THE BLOG
06/28/2013 09:42 am ET Updated Aug 28, 2013

Serving Again, Here at Home

My name is Randy Nelson. I am a veteran and served 20 years in the U.S. Army as a logistician. I served several deployments overseas, including Operation Iraqi Freedom.

I began my service to this great country as a young man, 10 days out of high school, simply because I wanted to stand on my own two feet and not rely on my parents any more. As I served I began to enjoy the fact that I was a representative of our country. When people saw me they saw what our country was about.

Upon my retirement, I wanted to continue my education, and I am currently enrolled at CSU-Pueblo and graduating in Fall 2014. Beyond continuing my education, I realized that after 20 years of doing what others told me to do, I had an opportunity to continue to make an impact on the lives of others in a way that I want to. After some soul searching, I realized the perfect thing for me to do was to become a Physical Education teacher. With all the experience I gained as a soldier and athlete, I knew I had a lot to offer our youth. I didn't want to wait until graduation to continue to provide service to my community, but struggled finding the right opportunity. With my wife's help I found the perfect fit for me with The Mission Continues. Now I am not only a student, but I am also serving at the Armed Services YMCA in Colorado Springs as a Fellow with The Mission Continues. Over 200 children visit the ASYMCA every day, and I have the opportunity to influence each of their lives through my service.

As part of my service at the ASYMCA, I implemented a basketball program that focused on fundamental basketball skills as well as character building skills for youth. I teach them sportsmanship, leadership, personal image, responsibility and accountability, and respect (receiving and showing to others). At the conclusion of the program I sit down with the participants and conduct a review of all the things we covered. One of the participants - a ten-year-old boy - was not able to make it to the final day of practice, but I knew that we needed to review his experience. He and I had a one-on-one talk, while his father stood watching. This young man was reserved when he started my program, but I watched him gradually open up as we worked together. I told him that being more assertive and giving someone a firm handshake and looking a person in the eyes while greeting them is a way to earn respect. We spoke about him walking with his head high and his chest out as a way of showing confidence and how proud he is of himself.

Unfortunately the child is from a broken family. His mother usually brings him to practice. But that day, his father had taken him. His father approached me and told me how much he appreciated how I spoke with his son, the lessons I was teaching him, and that I was the type of mentor he wanted to continue to see in his son's life.

My service to young men like these, and to their parents, motivate and fulfill me. I served once in the U.S. Army, and now I am serving again, here at home.

This post is part of a collaboration between The Huffington Post and The Aspen Institute, in which a variety of thinkers, writers and experts will explore the most pressing issues of our time. For more posts from this partnership, click here. For more information on The Aspen Institute, click here.

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