For local “fellows” the mission goes on
A coalition of volunteers pose in front of South Norfolk Baptist Church on day one of a massive three-day community revitalization project
Photos by Elvin Rollins, Jr.
Hampton Roads Community Changers (HRCC) was founded by “fellows” of The Mission Continues, a nationwide nonprofit which helps returning veterans find renewed strength and purpose through service to their communities. Above, a coalition of volunteers pose in front of South Norfolk Baptist Church on day one of a massive three-day community revitalization project over the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday weekend, one of many service projects HRCC has initiated.
Leadership Team member C. J. St. Louis, center, takes a break with volunteers
Phillip Segura, left, and
David Mrak after the three installed a new entry door
at the home of an elderly South Norfolk resident.
Volunteers set up an outdoor “food pantry” at South Norfolk Baptist Church; about 50 bags of groceries were given away to residents in need.
José Guereca (in white shirt) and
Tristen Milliken, Naval Medical Center Portsmouth employees, power wash
the home of an elderly resident.
A group of volunteers complete the
clean up of an elderly woman’s large
yard. Other volunteers made electrical
and plastering repairs inside the home.
For many members of Hampton Roads Community Changers, the seeds of community service were sown during their fellowships with The Mission Continues. Founded in 2007 by former Navy SEAL and Rhodes Scholar Eric Greitens, The Mission Continues is a nationwide nonprofit that is bridging the military-civilian divide, helping veterans feel more connected to their communities and giving civilians a better understanding of and appreciation for our men and women in uniform. Its flagship program, Mission Continues Fellows, awards community-service fellowships to post-9/11 veterans, who receive a stipend and serve for six months at a local nonprofit, addressing key educational, environmental, or social issues.
The fellowships help returning veterans assimilate back into the society they left behind by utilizing their tremendous skills and leadership to contnue serving our country at home.
Each fellow works to achieve one of three outcomes at the conclusion of his/her fellowship: full-time employment, pursuit of higher education, or a permanent role of service.
Many of the about 40 Hampton Roads alumni fellows have chosen a combination of the three, with emphasis on continuing to serve their community.
Together they formed Hampton Roads Community Changers (HRCC), through which they are addressing critical community needs on a large scale.
They work alongside other veterans, ac-tive-duty military members, and volunteers from community organizations. Promoting understanding and camaraderie between the military and civilians is an offshoot of their service.
Antione Hines, 37, was a consummate community volunteer and over-achiever long before he learned about The Mission Continues. After a distinguished ten-year Navy career as a submarine nuclear electrician, he was discharged in 2009.
“When I got out, I couldn’t find a job, so I started volunteering at a library,” he said. “Then I started helping homeless veterans and other homeless people.”
He volunteered for three years with several City of Chesapeake departments and became community liaison for all 240 churches in Chesapeake, a role he continues. His daughter Kenya, 7, is often at his side, helping and learning about service.
“Antoine has been instrumental in helping to educate the faith-based community about homelessness and surrounding issues, veterans needs, after school needs, and neighborhood enhancement,” said Mary Russo Riley, Chesapeake’s interim community programs manager.
“He helps get food and clothing to those in need, assists folks make minor repairs to their homes, and helps in finding shelter and other resources for the homeless.” He puts in 50-60 volunteer hours each week.
In spite of this hectic schedule, Mr. Hines enrolled at ODU and earned a third bachelor’s degree, in human services, to round out his degrees in math and nuclear technology. He also completed three internships.
He learned of The Mission Continues in 2011 from a member of the Wounded Warriors Program, one of the groups participating in a homeless project he coordinated.
He served a six-month Mission Continues fellowship with Chesapeake’s Bureau of Community Programs, continuing much of the work he was already doing.
“Mission Continues is an awesome organization that helps veterans and gives them a way to work with leaders of organizations, not just be there volunteering,” Mr. Hines stated. “It also gives them new skills and new ways to use their military skills.”
Mr. Hines has taken on the leadership of HRCC within the last year. Other members of the leadership team are fellows Colleen Ryan and C. J. St. Louis, and alumni fellow Hiawatha Clemons, III.
Mr. Hines has recruited Mission Continues fellows, other veterans groups, and civilian organizations to help with the staggering amount of work HRCC does in the community. He also acts as a mentor to veterans he meets and has referred about 40 to apply for fellowships with The Mission Continues.
With help from Target and Home Depot, both Mission Continues national sponsors, HRCC members have revitalized the libraries of several elementary schools and refurbished a number of homeless shelters.
With assistance of 50 or so veterans and active-duty military members, they cleaned the Norfolk zoo and scoured the adjacent park.
