Wednesday, October 30, 2013

My Houston Mission Continues Experience, by Christopher Paparis

When I touched down in Houston, after a long day spent at the airport, it was a joy to have those dedicated Mission Continues staffers waiting for myself and a few other TMC fellows to pick us up. They were polite, friendly, and inviting.  

The introductions of the TMC staff were well underway when we arrived at the hotel. Unfortunately, we missed Eric Greiten speak and he was not available for a meet-and-greet for the rest of the week. Jim Robbins was very helpful and he accepted the Operation College Promise challenge coin on behalf of Eric with the promise of giving it to him in a manner befitting its importance.  In return he handed me a challenge coin of The Mission Continues, which made my face light up like a kid on Christmas morning.  Friday night wrapped up with a pleasant introductory dinner and some light networking at the hotel refreshment stand.
Saturday was by far the most important event. It was the event. We had a brief orientation in the morning concerning demolition and clean-up activity at Cristo Rey Jesuit, a small private school  with an intelligent mission:  It seeks to empower high school-age kids that would otherwise lack the resources to be adequately prepared and for college. The school has a unique program that focuses on a four day school week, with the fifth day being spent in an internship with a local company that provides the youth access to skills that may not be available in the public school. The additional specialness of this program is that it greatly subsidizes the cost of the education for the student, as they effectively pay their own tuition through the work-study program.

The work was simple but strenuous. We laughed, we didn’t cry, no one complained, someone almost put a nail through their hand, and we laughed some more. The focus on teamwork and fun was ever-present. Conversations flowed easily and freely between the fellows and staffers.  The sense of camaraderie was always there, it just needed an opportunity to be expressed. Here it was. The Mission Continues’ orientation had a reformative affect, rather than a transformative one. It uncovered and bolstered the sense of duty and commitment we possessed as soldiers, sailors, Marines, and airmen. It invigorated our resolve to serve. We saw ourselves reflected in the ambition and selflessness of one another and it gave concreteness to our decision not only to join The Mission Continues, but also our dedication to mission of the programs we chose to participate with in our home states.

Sunday allowed us a small opportunity to speak with other fellows and pass along our elevator-speeches. A particular fellow was interested in acting as a liaison between the higher-tier colleges and veterans. This was particularly interesting because it was a small point of discussion at the OCP retreat, in which we toyed with the idea of making private schools more accessible to the veteran-student.  In summation, I love Texas; I can’t wait to go back. The Mission Continues lived up to my expectations of espirit-de-corps and further innervated my desire to start working with Operation CollegePromise.