On Friday, members of the St. Louis Rams organization worked with military veterans from The Mission Continues and members of the St. Louis Audubon Society to help plant trees and other shrubbery in Creve Coeur Memorial Park. The effort was part of the Rams’ monthly “Staff Days of Service” in which employees in the organization volunteer with various nonprofit organizations.
Between the three organizations, there were nearly 70 volunteers on hand to assist with the project. Some members planted trees, while others contributed by clearing harmful plants or hanging deer repellant in order to ensure the newly planted trees would have the ability to grow undisturbed. But the planting was just one part of an ongoing project.
“This restoration that we’ve been doing in the park has been going on for several years,” Mitch Leachman, executive director of the St. Louis Audubon Society, said. “So we needed to plant trees this fall, and we were going to do that. But we were able to benefit from working with the Rams and The Mission Continues. Things went so smooth and so efficient, it was just amazing.”
The work in Creve Coeur Memorial Park fits seamlessly with the overall goal of the St. Louis Audubon Society. Not only do they work to conserve native plants, animals and their habitats, but they also seek to understand the environmental relationship between humans and these natural resources. Within Creve Coeur Memorial Park, Leachman and the organization’s volunteers have engaged in restoration and preservation by clearing out exotic bush honeysuckles that rapidly invade and overtake other plants in the area. In addition, the organization participates in other cleanups, specifically watershed cleanups.
It is a daunting task, especially for an organization in which Leachman is the only full-time staff member. Typically, he says, the St. Louis Audubon Society has upwards of 500 volunteers in any given year. And while they usually work with a full group, the participation can be inconsistent to say the least. But that problem was easily avoided with the help of The Mission Continues and the Rams.
“It’s been a real pleasure seeing the project come together with all three groups, and everything that The Mission Continues did for today’s event was a big help for me,” Leachman said.
Others were equally as impressed with the collaboration.
“I think the project was a huge success,” James Casey, The Mission Continues service project coordinator and U.S. Army veteran, said. “Anytime you can bring together a corporate entity and several nonprofits and collaborate, you’re going to achieve more than you ever thought possible.”
In total, the Rams, The Mission Continues and the St. Louis Audubon Society planted nearly 400 trees and shrubs in the park. But it was The Mission Continues who facilitated the partnership. Casey said the Rams approached his organization about working on an upcoming project.
“We had the opportunity to meet The Mission Continue folks last year and we were very impressed with how they are engaging our veterans to continue to serve the community,” Molly Higgins, St. Louis Rams vice president of corporate communications/civic affairs, said. “Right away, we knew we wanted to find a way to partner on a community service project.”
“The St. Louis Audubon Society seemed to be a great fit because of what they’re doing in the community and the kind of projects the Rams like to do,” Casey said.
Casey and The Mission Continues had a wide variety of projects from which to choose for the Rams. The organization is a program that challenges post-9/11 veterans to serve and lead in their communities by taking part in a six-month community service fellowship. According to Casey, participants can work with any nonprofit church, school or organization in order to earn their fellowship. They must bring at least 25 volunteers to unite in a service project for the nonprofit of their choice. But the overarching goal of The Mission Continues is to help veterans become re-acclimated to civilian life.
“(Many veterans) have that loss of purpose after (they) get out of the military,” said Casey, who completed his fellowship in March of this year. “It’s like, ‘Well what do we do now?’ We knew what the regimentation was during military service, and The Mission Continues gives us that renewed sense of purpose.”
On Friday, that purpose was enhancing Creve Coeur Memorial Park. And the Rams were happy to play a role in the ongoing project.
“Our staff enjoyed the opportunity to learn more about The Mission Continues and the Audubon Society before joining with them on a day of service for St. Louis,” said Higgins. “It was an honor to serve our community alongside our veterans and we look forward to partnering with them on different initiatives moving forward.”
The St. Louis Audubon Society has cleanup and restoration projects throughout the year. To learn more about volunteering opportunities, visit www.StLouisAudubon.org or check out their Facebook page, www.facebook.com/pages/St-Louis-Audubon-Society.
If you are interested in applying for a fellowship with Mission Continues, want to volunteer for a service project or donate to the organization, visit http://MissionContinues.org.