Operation Hope - All inclusive playgrounds
Despite having MS, Dana contributes constantly to the community
Dana Nelson goes about his business quietly. He'd rather people not know about the countless things he does in the community of Mechanicsville in Hanover County, Virginia. His faith is obvious by his actions.
Although Dana Nelson has had progressive Multiple Sclerosis since 1997, he works diligently to provide assets to the community. Two years after diagnosis, he began sponsoring the Hanover MS support group and coordinated annual "limo trips" to DC so that a highly regarded MS specialist could see support group members. The doctor sets aside the entire day for the group. Dana coordinates and funds the trip, schedules appointments and arranges for lunch afterward. Spouses are welcome and encouraged to come along. Annually he sponsors "Team Hanover" in the Richmond MS Walk, hosts an annual ice cream social for the MS community, and funds scholarships for students of parents with MS.
Dana enlisted in the Army during his senior year of college and was sent to Vietnam. While playing cards one evening, the men heard gunshots and screaming outside their barracks. They found a fellow soldier having a mental breakdown and wielding a gun. The captain on the scene offered two options - physically subdue him or use deadly force. Dana was on the ground on top of the man before he knew it. The weapon was retrieved before anyone was hurt. This heroic act earned Dana a promotion to sergeant, where he was responsible for a squad of a dozen men assigned to jungle patrol. Dana insisted on "walking point" and he soon earned a reputation as a leader who cared more for his men than himself. During his eight-month tour, Dana turned to the Bible for solace. His squad accomplished their missions without killing any Vietnamese, military or civilian, and without the loss of a single man.
Dana returned to college after Vietnam and met his future wife, Lee. He worked for others for several years before starting his own business in 1982, a specialty distributor of residential roofing and insulation. The three-person operation began "on a shoestring" but he vowed to create a work environment where people felt comfortable, secure and appreciated. Although Dana has now retired, over the course of 30 years, the company doubled in size and became an organization known as much for their commitment to the community as their commitment to their customers.
In Hanover County, Virginia, Dana and Lee joined the Catholic Church of the Redeemer, where Dana has been active, sponsoring refugee families, advising youth programs, giving inspirational speeches, teaching classes, and supporting groups with anonymous donations. Dana became involved in the schools his daughters attended and though the girls are now grown, he continues that involvement.
In 2004, Dana and a college student from his church, Katie Stillwell, started "Operation Hope," an organization committed to building inclusive playgrounds for children with disabilities. Dana feels he was fortunate to be healthy as a child and wants all children to enjoy play without restriction. After much work, two playgrounds are a reality. Dana's goal is to complete the last phase of the playgrounds.