal for those who need the flexibility and convenience of an online format, but still want the knowledge and skills necessary to effectively lead service platoons in under-resourced communities.

We anticipate the road to recovery for many of our veterans and communities will be an arduous one. Our survey results validate the need to focus on expanding relationships with veterans and their families now, as we ready the crucial reserve of volunteers that will help us navigate COVID-19’s long-term effects on the country.

As we prepare to safely and thoughtfully return to in-person service in the coming weeks, we will continue to explore how virtual connections allow us to reach more veterans across the country. An expanded use of technology and remote learning may help to remove barriers so that veterans can access crucial social and peer support to improve and monitor their mental health. So while we’re looking forward to serving alongside each other and our community partners, we’re embracing the opportunity to bring a sense of connection, well-being and purpose to veterans regardless of where they live.

Charlie Mike,

Mary Beth Bruggeman
President, The Mission Continues

COVID Veteran Network Survey

Executive Summary

The Mission Continues (TMC) is committed to supporting veterans as we adjust and adapt to ever-changing conditions related to the COVID-19 Pandemic. In April 2020, we surveyed our veteran network to understand how we can best support them in the coming weeks and months. 100% of our 555 respondents* said they want to virtually connect with us during this time of physical distancing. This is particularly important because many of our respondents shared concerns regarding their mental and emotional health during the pandemic. Foundational to all of our work, are the pillars of personal growth, connectedness and community impact. While our impact may look differently during COVID, we are committed to maintaining our focus on strengthening connectedness with and among our veterans. These survey results will help guide us to adapt best practices to and provide even more opportunities for veterans and their families during this crisis.

The Problem and Our Solution

Respondents shared concerns related to overall well-being – specifically related to emotional and mental health. The majority of our veterans (55%) shared their energy levels have been lower than usual during the pandemic. Nearly half of our respondents shared they have concerns regarding not being able to socialize with others (46%). Additionally, many of our veterans shared they have concerns around feeling depressed (40%) and feeling isolated (35%).

Connectedness has long been core to The Mission Continues, and we are building on that foundation to creatively engage our veteran network remotely. A handful of our innovative actions include: creating virtual content that is posted on our updated YouTube platform–the Charlie Mike Channel, conducting virtual peer-to-peer check-ins of our veterans, and strengthening relationships through remote family-inclusive social events. We will continue to build on these ideas to provide veterans and their families diverse opportunities to purposefully socialize with others. By doing so, we will guide and support our veteran community to constructively cope with stressors, such as feeling depressed and feeling isolated.

Moving Forward with Urgency

Our engagement now can have an immediate and enduring effect as we are committed to stewarding our existing relationships and to welcoming more people into our TMC family during this crisis. Thirty-nine percent of respondents who have not yet received a virtual check-in shared that they would like us to connect with them in that manner. We have begun implementing an action plan to reach out to those individuals, as well as providing unique opportunities to those who have already been engaging with us during this time. This points to the importance of having a support system and the positive role that peer-to-peer interactions can play in helping all of us cope during this remarkable time.

The Mission Continues is dedicated to connecting veterans and communities to create sustainable change. The hardships faced by communities where we operate will be great, the challenges persistent and the need for veteran talent will be greater now more than ever. By strengthening and expanding our relationships with veterans and their families, we will have the crucial ready reserve of volunteers that will be vital to navigating COVID-19’s long-term effects in communities across the country.

*The Mission Continues’ COVID-19 Veteran Network survey was sent to 12,189 individuals. We received 555 responses, a response rate of 4.5%.

Sharing Our Gratitude

Many of you know that May is Military Appreciation Month—historically, this has been a time when the nation publicly shows their appreciation for troops past and present. Truthfully, many veterans have been uncomfortable with this kind of attention for a long time. This year, it feels even more important for us to turn that gratitude around and direct it towards those on the new frontlines of our nation’s current war against COVID-19.

