MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Lorena Gonzalez is a U.S. Navy veteran who served during Operation Enduring Freedom from 2004 to 2009.
“I was an aircraft mechanic for P3 Orions stationed in Hawaii for four years and Whidbey Island, Washington,” she said.
When her service ended, like many vets, the Hialeah native and single mom struggled with what to do next.
“When I made it home, I had a two-month-old and I had nowhere to go but to my aunt’s house,” she said/
The next few years were hard, both mentally and socially. It was while studying at Florida International University that Gonzalez was encouraged to get involved with the student veterans group.
“It was the first time since 2009 that I felt like I was at home,” she said.
That was the turning point in her life.
“It created that support system that I needed and my children needed in that transition from military to civilian life,” she said.
This safety net is a network of veterans, The Mission Continues, a nonprofit that deploys vets into community service projects and builds camaraderie.
The goal is to connect veterans with under-resourced communities. The programs coordinate veteran volunteers to work alongside nonprofit partners and community leaders to improve educational resources, tackle food insecurity, foster neighborhood identity, and more.
In addition to being a Platoon Leader, Gonzalez is an advocate, a voice for women in the military. We met up with Gonzalez while she spoke at the unveiling of a mural in Wynwood. It was created, along with partner organizations HOPE Murals and Act 2, to raise awareness of military sexual trauma.
For Gonzalez being there and making a difference is what it is all about.
“They teach us to have courage, to have duty, to have honor, to have loyalty, to have commitment. They teach us to be there for one another,” Gonzalez said.
The hometown hero was recognized by the Miami Dolphins’ “Salute to Service” which honors vets. They noted, among other things, Gonzalez’s role in food drives this year. She was invited to a home game at the stadium.