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.

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