Darlene Nelson has worked for the county for 24 years. (Photo courtesy of the Hillsborough County Parks & Recreation Department.)

Mahatma Gandhi once said that the best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others. Hillsborough County Parks & Recreation Department Supervisor Darlene Nelson is a perfect embodiment of service to the community. 

Nelson, who has worked for the county for 24 years out of the Apollo Beach Park & Recreation Center, received an award from the Positive Coaching Alliance (PCA) for her work making a difference in the lives of kids in Hillsborough County. She said that, without a doubt, the most rewarding aspect of her job is providing a service.

“I don’t care what it is, if I’m able to help someone out by providing a service, that is my goal,” said Nelson. “I don’t care if it’s at the park, if it’s at another facility, another center, that is the most rewarding part of my job.”

Her supervisors said that they nominated Nelson for the award because of her ability to work with all ages and ability levels, her positivity and her encouragement of children to give their best effort, learn from mistakes and respect teammates.

The PCA award winner primarily works with children ages 5-12 and teaches several sports, including but not limited to basketball, hockey, soccer and football, along with athletic building skill sets such as jumping rope, running and completing obstacle courses. She also teaches several senior programs for ages 55 and up. She works with approximately 50 student per day.

“We have a character-building program,” said Nelson. “I think that the children these days need that. This program teaches them how to cope with different things that they may not have the opportunity to learn. It helps them in school, in their community and with life skills. For me to win this, I was so appreciative because that means that I’m doing my job and it’s getting across to my students, and if they’re understanding it, then they’ll be better people. It’s just awesome to me.”

Nelson was one of 100 people across the country named a winner of Positive Coaching Alliance’s Regional Double-Goal Coach Award. The award is given to youth and high school sports coaches who embody the ideals of a Double-Goal Coach: striving to win while also pursuing the important goal of teaching life lessons through sports.

Nelson and some of her colleagues also work every Friday for an hour with 20-30 teenagers at the Department of Juvenile Justice, where they teach positive character through sports. Nelson said that the program, which is dear to her heart, generally improves the children’s behavior and teaches them how to communicate better.

According to its website, the Positive Coaching Alliance is a national organization that promotes a positive youth sports culture by providing training and resources for coaches, parents and athletes. Nelson will receive $500 for the honor, and she will be eligible to be selected as one of 25 national Positive Coaching Alliance Coach of the Year winners. Her goal is to create an after-school program at her center. She was also recently promoted to regional supervisor.

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Nick Nahas has written for the Osprey Observer since 2016. He has lived in the Valrico area since 2002 and has his bachelor’s degree in mass communications from the University of South Florida. He is dedicated to covering sports in Hillsborough County at every level.