HOUSTON – Eighteen years after Sept. 11, dozens of veterans teamed up in the East End District to answer that act of violence with community building.
Several local nonprofits teamed up to help make an area of town more accessible and safe for children and the elderly through an act of service meant to honor the lives lost during the Sept. 11 tragedy.
A new mission to give back
"We're here to give back because we're servants for the military and here in the community," said Carlis Miller, a U.S. Marine veteran who is a volunteer with the nonprofit The Mission Continues.
The Mission Continues encourages veterans to utilize their skills in the civilian world to help and volunteer. On Saturday, The Mission Continues partnered with the East End District, which provides services and conducts capital improvements throughout the 16 square miles of the district in Houston, to beautify an area in need at 7200 Capital Drive. It is part of the United in Service Campaign.
"Today we are building a park from the ground up. Last week, we were here and cleared the lot, and this weekend, we're here and building a butterfly garden and putting in trees," Chetkeila Greene, a veteran and organizer with The Mission Continues, said.
The area is an old lot, which was an area where people tended to illegally dump materials. It is also near where children play and an elderly care center.
"This used to be a vacant lot," Erick Retana, with the East End District, said. "Before we started working on here, the weeds would grow 7 feet tall. This is a dead-end street leading to a railroad track, so this place was used as a dumping ground."
On Saturday, the park was transformed into a play and rest area.
There, volunteers built benches and a library and put up new trees and flowers
"Some cornflowers, milkweed for the monarchs," Charrish Stevens, an Air Force veteran, said.
"This is an area with children. I hope that they can use this area and feel safe," Greene said.
The weekend was also a very meaningful one for veterans like Ronnie Stevens, another Air Force veteran who makes it a point to teach his family about what happened on Sept. 11, 2001. He was helping to build a library for the East End District.
"This weekend is post-9/11, and most of these veterans have served," Stevens said. "I believe that these are all my brothers and sisters, and we're right here in a community that needs help. It's the responsibility of all people and, I think, more importantly, the veterans who have served and sacrificed to be a reminder (of what happened)."
"That's what this is about. It's bringing communities together and saying ... we are all a community," Greene said.
The park means a lot to veterans like Tony DeLeon, an Army veteran.
"I was a survivor of the attack on 9/11. I was at the Pentagon, stationed with the Army staff, so it comes back full circle now that we're giving back to the community," DeLeon said.
DeLeon said the park stands for honor and that he would never forget the sacrifices made on 9/11.