Spencer Kympton, president of The Mission Continues, spoke to donors in Western Pennsylvania about the key elements necessary to successfully engage veterans. His key ingredient? Service: enable veterans to continue doing what they do best. Let them strengthen their respective communities.
Mr. Kympton’s remarks are adapted from a talk at “Thriving After Service,” a donor gathering hosted by The Philanthropy Roundtable and Heinz Endowments. The Mission Continues places veterans in six month fellowships to serve community organizations 20 hours a week. They also organize service platoons that serve as childhood mentors, revitalize neighborhoods, and implement sustainable agriculture.
On the need for a post-war call to service:
This generation of veterans all answered a call to service. They did it for a variety of reasons. Some were economic, some were motivated by 9/11, and others fell everywhere in between. But what is common is that they answered a call to service voluntarily, and that is distinct from any other generation of veterans in our country’s history. And what we say and what we believe at The Mission Continues is that answering that call to service does not end when military service ends.
The men and women in our military over the last 13 years have been serving. They’ve been given a purpose, whether it’s to take that hill or protect this town. They’ve been given a mission that they are connected with. It is discontinuity in the arc of service that leads to many of the challenges facing this generation of veterans.
Veterans can be, and need to be, connected to a mission and a purpose here at home.
On establishing a new identity:
Every organization working with veterans needs to understand how to craft and uphold a new identity. Those who have served in the military certainly have a visual identity. They wear uniforms. They have dog tags. They have a shared language that is often very, very difficult to decipher for others. For this generation in particular, these experiences have lasted much longer than one year. They are used to working on an issue that the world is watching.
They felt during their service that they were fighting something. All those identity-wrapped elements are severed when they transition out of the military. So at The Mission Continues, we try to rebuild a sense of identity. We want them to feel like they’re putting on a uniform again.
At the start of our fellowships we host an oath ceremony in a public place based loosely on the oath of enlistment into the military. We learn the constitution again, so that veterans can view themselves as a citizen servant. Over six months a leadership curriculum encourages them as they establish a new identity.
On building a new team:
Everyone in the military is part of a team at the grandest scale as well as at the foxhole level. After service, the concept of having men and women on their left and right is severed. So we build a new team. Veterans join cohorts, organized very similar to basic training cohorts. These groups consist of 90 to 100 people, which is an elemental unit in the military itself.
All of this has to be much more than fluff. The results we look at are the personal success of every individual veteran, defined by more than getting a job. We look at four different areas: professional life, family life, health and well-being, and the health of their community.
Washington University in St. Louis surveys our participants. Professionally 90 percent experience an increase in job performance. In family health, 45 percent have improved relationships at the family level and 76 percent believe that their family thought they were setting an example because of their service.
On the health front, for those who screened positive for depression on the incoming side, 50 percent fewer screened positive on the outgoing side. And 40 percent reported a significant improvement in their overall health. Ninety-five percent of the community members who serve with our teams believe that the veterans contributed to their community. Nearly 8 out of 10 veterans felt more attached to their community.
We think by combining these four things our veterans will be on a pathway of personal success.