By SCOTT BRENT
For the Sunday Times
Many metropolitan Detroit residents are choosing not to bemoan the 16th anniversary of 9/11 as a day of historical regression and sorrow. Instead, they are using the date as an opportunity to come together and heal Detroit’s infrastructure.
Through the nonprofit organization The Mission Continues — which empowers veterans who have returned from active duty to rise as leaders in their communities — military veterans as well as non-veterans will clean up Stein Park at West Chicago Road and Stahelin Street from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Sept. 9.
As part of this year’s Mission Continues 9/11 United in Service Campaign, Eric Laksonen is the leader for the organization’s Detroit 2nd Service Platoon, and will spearhead the effort. After gathering input from neighbors and community members, Laksonen, platoon members and community volunteers will initiate projects that include creating a picnic space, updating the existing playground, and adding park features such as benches and murals.
“Working these volunteer events shows you how valuable the skills you learn in the military are even once you separate,” Laksonen said. “The work ethic and get it done attitude that you get from the military translates well and has more immediate impact when you are working in your own community.”
Having served as an inflight refueler in the Air Force, Lakenson also knows how to use his industrious nature in his work at the Outland Group, a Detroit-based influencer marketing startup. Influencer marketing startups attempt to promote brand messages through the use of public figures.
He said the city’s energy is “palpable,” and that the public should be constantly “sharing intel and resources” to assess where the most impact can be made. His collaboration with other residents also helped him recognize the level of generosity that is unique in Midwestern cities like Detroit.
“Any time I am walking around the city, people say hello when you pass or give you a nod,” he said.
People interested in joining a service platoon or becoming a Mission Continues fellow may go to https://missioncontinues.org/get-involved to register for the Detroit 9/11 service project or explore opportunities on how to get involved in other programs.
Laksonen hopes that through the efforts of his platoon and many others, Detroit will reclaim its status as “the Paris of the Midwest.”
The Mission Continues, a national 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization with force of over 17,000 volunteers in 49 states, has been fighting on the front lines for this transformation since its founding in 2007 by deploying service platoons in cities nationwide. In Detroit, in addition to improving the city’s educational resources, veterans have joined forces with non-veterans and community leaders in fostering guidance for at-risk youth and eliminating the city’s food shortages.
Veterans are also presented with the opportunity to be a leader in their hometown through The Mission Continues Fellowship Program, where they volunteer part-time for six months at the community organization of their choice. Fellows receive a living stipend while building new skills and networks that allow them to successfully re-integrate into life after their time in the military.