Q&A with David Rogers from The Mission Continues

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Fulfilling veterans through service is such a simple concept, yet it was unprecedented until The Mission Continues was founded by a former Navy SEAL in 2007. Its programs utilize veterans’ specific strengths and skills by placing them at a nonprofit in their community. Through its fellowship program and service projects, veterans have the opportunity to work with more than 600 nonprofits around the country.

No stranger to the military community, The Mission Continues Fellowship Program Director David Rogers has served in the Air Force Reserve for almost eight years and just returned in October 2014 from a 7-month tour in Afghanistan. After hearing about the organization repeatedly through social media and news channels, Rogers knew he had to get involved.

“I took it as a calling,” Rogers said. “At the time, I was working with adults with disabilities to help them obtain employment. I loved what I did, but I knew that this was an organization that I couldn’t pass up. I just love this mission so much.”

When Rogers first signed on to The Mission Continues as its 12th employee back in 2010, the organization had granted 88 fellowships since 2007. That number is now up to more than 1,100 with 100 to 200 Fellows in the program at any given time.

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David Rogers, fellowship program director at The Mission Continues

What makes The Mission Continues unique?

We have a laser focus on our mission. That mission is to empower veterans and to strengthen communities through community service. We believe that community service has an enormous ability to inspire change.

We’ve seen that veterans who engage in community service have stronger transitions. They feel like they’re more a part of their community. They have leadership roles as civilians. We’ve seen the instances of psychological and physical ailments are reduced because you have happier, more confident and stronger veterans.

How does The Mission Continues harness veterans’ skills in order to best serve the community?

We know that our veterans are coming out of the military with an immense amount of experience. They’re leading aircraft carriers and building bombs in Afghanistan. It could be easy to say that these skills don’t have a place at home. I’m certainly not building bombs as a civilian, but the skills I learned in the military — the ability to be calm under pressure, the ability to lead a team, and the ability to pay attention to details — is important. That’s what transfers.

The Mission Continues is not out to change these veterans completely. The skills that they learned are in need here at home, just tweaked a little bit. Instead of leading an infantry squad in the streets of Iraq, we have veterans who are leading a squad of volunteers in the streets of St. Louis. That small change has a tremendous impact in the veterans’ lives and the lives of the communities that they’re touching.

How does your service with The Mission Continues compare to your military service?

It has been beneficial to me to be involved with The Mission Continues both before and after my deployment. That camaraderie is critical. I’ve seen it in all our Fellows, and I’m noticing it myself. That lightbulb goes off at our fellowship orientation right before our 6-month fellowship. Fellows meet other veterans from all over the country, and they’re able to tell their stories.

I never understood the significance of that until recently when I came back and I want to tell my story. I love telling my story because not only do I feel like I have the honor of being a part of history, but also I think it’s so important for our country to know our experiences.

Rogers is responsible for the success of more than 300 Fellows who will serve with The Mission Continues next year

Rogers is responsible for the success of more than 300 Fellows who will serve with The Mission Continues next year

How does sharing their story affect veterans’ transitions?

For the first time, our veterans are able to tell their stories with people who understand their stories. They’ve faced very real challenges in life and in their military service, and they’re among people that get it and support it.

That initial spark of camaraderie is so amazing that they continue that through their fellowships. They have confidence that they have a story to tell, and they start to tell it in their community. In sharing the message that they’ve faced challenges, but that they’re stronger because of it. That’s where we’re really starting to see a movement take off.

These veterans aren’t coming back broken. They’re not coming back worse than they were before. They’re absolutely coming back different, but they’re coming back different in a way that they’re stronger.

How are veterans set up with a nonprofit?

Our Fellows choose the organizations. After coming through our application process, we vet them to make sure they meet qualifications, and then we empower them to find a calling that’s meaningful to them.

That fellows have a vested interest in that cause is what we’ve seen is the most important part of the fellowship. In some cases we have veterans who completely changed the outlook of what they thought they wanted in life when they got involved with an organization. They realize that their avocations, maybe mentoring kids, is actually something they want to do as a lifelong calling. We’ve seen that time and time again.

Veterans have this spark, and now we’re stronger as a country and as communities because we have so many more of these community leaders out there filling these critical roles where they’re supporting people in need.

What would you say is the ultimate vision of the Mission Continues?

We want to really ensure that the country as a whole is really realizing that veterans coming back are assets. These veterans aren’t just people to give money to or give concert tickets to or to give T-shirts too.  They are people who want to go back to work and to serve again. They want to do something meaningful. It’s truly my honor everyday to help facilitate that for all of these veterans.

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