By Will Shafroth
From Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee to Gettysburg National Military Park in Pennsylvania, 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.
The need to invest in our communities is just as great today. 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 veterans - about half of post-9/11 vets will face a period of unemployment, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs.
These veterans face daunting challenges. The lengthy and repeated deployments being heaped on a smaller and smaller population of service men and women are profoundly disruptive and disorienting. This is especially true in an economy rocked by globalization, the digital revolution, and the Great Recession.
This is a crisis - but 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, 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 upon the labor of the Works Progress Administration and the Civilian Conservation Corps that blazed the trails, cleared the campsites, and built the lodges that millions enjoy every year in our national parks today. This would be 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.
This initiative is also a critical reintegration tool for veterans. 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, development opportunities, and - most important - 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, when there was a commitment to public investment and great works that matched the severity of the crisis, there is no similar commitment today. Instead, the 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 veterans. Companies like Boeing, which not only fund key programs but also are committed to hiring and supporting veterans, are critical as we reintegrate post-9/11 vets into civilian life.
Boeing now employs more than 20,000 veterans, and its website offers a Military Skills Translator that helps match 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 both celebrated their centennial anniversaries last year - 100 years of accomplishment and good works that have invigorated communities, powered our economy, and changed our country for the better.
It is that same sense of service, partnership, and lasting accomplishment that animated the New Deal programs and that today powers the Park Service's hiring and outreach efforts and Boeing's steadfast support of veterans. We believe 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.