(SAVANNAH, Ga.) As a teenager, Paris Nelson of Savannah, Ga., never expected to be honored as a “Gold Medalist for Life.” Today, the 27-year old holds an advanced degree, manages a hotel resort, and lives a happy and relatively peaceful life. It could have been the exact opposite of what he is experiencing now if not for Paul Anderson Youth Home (PAYH), a Christian residential program and on-campus school for young men between the ages of 16 and 21 struggling with behavioral problems and issues of discipline, anger and depression.
Paul Anderson, who was declared “the strongest man in the world” after the 1956 Melbourne Olympic games, was a gold medal winner and weightlifting legend. To this day, no one has exceeded or even matched his feat of lifting 6,270 lb. in a back lift. Anderson used his fame to promote youth physical fitness and his devotion to Jesus Christ. While touring the country as a goodwill ambassador, he developed a desire to help young people mired in bad behavior and poor choices which were throwing their lives away. Along with his wife Glenda, who still maintains quite a presence at the Home, the Paul Anderson Youth Home was founded in 1961.
PAYH celebrates its 60th Anniversary this year with a specific goal in mind. The organization will be reaching out across the country to let parents and advocates know there is a place to find an alternative to jail for troubled young men and boys who need a second chance.
Nelson is one of six distinguished alumni recognized by the youth home as true success stories, living productive and positive lives and named “Gold Medalists for Life.”
In tandem with the 60th Anniversary and the award, an awareness campaign encompassing print and digital channels will focus on stories like his, targeting prosecutors, law enforcement, legal aid, social services, parent groups, churches and other organizations who could intervene and keep a troubled boy or young man from prison and put them on track to change their lives.
“I needed hope and they were there to help me,” Nelson said.
Like most who are new to the program, he was resistant at first. If necessary, each young man in PAYH’s care receives counseling, academic assistance to complete their education, job training, and substance abuse therapy. Nelson cites the immediate integration with the other young men as a reason he quickly embraced his opportunity. Hearing the stories of those graduating soon and in his position already, he let go of his anger.
“I wasn’t happy there at first, but at that age in that situation, how could I be? It took a short time to figure out they could help me be the person I needed to be,” Nelson explains.
Upon successfully completing the program and graduating from PAYH, Nelson spent time studying France’s hospitality and tourism industry. The lessons in discipline and constant improvement gave him the drive to study, take on multiple internships, and eventually earn a master’s degree in the field. After more time working abroad, Nelson returned to Ga. to manage a property on Tybee Island.
“Maintaining strong relationships and not hurting people I love and who love me is my greatest achievement. Paul Anderson Youth Home taught me to work every day to be a better person than I was yesterday. That’s their 60-year legacy that I try to live up to,” he said.
The PAYH mission has remained the same, as has the need for alternatives to prison. “Rather than facing a life of crime, jail time, and poor adjustment, young people need continued support and counseling like the kind that our Home has provided for decades, said Glenda Anderson. “Our boys who have completed the program are the living example of how the ministry turns lives around and helps make respectful men who are an asset to their communities.”
“Don’t hesitate to get help. Paul Anderson Youth Home will show you who you are, who you want to be, and they give you the tools to become that person,” he said.
Founded in 1961 by weightlifting world champion and Olympic gold medalist Paul Anderson and his wife, Glenda, the Paul Anderson Youth Home (PAYH) is a Christian residential program and on-campus school for young men between the ages of 16 and 21 struggling with behavioral problems and issues of discipline, anger and depression. PAYH is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities (CARF). In addition to counseling and character development, PAYH offers an accelerated learning program enabling residents to graduate with a high school diploma and technical certifications. To date, over 1,400 young men have attended the program. The Home -is located at 1603 McIntosh St. in Vidalia, Ga. To learn more about PAYH, call (912) 537-7237 or visit www.payh.org.