Veterans from across America help beautify Chicago neighborhoods

CHICAGO (CBS) – Dozens of veterans from Puerto Rico and Seattle have come together to Chicago, hoping to pay off.

It’s called “Operation Chi-Town Salute” and it brings new gardens, paint, and some cleanup to areas of Englewood and Little Village.

“The Mission Continues” says it chooses a city to help each year, and this year it brought its mission to Chicago.

CBS 2’s Jim Williams looked at how a block is upgraded.

“To the observer, it may seem like a small project, but the impact is huge,” said Mary Beth Bruggeman, president of The Mission Continues.

Last week, 75 veterans arrived from around the country on a mission to bring beauty to Englewood and Little Village.

Veteran Frankie Perez traveled all the way from Puerto Rico. He said that when he returned from Iraq, he felt lost, even had suicidal thoughts. But then he found his purpose.

“We lose 20 to 22 veterans every day to suicide, thinking life is over,” said Perez. “No, it’s not. You have to get over it, give back and love these people; bring the community forward.”

For the past four days, the team has been working around the clock on what they call a “mass rollout,” planting a new garden, painting, building, and revitalizing a neighborhood.

“I love that I’ve been entrusted with a lot of responsibility, and coming from the military, you get used to it,” said Nestor Zavala, a veteran and platoon leader of The Mission Continues.

Melvin Bridgmon lives in the area and says projects like this make him want to stay.

“When I come out here and look at new things, I’m like, ‘Oh, I’m living in a good place,'” he said.

Although the Chicago mission is nearing completion, local volunteers still have a plan to maintain the space.

“I have never seen a complete project or community,” says Zavala. “I’m looking for the next thing we can compliment.”

To make sure residents like Melvin know they’re worth the investment.

“It’s a sign of hope for me,” he said. “It’s a sign of hope.”

All those painted bricks will be displayed in the new garden to add some color as the paving slabs.

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