Like many across the country, Army veteran T’Liza Kiel has quarantined in her Houston home since March and the isolation started to weigh on her.
She and about 200 other veterans and community partners participated in Operation Bayou City Blitz, a volunteer initiative organized by veteran nonprofit The Mission Continues. The series of service projects spanned five days in several Houston neighborhoods from Nov. 7 to Sunday and saw up to 50 veterans and community volunteers per socially distanced project.
“My family and I have taken all safety precautions since the first COVID-19 shutdown, but the effects of this pandemic were straining my mental health,” Kiel said in an emailed statement. “After being home since March, getting out to serve others will be the highlight of my year.”
Kiel is a Houston native and director of alumni engagement for the veteran service organization. She said it felt good to get out and make a difference in her community.
“The Mission Continues has always been a place where I have felt I belonged, can be my best self and am part of a movement working for the greater good,” Kiel said.
Volunteers on Sunday worked to restore the Veterans Retreat Center, a 20-acre facility for veterans and their families that offers outdoor, therapeutic, educational and entertainment programs. The center was severely damaged during Hurricane Harvey. On Saturday, volunteers worked in Kashmere High School’s gardens, where they landscaped and added fresh coats of paint on buildings and also added uplifting murals, organizers said.
Volunteers worked in the Gulfton neighborhood’s Jane Long Academy and Los Americas Newcomers School, the teams built outdoor seating, put flood mitigation measures in place and built a serenity garden for student use. At Blodgett Urban Gardens in the Third Ward, the veteran-lead group built garden beds, signage and seating.
The Mission Continues is a national organization with 65 chapters, or platoons, and more than 40,000 volunteers across the country. Operation Bayou City Blitz is just one of some 9,000 service projects The Mission Continues has launched, according to its website.
“Operation Bayou City Blitz is a testament to the deep commitment our veterans have to the city of Houston despite the obstacles that 2020 continues to throw at them,” said Mary Beth Bruggeman, Marine Corps veteran and president of The Mission Continues, in a press release. “Our veteran volunteers are showing up with the skills, energy and passion to revitalize their city alongside their fellow service members, neighbors and community partners. Our country needs this kind of inspiration right now more than ever.”
This latest series of service projects started Nov. 7 and will see the volunteers working each weekend in November, named Veterans and Military Families month in an annual proclamation by the White House.
Like many of its service projects, The Mission Continues has partnered with Houston’s city officials, community organizations and donors for five projects to address critical community needs in Kashmere Gardens, Independence Heights, Gulfton, the Third Ward and Suburban Heights.
The mission is to provide assistance to these communities that lack the resources for hurricane recovery efforts and much needed ongoing revitalization efforts, organizers said.
Some 900 volunteers have conducted service projects in Houston since 2015 to address issues like food insecurity and access to safe community spaces.
Much of the team is taking a well-deserved break, said Mission Continues spokesperson Jen Parravani, but they will be supporting The Astros Foundation on Nov. 24 by providing food to some 300 families. On Dec. 5, The Mission Continues will host a mural painting and community park upkeep service project in Third Ward. In January, the organization is also planning a big initiative in Houston over MLK Day weekend.
Likely to attend events is Earl Lundy, Houston Platoon leader for The Mission Continues and a third-generation Army 82nd Airborne veteran. Lundy manages a gym in Houston and is an active volunteer within the organization.
“Serving with The Mission Continues gives me a sense of purpose. I get to give back and help the youth and the community,” Lundy said in an emailed statement. “If I can do that alongside my brothers-and-sisters-in-arms who have the same service mindset as me that’s just the icing on the cake.”
Jared is a freelance journalist, a former Marine and a veterans advocate living in Los Angeles.