After years spent overseas serving in the military, veterans will often have difficulty adjusting to life as a civilian. Life in the military can bear little resemblance to everyday life, and falling into a new routine can be difficult and jarring.

Relearning the ropes

Studies have shown that volunteering—especially with other veterans—can have a positive impact on the self-esteem, motivation and readjustment of those returning home from duty.

“That sense of being a part of a team, you learn in the military in boot camp. You know how to open up and share information that you can’t share with others, helping you to step outside your fear and achieve the next step in your life.”

When Kim McGraw returned home to Chicago from the Navy, she set out to continue her education and help others. She was just about to take her entrance exam for her master’s degree when she encountered another veteran, a Marine, who told her about The Mission Continues, a nonprofit that links veterans with opportunities to serve their communities, connect with each other, and transition back to regular life.

The perfect fit

“I was on his iPad looking at their website, totally forgetting I had an exam,” she said. “This was so perfect for me—this was it.”

Stationed in Japan from 2002 to 2004, McGraw worked off-base with orphanages, bringing athletics and activities to the children. After she was discharged, she yearned for more opportunities to give back, and she was thrilled to find them.

In Chicago, McGraw leads a service platoon—a team of veterans, active duty service members, guardsmen and reservists who come together to volunteer and help each other adjust to the return to civilian life. Projects range from providing education for low-income youths, to feeding the homeless, to building community gardens and more.

“That sense of being a part of a team, you learn in the military in boot camp,” she said. “You know how to open up and share information that you can’t share with others, helping you to step outside your fear and achieve the next step in your life.”