Immediately after my last deployment ended, I returned to school to complete my undergraduate degree. I had physical pain from injuries, but I had also begun to experience nightmares, panic attacks, and anxiety. After graduation, I lacked the structure and focus of working toward a goal and quickly found it hard to keep a job. My local VA reintegration program helped treat the anxiety, panic and nightmares, but I continued to struggle to find a meaningful job. This drove me to seek out a Masters in Teaching.
As a first year teacher in a high poverty, high gang activity school district, I was overwhelmed by the need to not only teach my students, but to protect them. The stress of this resulted in illness, severe weight loss and depression. In order to care for my own health, I resigned from my teaching position and felt like a failure. I had specifically gone into teaching to serve underserved populations, and had failed. I knew it was in my best interest to find meaningful work in my community as soon as possible, so I dug up an e-mail from Bill McMillan, the coordinator of The Welcome Home Project. In this e-mail, he had introduced me to The Mission Continues Fellowship Program.
I served my fellowship at the Adobe Mountain Wildlife Center operated by Arizona Game and Fish Department in Phoenix, AZ. The goal of the Wildlife Center is to treat and release injured native wildlife. For some, their healed injuries do not allow them to survive in the wild. Those animals become ambassadors and are used to teach the public about native Arizona wildlife in free education programs. In the course of six months, I served over 5000 students, including victims of human trafficking, survivors of abuse, and terminally ill children. Students were routinely inspired by the determination of the animals to test the boundaries of their disabilities and were driven to find ways to help the animals. The Fellowship allowed me to regain confidence in my ability to positively impact my community and allowed me to see and serve forgotten populations.
Melissa Steinman served in the United States Coast Guard from 1999-2005. She deployed to Guantanamo Bay, Kuwait and Iraq. Melissa is a Mission Continues Fellow Alumna, serving her fellowship in 2011.