The Mission Continues: Veterans Volunteer at Home

Alex Wagner, media lab intern, Boston University  2014

It was 2007, and after four deployments as a Navy SEAL officer in Afghanistan, Iraq, and other locales, Eric Greitens was going home to St. Louis, Mo. But first he visited Bethesda Naval Hospital in Maryland, where he spoke with wounded Marines. Many of these veterans, he discovered, still wanted to serve their country, whether or not it was in a military capacity.

“He realized there was a need to help these veterans that went beyond a thank you,” says Communications Associate Nick Zevely.

The experience inspired Greitens to use his combat pay as well as the medical disability checks of two friends to create The Mission Continues, a nonprofit organization devoted to helping veterans readjust to normal civilian life by engaging them in various aspects of community service.

The organization aims to appeal to service members’ continued sense of duty towards a greater good and apply it to local neighborhood projects. Its retention of military terminology further bolsters this relationship; volunteer groups are labeled as “platoons” and service projects as “missions,” and graduates of the program belong to “Alpha” or “Charlie” class.

Originally, the program was a 26-week fellowship where wounded veterans—particularly those who served post-9/11—worked at a local nonprofit of their choice for 20 hours a week while receiving a stipend. Although some Fellows picked to work in nonprofits associated with the military and returning veterans, others chose to work with organizations such as The Red Cross, Habitat for Humanity, and Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

The Mission Continues also creates an individualized development curriculum for the veteran to mark their progress and set goals. Ultimately, upon completion of the fellowship, the veteran develops a relationship with his or her community that promotes “dual benefits,” says Zevely.

“It’s not a handout, but rather a handup,” he says.

Nonprofits can get involved with The Mission Continues by hosting one of the Fellows. According to the organization’s website, such a commitment means allowing the Fellow a chance to serve the desired 20 hours a week for six months, usually in direct service to the community or the organization’s specific demographic. The Fellow plans out personal goals with the nonprofit while receiving other resources such as the development curriculum from The Mission Continues.

The fellowship still retains the majority of these core principles, though it is no longer exclusively for wounded veterans. In addition, veterans can also join a service platoon, a group of both current and former service members from any conflict that work together on a singular issue troubling a local community, such as helping homeless veterans or reducing hunger amongst inner-city youth. Timetables vary on these assignments, although all are meant to involve outside support from local businesses, nonprofits, and the community at large in order to foster long-term relationships.

So far, there are platoons located all across the country, from New York to Los Angeles. The Mission Continues has always been national in scope – the first Fellow was from Hawaii – even though the organization’s headquarters is located in Greitens’ hometown of St. Louis, Mo. Zevely says the organization has experienced tremendous growth in the past two years, especially with the creation of the service platoon program last year. The number of Fellows now averages around 300 veterans each year.