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San Antonio veterans find newfound purpose at community garden

The Mission Continues is a non-profit organization that empowers veterans to continue their legacy of service by volunteering.

SAN ANTONIO — Skill saws whirled. Mowers mulched. Chickens clucked. Children cackled with laughter. And one simple task at a time, volunteers worked together to grow a better community.

The Mission Continues is a non-profit organization that empowers veterans to continue their legacy of service by volunteering, and they did just that Saturday at Gardopia Gardens on North New Braunfels Avenue.

First Platoon leader Sandra Davis said, “I love the Mission Continues because since I left the military in 2014, I always wanted to continue to serve and find my purpose, and I believe I found it working right here on the east side.”

Davis said whether it’s moving soil or removing debris, all the jobs they tackle work to accomplish a vitally important mission. She said while they are enhancing the four-year old garden, the volunteers are building themselves as well.

“It’s a place where I can come and get my hands dirty for one thing, but it’s also therapeutic for me, because it’s just a place where I can get away.  Even though I am here on New Braunfels, when I go into the garden, it becomes something else, a safe place for me,” Davis said.

For volunteer Addie Trevino, her service in the garden is like a trip back in time.

“I grew up with my grandmother’s garden and my great-grandmother’s garden, and working in the garden, helping them till the ground, so this is an awesome opportunity for me to get back to my roots and it helps the community learn how to eat healthier and grow their own produce and to live a happier life,” Trevino said.  

Trevino said working alongside other veterans is a blessing, but watching a clutch of children learn new skills may be an even bigger benefit.

“We are definitely touching the future, and it’s a blessing to see this many children out and for them to be willing to be involved. Many times, children are involved in their electronics or they just want to run and play but these children actually want to help!” Trevino said with a broad smile.

With volunteers swirling around him toting heavy loads of soil, garden founder Stephen Lucke said celebrating Veterans Day with members of the military community is particularly fitting.

“The Mission Continues is helping us turn a portion of east San Antonio into a food forest instead of a food desert,” Lucke said.

Lucke said growing plants has been an excellent method to grow the neighborhood, which has been plagued by violence for years.

“People would not want to walk past here so to be able to transform it into an area where families and children, and moms and dads, and anyone feels comfortable, is good,” Lucke said.

The garden is awash in color, with food crops and flowers, buzzing insects and fluttering butterflies. It is an oasis of peace, Lucke said.

“There were shootings and drug dealings and a lot of negative activity that nobody wants to be around, to see that change, and make a 180 degree turn, has been amazing,” Lucke said.

He said the goal is to grow good people, not just good plants.

“We’re trying to empower our community through education, so they can continue to grow food for their families and their neighborhoods for years to come and knowledge is key.  It’s empowerment.  It gives everybody an opportunity to take responsibility for their own lives,” Lucke said.

The group sponsors regular work days and many community outreach events all year long.

Gardopia Gardens is at 619 North New Braunfels Avenue. The group can be found on Facebook or at www.gardopiagardens.org


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