Rebuilding Purpose Through Community Service

Feburary 24, 2012 (VA.gov) – Many veterans struggle to find the same purpose at home as they found in the mission, camaraderie and structure of the military. Life as an active duty service member is a total commitment of self to mission and unit. It is, in essence, a purpose-drive life. So when the time comes to transition to the civilian world many veterans, including myself, are left wondering, “What now?”

I served in the United States Marine Corps from 2003 – 2008. In the transition to civilian employment, I was recruited to make parts for different aircraft because of my experience in the military as an airframe mechanic. The job was not what I wanted to do, but because of the limited options available at the time I accepted the offer. I quickly found myself working for the paycheck and nothing more. There was no feeling of accomplishment, or reason to be proud of what I was doing. Where was the mission? Where was the purpose?

I did not realize at the time that my transition to civilian life could be characterized as normal. In a study of recently returned OIF/OEF veterans, only 13% “strongly agreed that their transition home was going well.” Nearly nine out of ten agreed that Americans could learn something from their example, but only half considered themselves leaders in their communities as a result of their service. Yet, the study found veterans were still overwhelmingly eager and willing to continue serving their country at home.

The organization I now work for, The Mission Continues, challenges post-9/11 veterans to rebuild purpose through community service. Through 26-week community service fellowships, veterans volunteer at the nonprofit organization of their choice. Fellows are awarded a cost-of-living stipend to offset living expenses and in return commit 520 hours of service to their community.

Following my time as an aircraft technician and an even shorter stint as a secretary, I stumbled upon a listing for The Mission Continues Fellowship Program. I was awarded a fellowship in 2010 and chose to work in The Mission Continues office, recruiting other veterans who were stuck in similar situations as I had been, to recommit to a life of service. By providing a challenge to others, I had again found purpose.

Today, I serve as the Fellowship Recruitment Manager. I have seen firsthand the positive impact of a fellowship for over 200 other veterans. A study conducted in partnership with the Center for Social Development at the George Warren Brown School of Social Work found 71% of Fellows have furthered their education since joining the program, 86% have transferred their military skills to civilian employment, and 100% would recommend the program to a friend or family member.

I wake up every morning knowing I am going to make a difference is someone’s life. I may no longer put on the uniform of the United States Marine Corps each day, but my service to my country is far from over.

The application deadline for entry to the Mission Continues 2012 Fellowship Class Bravo is March 1. For more information about the Fellowship Program, please visit our site or email fellowships@missioncontinues.org.

Tiffany Garcia is the Fellowship Recruitment Manager of The Mission Continues, a national nonprofit that engages veterans to serve as community leaders. She served in the United States Marine Corps from 2003-2008. She is also an alumna of The Mission Continues Fellowship Program.

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