While our worlds have been turned upside down, and it’s admittedly hard to find the silver linings at times, we at The Mission Continues have so much to be grateful for:

  • Our community partners are already leading recovery efforts in some of the hardest hit cities across the country. Our team has launched #ThankItForward in an effort to recognize their contributions. To join us in supporting this effort, please click here to send a note of encouragement to these hometown heroes.
  • Our volunteer platoon leaders in more than 50 cities have adjusted their routines while also dealing with family, work, school and personal stressors. Coming on the heels of National Volunteer Month in April, I wanted to give a special shout-out to our frontline—our Platoon Leaders. They truly embody the heart and soul of our vision of a nationwide veteran-led movement of service. Our work in under-resourced communities would not be possible without their dedication.
  • We are excited to partner with Operation Gratitude for an upcoming cross-sector collaboration: Courage4Heroes. We aim to activate thousands of veterans and volunteers in a campaign to write letters of encouragement and thanks to hundreds of hospitals and first responder departments across the country. All are welcome to participate-more details will be shared soon!
  • A huge thank you to all of you who continue to support our #GivingTuesdayNow campaign this week. There are many worthwhile causes to support during this time, and your choice to donate to us is extra special this year. Your gift will help us activate platoons across the country to contribute to recovery efforts.

Personally, I am especially grateful for the continued health and support of my family, friends, team, veterans and community partners. I ache for the devastated families and communities that have lost too many, too soon to this virus and that are struggling during this pandemic. Now more than ever, the country needs compassionate leadership to help with the recovery. I am confident that the leaders in our network will sustain this wave of goodwill and selflessness to create a new normal that is more connected, generous, and kind.

Our team is working diligently to stock up on the personal protection equipment that will allow us to confidently get out to communities to serve where we are most needed. Though it will undoubtedly look different, we’re eager to return to the in-person service projects that are our hallmark, and to address the growing needs of the community partners that make up our extended family.

Charlie Mike,

Mary Beth Bruggeman
President, The Mission Continues

Our “Why:” The Resilience Of Our Partners

In this fear-laden environment, we’re heartened by the continued dedication and positivity of our community partners. Today they are fighting the impacts of COVID-19, but many of them have been fighting on the frontlines of poverty, educational inequity and food insecurity for decades. Mounting evidence tells us that the under-resourced communities where we serve are already, and will continue to be, disproportionately impacted by the effects of this pandemic.

We have launched a nationwide survey to community partners in more than 50 cities to assess how they are faring and begin to determine how we can best serve them post-COVID.

During this crisis, we’ve been in close contact with these partners who are part of our Mission Continues family, offering them moral support and assuring them of our enduring commitment to our partnership. With every interaction, they remind us of our “why.”

Through this very trying time they remain optimistic, focused and committed to helping others, and we can’t wait to get back out to see them and serve with them when it’s safe to do so. In this short video, a few of them took the time to share how they are doing and what they are looking forward to in the future.

Our community partners provide many tangible and intangible benefits to those they serve. We know that when we build a planter box with them, it isn’t simply 2x4s and soil—it’s the first piece of a living laboratory where children can grow and eat nutritious food, and a critical step in the fight against food insecurity. As we heard from Carlen in the video above, these projects are about inspiring and uplifting community members. And in turn, this work provides a sense of connection and purpose to the veterans who pour heart and soul into every project.

Our communities will need additional capacity to manage through the inevitable human and economic toll—a ready reserve of volunteers will be a vital resource to call upon. The hardships will be great, the challenges persistent and our veterans and the communities in which we serve need us now more than ever.

On May 5, a national generosity movement launches in hopes to unite people for a day of giving to support the unprecedented need COVID-19 has created. If you participate in #GivingTuesday, please consider donating to The Mission Continues.

Other ways you can support us:

  • Engage with us on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or Instagram;
  • Watch and share the content on our new Charlie Mike channel;
  • Purchase a limited edition Charlie Mike workout t-shirt benefitting The Mission Continues.

    Thank you for helping us continue our mission during this critical time.

    Charlie Mike,

    Mary Beth Bruggeman
    President, The Mission Continues