I enlisted in the US military out of high school for just one reason; I wanted to serve. I wasn’t particularly drawn to the flashy uniforms, or the promise of travel to far-away lands, or money for college. Not to say that those things didn’t sweeten the deal, but the initial motivation was a simple sense of service.The only real notion of military service that I had growing up came from two cousins who had both enlisted in the Marine Corps, but that didn’t really appeal to me. All I had heard about the Marines was that they brain-washed everyone in boot camp and turned them into robots. Of course I learned a little more over the next year or so and wound up joining the Marine Corps, and of course the Marine Corps satisfied that sense of service over the next five years.
When I left active duty in 2006, I moved back home and started going to school full time at the local community college. It didn’t take long to feel like something was missing, however. That need to serve, to be useful, remained, and for the first time in a while I found myself without an outlet for it. So I had to go looking. Having grown up near Annapolis, I was naturally very fond of the Bay and was aware that it was in fairly bad health. So it became my duty to do what I could to help, and I began volunteering at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s Oyster Restoration Center in southern Maryland. We created hundreds of artificial oyster reefs out of concrete, which we dropped into certain tributaries in strategic locations that had shown to be conducive to growing oysters. The oysters were thenplanted among these concrete habitats, which deterred predators and allowed the oysters to grow and propagate. It was all very rewarding work; I’ve always enjoyed physical labor, and it was important: The Chesapeake Bay needed more oysters in order to recover to good health, and I was adding oysters to the Chesapeake Bay.
The Oyster Restoration Center was, however, a seasonal thing, so during the winter I had to find another activity to placate myself. This I found at the Annapolis Lighthouse Shelter, working once, sometimes twice a week in the back, organizing the shelves full of non-perishable food donations that came in. Once everything became organized, food was then separated into grocery bags for the less fortunate to pick up and take home with them and stock their own shelves. This was also very rewarding work. Every day when I would leave at the end of the shift the shelves would be full of these grocery bags, and every time I came back they’d be empty, and I knew that all that food had gone to someone that needed it.
In January 2011 I transferred from Anne Arundel Community College to UMBC to study Environmental Science, and subsequently moved from Annapolis to Baltimore. Again at UMBC I sought out volunteer opportunities and was fortunate enough to be quickly linked in to the Shriver Center, an office founded by Sargent and Eunice Shriver with the mission of promoting “the integration of civic engagement, teaching, learning, and discovery on campus, regionally, and nationally so that each advances the others for the benefit of society.”
After serving during my first semester as a volunteer with the Refugee Youth Project, an after-school tutoring program for youth whose families had resettled in Baltimore City, I became the Service-Learning intern for the Shriver Center’s Choice Program – College Night. Choice is a youth and family empowerment program that serves at-risk youth who have been recommended by the Department of Juvenile Services. It is an intense advocacy program that aims to enrich the lives of the youth and prevent recidivism. One aspect of the Choice Program is College Night, which is a weekly after-school program that I run in which a group of student volunteers and I supervise educational and recreational activities for these youth. We’re able to reinforce the concepts that the youth learn in school, and at the same time serve as positive role models for them and push them towards the realization that, yes, they are capable of escaping their circumstances and yes, they, too, can make it to college, and succeed.
It was at the beginning of the Fall ’11 semester that a Service-Learning Coordinator at the Shriver Center turned me on to The 6th Branch. She knew that I was a veteran, and was aware of the organization through conversations that she had had with Jeremy Johnson, our Director of Public Relations. She told me some of what she knew about the The 6th Branch and Operation: Oliver, which was then in its infancy. I found the website that night and immediately e-mailed Executive Director Rich Blake to see how I could get involved. A few days later he and I met at the Americana and the rest, for me, is history.
Finding The 6th Branch and being a leader in Operation Oliver has been life-changing. I’m fairly certain that I’ve finally arrived at the end of my “journey.” Now it’s just a matter of doing it. I’ve found a new opportunity to serve. I’ve got a new mission, and it’s one of the most important yet. All together we’re going to accomplish it.