Advocate slideshow: Veterans clean up Oak Cliff park

The Mission Continues is a St. Louis-based nonprofit that challenges veterans to serve communities through improvement projects. About 75 post-9/11 veterans from all over the country arrived in Dallas Saturday for orientation, and they cleaned up one of our neighborhood parks while they were at it.

“When we contacted the city of Dallas, we asked them for a big project,” says The Mission Continues spokeswoman Mallory Rusch. “They said, ‘OK, we’re giving you our biggest one. There’s no way you can finish it in four hours.’ ”

The veterans cleared brush, moved huge logs and turned them into mulch, and planted new trees at Santa Fe Trestle Trail park. And they did it all in about three hours. The veterans also had help from Groundwork Dallas and volunteers from Southwest Airlines.

The Mission Continues also offers veterans six-month fellowships, and there are two from Dallas for the first time.

One is Brandy Baxter of Mesquite, who says four years in the Air Force changed her life for the better.

“I always wanted to give back to the military because it gave so much to me,” she says. Baxter will serve the YWCA during her fellowship, teaching low-income women about financial empowerment.

Jeff Hensley of Frisco was an F-14 pilot for most of his 21-year Navy career. His fellowship is at Equest, where he will run a program offering equestrian therapy to other veterans.

“I struggled to find a sense of purpose and meaning. I dealt with some of the same problems most veterans have when they leave the military,” he says. “You feel disconnected from the community. This is addressing that directly.”

Bryan Escobedo, a Marine Corps veteran from Houston, was in 10th grade on Sept. 11, 2001 and entered the military at 17. He says he was “blown up four times” serving in the Iraq War. His cousin was killed in Iraq in 2004. When he entered civilian life a few years ago, he was nearly lost, he says. He had post-traumatic stress disorder, “obviously,” he says. He “self-medicated” and lost his purpose in life. But now he is the picture of what volunteering and serving communities can do for a veteran’s self esteem. He even appeared on “The Colbert Report.”

Anyway, these men and women fought overseas so that we didn’t have to, and on top of it, they cleaned up our park. If you would like to give back to them in some way, check out missioncontinues.org.


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