More than 70 veterans from around the country joined forces in Atlanta’s Westside neighborhoods June 8-15 to help energize and transform underserved communities in Atlanta’s historic Westside neighborhoods – includ-ing Vine City, English Avenue and Castleberry Hill. The veterans are volunteers with The Mission Continues, a national nonprofit organization that empowers veterans who are adjusting to life at home to find purpose through community impact. Through a week-long service marathon, dubbed Operation Westside Surge, veterans led the charge with local community partners to beautify community spaces, increase access to urban gardens, and sup-port affordable housing complexes for homeless and low-income individuals.
“Veterans are a powerful force when called upon to serve,” said Spencer Kympton, U.S. Army veteran and president of The Mission Continues. “Today, the Westside faces challenges that many veterans encountered in communities around the globe while on active duty. Working alongside community partners who have already begun to make headway against these challenges, our veteran volunteers can be force multipliers: providing the skills, experience and expertise to drive sustainable, positive change in some of Atlanta’s most historic neighbor-hoods.”
Atlanta’s Westside, where Martin Luther King Jr. resided until his death, has served as an influential catalyst for community action, civil rights and positive change. However, issues including unemployment, blight and de-population have continued to create obstacles for residents in Atlanta’s historic Westside neighborhoods.
The efforts in Atlanta’s Westside mark The Mission Continues’ second Mass Deployment, an annual event that mobilizes veterans alongside local partners and volunteers for an intensive service engagement in an area facing particularly daunting challenges. Through an untraditional, hands-on approach, Operation Westside Surge aims to build trust within the Westside community to advance the ongoing efforts by residents, nonprofits, civic leaders and the private sector.
“Service doesn’t necessarily mean putting on a uniform and going to some faraway land. It starts right here at home,” said Hipolito Arriaga III, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran who participated in The Mission Con-tinues’ first Mass Deployment in Detroit. “The Mission Continues is different because we are invested. We live in these communities, and we want to see these communities prosper.”
Critical to sustaining the momentum of an effort like Operation Westside Surge, the veterans’ en-gagement doesn’t end when the week concludes. The Mission Continues has a sustained presence in At-lanta with more than 120 local veteran volunteers working regularly with nonprofit partners engaged in the Westside’s neighborhoods and volunteering for ongoing coordinated service projects. Through this sustained presence and fueled by the combined support of The Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation, The Home Depot Foundation and The Marcus Foundation, Inc, The Mission Continues will make a long-term positive impact by enhancing the capacity of local community organizations.
Projects completed for Operation Westside Surge in Atlanta include:
• Atlanta Beltline Westside Trail: The Atlanta Beltline – a 22-mile network of multiuse trails that will connect 45 neighborhoods in Atlanta when completed in 2030 – includes a number of “bump-out” green spaces that are currently vacant lots. Operation Westside Surge volunteers will revitalize one of the key Belt-line bump-out sites along the Westside Trail with new picnic areas, trails, pergolas, landscaping and invasive species removal.
• Mattie Freeland Park: A Westside resident-led initiative to honor the legacy of a long-time English Avenue resident, Ms. Mattie Freeland, veterans will work to complete the plans for Mattie Freeland Park, including con-struction of a new sports field, cookout area and installation of new play equipment.
• Truly Living Well Urban Farm: While roughly one in five Georgians can’t afford to buy healthy food on a regular basis, Truly Living Well is working to reverse that trend through accessible programming fo-cused on fresh and healthy eating. Veterans will enhance Truly Living Well’s urban farm on the Westside by building an outdoor classroom, constructing a new shade structure, creating new pathways and renovating the garden area.
• Boys and Girls Club English Avenue Campus: Working in collaboration with The Mission Continues’ long-standing partner, the Salvation Army Boys and Girls Club at Bellwood, veterans and volunteers will transform the dilapidated English Avenue Campus into a vibrant space for widespread community use. Projects planned for the site include repainting and restoring the basketball court, building picnic areas, constructing a stage and outdoor amphitheater and planting a new children’s garden.
• Quest Community Development Organization’s Veterans’ Village: Quest Community Development Organization of-fers permanent housing to special needs homeless and low-income individuals, including a 12-unit garden-style apartment unit reserved for veterans. The Mission Continues will work alongside Quest veteran residents and Team Depot, The Home Depot’s associate-led volunteer force, to transform the apartment complex’s outdoor space with a new grill area, rainwater catchment system and upgraded veteran memorial. The collaboration aims to instill a sense of pride and ownership among residents and engage them in The Mission Continues’ programs following Operation Westside Surge.
The Mission Continues has operations across the country that engage veteran volunteers every day to have deep impact on critical challenges facing underserved communities. In addition to our Mass Deployments, veter-ans participate in operations by serving with The Mission Continues in two primary ways:
As an individual The Mission Continues Fellow, embedding as a skilled volunteer with one of the operation’s nonprofit partners for a period of six months.
By the end of 2017, veterans from The Mission Continues will be at the center of efforts that are having measurable, meaningful impact in 36 metro areas across the country.
To learn more about The Mission Continues’ programs and opportunities to get involved, visit www.missioncontinues.org.