The New Deal Legacy That Helps Veterans and Our Parks

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A National Park Service fire crew enters the Tuolumne sequoia grove in Yosemite National Park in California on August 27, 2013. Will Shafroth writes that the National Park Service is helping returning veterans find work rebuilding our natural resources. National Park Service/reuters

From the River Bend Overlook at Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota to Shenandoah National Park in Virginia, the legacy of the New Deal effort to put millions of unemployed Americans to work in the service of their country is with us every day.

Our national parks are living monuments of the thousands of Americans who traded hard labor for "three hots and a cot" and work that mattered through these programs.

The need to invest in our communities is just as great today as it was back then.

In 2014, Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell announced a major initiative to provide 100,000 work and training opportunities to America's youth and veterans. This announcement coincides with increased awareness of the disproportionately high rate of unemployment among our nation's veterans.

According to the 2015 Veteran Economic Opportunity Report by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, approximately one out of two post-9/11 veterans will face a period of unemployment.

This population of veterans faces daunting challenges. The lengthy and repeated deployments being heaped on a smaller and smaller population of servicemen and women are profoundly disruptive and disorienting to many of our veterans. Especially in an economy rocked by globalization, the digital revolution and the financial crash and housing crisis of the Great Recession.

It's a crisis—but as the saying goes, also an opportunity. And the National Park Service is seizing the moment through a public-private partnership with the National Park Foundation, Boeing and the Mission Continues to help returning veterans find work protecting, restoring and rebuilding America's natural and cultural resources.

This initiative, the Veterans in Parks Program, is part of the National Park Foundation's Centennial Campaign for America's National Parks.

It's vital and lasting work, building directly upon the labor of our forebears in the Works Progress Administration and the Civilian Conservation Corps who blazed the trails, cleared the campsites and built the lodges that millions enjoy every year in our national parks today. A new legacy of investment in the incredible idea that the natural, cultural and historical sites that share our collective stories belong to all of us.

And it's a critical reintegration tool to help veterans rejoin civilian life. The Mission Continues empowers veterans to "report for duty" with homefront "Service Platoons"—carrying on the camaraderie, mutual support and sense of purpose that undergirds military life and providing critical connections to address challenges of the journey home.

It offers mentors, education and development opportunities and—more than anything—a continued sense of service, of mattering in the world, that can be so hard to find for many who return home from extraordinary service into ordinary life.

While the New Deal came at a time of national challenge—a commitment to public investment and great works that matched the severity of the crisis—the truth is, there is no similar commitment to fund these kinds of efforts today.

Instead, the National Park Service and the National Park Foundation, the official charity of America's national parks, and groups like the Mission Continues depend heavily on private-sector funders who share our commitment to our nation's veterans.

Companies like Boeing that not only fund key programs and efforts, but also bring a company-wide commitment to hiring and supporting veterans, are critical as we bring home and reintegrate the huge "bulge" of post-9/11 vets into civilian life.

Boeing now employs more than 20,000 veterans, many of whom find a sense of continued service in work to support our national defense. The company's website offers a "Military Skills Translator" to allow vets to match their service experiences with private-sector needs. And in recent years, the company has partnered with more than 700 military and veterans-related organizations.

Boeing and the National Park Service are both celebrating their centennials this year—100 years of accomplishment and good works that have invigorated communities, powered our economy and changed our country forever for the better.

It is that same sense of service, partnership and lasting accomplishment that animated the original New Deal works programs and that powers the National Park Service's hiring and outreach efforts and Boeing's steadfast support of our veterans today.

A belief that every person can make a difference, that opportunity begets achievement and that every seed we plant today grows into more opportunities for our children—and our children's children.

Will Shafroth is president and CEO of the National Park Foundation.

The New Deal Legacy That Helps Veterans and Our Parks | Opinion
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