Story by Petty Officer 3rd Class Jonathan Lally
“You know, Ben, during my teenage years I was hell on wheels,” the coach confessed to a pastor, as their shoes crunched across the gravel of a vacant parking lot.
The coach grunted and continued his confession, “I gave my parents a really hard time being disobedient and rebelling against them and everyone else in authority. I knew everything and no one could tell me anything, because I was always right.”
The coach, Dan Mims, is a New Orleans-based Coast Guardsman who spends hours each week sweating and giving life lessons to the teens both on and off the court.
Dan and the pastor, Ben Browning, began a weekly youth basketball event on Wednesday’s and Sunday’s to pour a positive influence into the youth of the local community. Their hope was and still is, to impact the kids in ways they don’t always get.
Before the teens came running around the corner to shoot some hoops, Dan and Ben, discussed the influences from their youth who impacted their lives, shaping them into the men they are today. They asked how the kids’ days had been as they continued setting up goals on a makeshift court for a basketball match.
“Investing time into these youth is investing into our future,” said Mims. “These are our future politicians, our bankers, business owners and future leaders of our country. Taking a few hours of my time to positively invest into them is like making a financial investment for retirement.”
Dan said he grew up with parents, grandparents and other adults who invested time into him. He shows his gratitude for their influential investments into him by investing in his community’s youth.
“Not all of these kids have both parents in their lives,” said Mims. “When I think of the overall impact I could possibly have in their lives I find that a few hours of my life each week is a small price to pay in the long run.”
Playing basketball games with the youth is one of the ways he influences them, but Browning says the more impactful influence on their lives is his heart-invested time off the court.
“I remember one time when Dan got so mad at people acting up on the court he took down all the goals and told them to go home,” said Raymond Roy, a former Oak Park Baptist youth. “But then he came back the next week apologized for his anger and said he was wrong for that. I looked up to that because normally I wouldn’t come back and apologize. When I saw him do that it made me do that too.”
When Dan and Ben established the basketball event for the youth, Roy was one of the first in the program. He is now a sophomore at Tulane University and has since then come back, still participating in the basketball games. Roy said Dan has been challenged by him to step up into more of a mentor role.
He said he is working on it but is not completely there and still has a lot to learn.
Dan spends several hours each week away from his wife and two-year-old daughter to mentor. He says the teens have become a major part of his developing character.
Through the past two years of mentoring and volunteering, Dan has learned how to approach each person who comes in his life with new patience, new eyes and new understanding.
“I think the change I’ve seen in Dan over the past two years has impacted them [the youth] because they’ve been able to see him grow,” said Browning. “They’ve had a genuine example of someone who doesn’t have everything together but is getting better. Not only has it impacted them but it’s also impacted me as a youth pastor.”
When people are young, they attempt to figure out who they are or want to be, but that search doesn’t stop at the end of their youth, said Mims.
“Everyone is looking for something in this world to fill them and this has filled a part of my soul I didn’t realize I was missing,” said Dan. “I’m really happy with what I’m doing with these kids and this church. What I do is simply the investment turnaround from the influential adults of my youth.”