The journey to a city’s revitalization can start by building a single bench.

That’s the ethos of The Mission Continues, a nonprofit dedicated to giving veterans an opportunity to help under-served communities nationwide.

“What we hear from veterans is that this felt like all the best parts of a military deployment,” said Mary Beth Bruggeman, The Mission Continues’ vice president of program strategy. “We capture that intense sense of focus and common mission. We put them side by side with new comrades who have a shared sense of community impact.”

The organization is currently gearing up for its Women Veterans Leadership Summit from March 22-24 in Washington, D.C., and Operation Charm City Charge from June 20-27 in Baltimore, the latter of which involves sending a big group of veterans into a community in need of their assistance.

Bruggeman is a veteran herself, having served as a combat engineer officer in the Marines from 1999 to 2007. She commanded a company during the invasion of Iraq and ended her service as a captain.

She knows firsthand how difficult it can be to transition from a military lifestyle to the civilian world. Service projects like the ones organized by The Mission Continues, she said, are a great way for veterans to continue serving the country while using their skills productively.

“[W]e have our own array of challenges in this country,” she said. “You don’t have to go to Afghanistan to find them.”

The Mission Continues will turn 12 years old in August. The Baltimore event will be its fourth-annual “mass deployment,” meaning an event where 80 veterans are brought in to participate in a large-scale service project. Veterans have until March 25 to apply for the Baltimore mass deployment.

Bruggeman said that the nonprofit’s use of military terms and its shield logo are both efforts to make veterans more comfortable.

“Those are all meant to be familiar threads to our veterans, and repurposing them in communities is meant to be a bridge to their new life and move them on from their military service,” she said.

In previous years, The Mission Continues has sent veterans to aid communities in Detroit, Atlanta and Los Angeles. It is currently planning a 2020 mass deployment to Houston to help with recovery efforts stemming from the damage created by Hurricane Harvey in 2017.

In addition to Operation Charm City Charge, The Mission Continues is also about to host its Women Veterans Leadership Summit, which is designed to bring together female veterans to talk through and solve the problems they face upon exiting the military.

Bruggeman said that about 45 percent of the veterans participating in The Mission Continues-sponsored programs are women. That’s notable given that women only make up roughly 10 percent of all veterans, according to VA data.

She said that the summit is meant to tackle issues that all veterans face like, loss of identity, as well as problems specific to women, like men being referred to as “assertive” while women who exhibit similar characteristics get labeled as “bossy.”

“Women veterans leave the military and face challenges because they’re women veterans,” Bruggeman said, adding that the goal of the summit is to “piece out which skills are most useful for women veterans.”

She advised veterans to keep serving in some capacity after their time in the military ends, whether that involves participating in The Mission Continues events or finding other outlets to put their skills to good use.

“Whatever you feel you’re missing post-service, it’s probably the desire to use your skills again in your community,” she said. “Be willing to step up and serve again, because we’re not done with you. You may have taken off the uniform … but you’re very much still needed after your time in the military.”

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