“A good life, a meaningful life, a life in which we can enjoy the world and live with purpose, can only be built if we do more than live for ourselves.”
What Is The Mission Continues?
Eric Greitens returned home from service in Iraq as a Navy SEAL and as he was visiting wounded service members at Bethesda Naval Hospital, he was struck by the fact that nearly everyone he spoke with expressed an unwavering desire to continue serving. Even those who had lost limbs, their sight, or even parts of their brain wanted more than anything to go home and serve in some way.
“Great. We still need you,” Greitens responded.
Inspired by this dedication to serve, Greitens and a few others used their combat and disability pay to start The Mission Continues, a nonprofit service organization that provides veterans “with a challenge and the opportunity to rebuild a meaningful life by serving again in communities here at home.”
How Does It Work?
Founded in 2007, The Mission Continues awards 6-month community service fellowships to post-9/11 veterans. The Fellows, as they are called, serve at least 20 hours per week at a nonprofit organization in their communities that addresses key educational, environmental, or social issues.
To date, Fellows have served their 6-month fellowships at various organizations, including Habitat for Humanity, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, American Red Cross, Student Veterans of America, St. Louis Science Center, Lone Star Veterans Associations, and Team River Runner. Some Fellows have mentored youth in after school programs. Other have counseled veterans who are dealing with issues related to PTSD and TBI. At the culmination of their fellowship, each Fellow plans and executes a community service project that addresses a key need in their community.
In addition, all Fellows work toward one of three exit strategies: full-time employment, pursuit of higher education, or a permanent role of service.
The organization’s mission is fueled “by a deep belief that our veterans are assets whose leadership is needed now more than ever.”
By the end of this year, more than 800 veterans will have passed through The Mission Continues fellowship program.
We Still Need You
In addition to “Thank you,” our veterans need us to tell them that we still need them. In his book, The Heart and the Fist, Greitens explains that our veterans need to know that we view them not as problems, bust as assets; that we see them not as weak, but as strong. They need to know that we are glad they are home and that we need them to use their strength to serve here at home.
Why Not Just Give Veterans Something They Need?
In addition to all of the benefits and services the federal government provides to our returning service members, there are hundreds of organizations that are there to help as well. There are groups, for example, that pay for the education of children of fallen soldiers. And there are groups that will build adaptive housing that enables disabled veterans to live more independently.
Until The Mission Continues was founded, however, there weren’t any organizations that challenged veterans to serve at nonprofit, charitable, and public benefit organizations in their communities.
You Must Create Meaning through Action
- Through their work,
- Through their relationships, and
- By how they choose to meet unavoidable suffering.
Every life brings hardship — some more than others, of course. It is in these times that we are tested and pushed to the edge. What Frankl is saying, however, is that despite the fact that every life brings hardship, every life also offers possibilities for meaningful work and love, which makes for a meaningful life.
Greitens knew from his humanitarian work in Bosnia and Rwanda that the survivors who were able to find a way to serve others–despite all they had lost–were able to rebuild their own sense of purpose. “I knew from my time in refugee camps and my time working with children of the street that to build a new life in the face of great challenge, what mattered was not what we gave them, but what they did.”
Does It Work?
The Center for Social Development at the George Warren Brown School of Social Work at Washington University in St. Louis conducted an independent study of all 52 Fellows who completed their fellowships from June 2007 to December 2010. The study shows that, post-fellowship, 71 percent went on to further their education; 86 percent had transferred their skills to civilian employment; and 91 percent had built networking opportunities for a future career path.
This is especially impressive, given that 52 percent of those studied had suffered traumatic brain injuries and 64 percent had been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress.
In addition, the study shows that, “The majority of participants report that the fellowship helped them to become leaders within their communities (86 percent) and to teach others the value of service and sustain a role for service within their communities (91 percent). All participants (100 percent) would recommend the Mission Continues Fellowship Program to a friend or family member.”