They’ve cleaned and painted the walls and basketball court of a community center in Portsmouth and undertaken other projects too numerous to list.
To observe Veterans Day 2012 they carried out a major spruce-up at Norfolk’s Richard Bowling Elementary School. The project brought together about 100 volunteers, who were joined by Fellowship Program Associate Jim Robbins of The Mission Continues headquarters in St. Louis, Mo.
“It was really lots of fun and a lot was accomplished,” Mr. Robbins said. “Fellow C. J. St. Louis did a phenomenal job of coordinating the project.”
Dr. Sterling White, the school’s principal said, “This organization spent the entire day painting, hauling, and planting, and at the end of the day our school looked good. Our school community is humbled by their effort to help us help our children.”
HRCC’s most recent service project, on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and over the preceding weekend, was perhaps its most ambitious endeavor to date. Planned and coordinated with military precision, the three-day event brought together volunteers from several military and civilian groups to carry out the multi-pronged effort.
Volunteers refurbished the homes of 22 elderly and disabled veteran residents of Chesapeake’s South Norfolk community. They cleaned yards, mended and painted fences, and made repairs such as replacing worn shingles and entry doors.
They distributed food to low-income residents. And they undertook a major cleanup of the neighborhood, starting from Gateway Center.
Mission Continues Fellow Colleen M. Ryan, 34, assists HRCC with organizational development, among other contributions.
A New Jersey native, Ms. Ryan spent much of her time at sea before she enlisted in the Navy in August 1999, in a wholehearted search for her grandfather’s legacy.
She had spent her youth enthralled by his sea tales and stories of an indestructible brotherhood, travel, and faith that eclipsed a war-torn world.
After two shipboard deployments to the Persian Gulf, in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom, and an abundance of hiking and surfing in her Hawaiian home port, Ms. Ryan returned to the mainland.
She separated from the Navy in February 2010 and began “The Camaraderie Project,” an action research project which investigates quality of life of veterans.
“It will provide evidence for the design and funding of veteran wellness programs in communities around the nation,” she said.
The project fulfills a thesis requirement for her master’s in performance psychology and sets the stage for her planned doctoral dissertation in clinical psychology.
The ultimate goal behind Ms. Ryan’s research is to return to the Navy to help sailors pursue their best lives.
“In July 2012 I landed in Norfolk, where I discovered The Mission Continues within days,” she said. “They’re supportive of my research and granted me a fellowship to reinforce The Camaraderie Project, which began last October at Old Dominion University.”
When she’s not studying or researching, Ms. Ryan serves the community and enjoys the camaraderie of new military and civilian friends.
Hiawatha Clemons, III, 29, a former Marineand Iraq war veteran, credits The Mission Continues with changing the direction of his civilian career.
After leaving the Marine Corps in 2006, Mr. Clemons returned home to Virginia Beach and later entered TCC. He graduated in 2012 and is now a student at ODU.
On a Friday in the fall of 2011, he received an email giving information about The Mission Continues, later learning that it had been generated by Antione Hines.
“I was at the point of wondering if being a veteran still counted for anything. When they embraced me, I felt that I’d been welcomed home,” he said of The Mission Continues. “If anyone wonders about Mission Continues’ ability to give veterans a jump start, I can personally testify to that.”
The soft-spoken, sharply dressed young veteran chose Brandon Middle School for his six-month fellowship.
His decision meant returning after a decade to the school he’d once attended, where he’d developed a reputation as an angry young man who started fights and caused other problems. Eventually, he was labeled a special education student, a stigma he hated.
His situation improved in high school, but he never forgot the stigma. After graduating from Tallwood in 2002, he joined the Marine Corps, following in his father’s and grandfather’s footsteps.
During the fellowship he logged 30 or more hours a week, way beyond the required 20, as assistant to special education teacher Donna Gill. He wanted to give back and help other kids avoid mistakes he’d made.
“I’d take them out in the hallway and say, ‘You can let what I say go in one ear and out the other, but remember you were warned with compassion.”
“Helping kids turned into something big while I was there,” he stated. “Students were approaching me on personal issues, not just classroom matters.”
He decided to become a school counselor and switched his major to human services, with a minor in special education.
While completing his degree, Mr. Clemons continues to give back through HRCC, the African American Brotherhood of
TCC, and the Masonic lodge he joined in 2007. “When I consider all that has happened, I know I’ve been blessed,” Mr. Clemons said. “I will continue to keep God first.”
Both he and Antione Hines will be recognized as outstanding volunteers on March 3 during the Exemplar Awards. Mr. Clemons was nominated by Raphael Lodge No. 162, and Mr. Hines by ABBA List.
They are just two of the many exemplary community servants among HRCC’s members and affiliated volunteers.