As military appreciation month reminds us to show our appreciation for the men and women of the armed forces, many of us veterans are reminded of the void we feel when not serving our country the way we once did. We appreciate the respect this month brings with it for active service men and women as well as veterans, but it's also a time for self-contemplation. We start thinking about finding a community like we had, and considering what more we could be doing to help the communities we live in. As a veteran, what are you doing?
While there are many answers to what you could be doing and we would love to hear about all of the great options in the comments, what follows are some examples of how veterans are contributing to society and their fellow veterans. Let us take a moment to appreciate these veterans who are giving back, and consider how we too can make a difference.
The Mission Continues
The Mission Continues is an organization set up for veterans to continue to serve at home through what they call "the service platoon." Veterans can register to be part of service platoons and serve as volunteers that mobilize together to solve specific challenges in their communities. The type of volunteer work you might do in a service platoon includes working to reducing hunger amongst inner-city youth, eradicating veteran homelessness, or mentoring at-risk youths. Add social and networking events, and you're bound to feel fulfilled.
This organization also offers veterans fellowships, where they pair the veteran with a non-profit for a part-time internship, and provide a living stipend. As a fellow, veterans are able to add work experience to their resumes, with past experience including working on such issues as disaster preparedness and education for low-income youth.
I had the opportunity to speak with Trevor Scott, an Army veteran and former Infantry Sergeant who volunteered with The Mission Continues. The project that his group worked on helped rebuild a playground and garden at an elementary school in Los Angeles. He feels that volunteering in organizations like this brings back that sense of purpose and being part of a cohesive mission many of us miss from our time in the military. Regarding this volunteer experience, Trevor said the following:
"It was amazing to see a group of veterans from all different branches and backgrounds coming together seamlessly to meet a goal once again. It was such a fulfilling experience. I think a lot of veterans don't realize the wealth of skills and experience they have, not to mention an unparalleled work ethic and ability to be part of a team."
Team Red White and Blue
Many veterans looking to connect to their community through physical and social activity have turned to Team Red White and Blue (RWB). Their mission is to "enrich the lives of America’s veterans by connecting them to their community through physical and social activity." Taken from the website, Arthur Snodgrass had the following to say about his experience with the organization:
"Now, when I have a conversation with my soldiers regarding life after the military, I talk to them about RWB and the benefits that it can have to belong to a community that understands what they have gone through and appreciated their sacrifices. My involvement with RWB has made me decide to try new things and even re-explore some of the activities I used to enjoy."
Veterans join the group for this sense of community and to help others who may feel alone after their service, and civilians are welcome to join the group as well -- a fact that shows us veterans that they care.
Those of you veterans with an interest in getting your hands dirty while helping people may want to consider Team Rubicon. This organization started in response to the Haiti Earthquake, when its founders decided to take action and asked other veterans to volunteer alongside them. Team Rubicon is an international organization of American military veterans who volunteer to serve on disaster and relief missions around the globe. They have trained over 500 veterans or duty. You can volunteer to serve and will be on-call, much like with the reserves except that this is disaster specific and does not require two weeks of training per year.
Many veterans choose to use their GI Bill and go to college after their time in the military. This does not mean the engagement has to stop. In addition to the above opportunities, there are plenty of veteran fraternities and sororities. They tend to encourage (or require) their members to volunteer or raise funds for important organizations. An example is the William Paterson University's branch of Omega Delta Sigma (ODS), a non-gender specific fraternity that, among its many other activities, recently volunteered at an animal shelter that had a fire. They also helped raise $2,200 for The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Army veteran Thomas Springsteen, the Vice President of this chapter of ODS, feels that college can be tough for veterans, but that being a part of a group that involves you in campus activities and doing good for the community really helps veterans assimilate.
There are numerous other organizations and ways to become involved in your community.
We already served our country, so shouldn't feel pressure to do any of the above -- but I'm pleased to see people are participating and that the opportunities exist. All of these opportunities and the people volunteering for them are truly inspiring, and I hope you will join me in appreciating them in any way you can, whether that comes in the form of volunteering, donating, or simply thanking the next veteran you see.