Youth sets example

MOUNTAIN HOME AIR FORCE BASE, Idaho -- Volunteering is something the Air Force encourages, but it doesn't always fall high on priority lists. It often ends up in the category of "someday," justifying placement saying, "There will be plenty more opportunities to volunteer."

It seems with each new opportunity to volunteer, there's a new excuse of why it's not going to work out: bad timing, too far away, too late in the evening -- or better yet -- too early on a Saturday morning.

However, Nicholas Parkinson, a 15-year-old Mountain Home High School student, pushed past these common excuses to become the epitome of what it means to be a volunteer. Retired Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Thomas Parkinson said his son, Nicholas, is a straight-A student, member of Honor Society and Student Council and volunteers his time at the high school, junior high and base youth center.

"I really don't know how he does it," Thomas Parkinson said. "Somehow he makes it all look easy."

Despite his busy schedule, Nicholas has been recognized for his outstanding volunteer work and has won many awards including the first and fourth quarter base wing awards for 2014, Youth Volunteer of the Year for 2014 and Military Idaho State Youth of the Year for 2015, the last of which included an $8,000 scholarship.

He's also planning to compete against five other regional military youth award winners in San Diego, where he'll have a chance to win a $40,000 scholarship.

Nicholas said he began volunteering at a young age. When his friends started getting involved in sports, he realized his interests lay in a different place.

"He's been coming to our club since he was 10," said Erin Arel, youth sports and fitness director at the base youth center.

Arel said he started out as somebody that came in and played, then volunteered once in a while and eventually helped plan and volunteer for big events.

Despite the recognition and awards Nicholas has received, he remains humble, explaining he volunteers for the joy and fun he has -- it's not about the recognition.

"I really like to be able to impact others' lives, so just giving and seeing where it goes is always exciting," Nicholas said. "[Volunteering] has taught me that my actions do make a difference, it's nice to see what I'm doing is affecting others."

Arel and Thomas Parkinson both agree that volunteering has helped shape the young man Nicholas is today. They feel volunteering has helped him come out of his shell.

"Volunteering has helped him realize how important it is to be a team player while also letting him experience the different roles as a leader and follower depending on the situation," Thomas Parkinson said.

Nicholas genuinely enjoys giving back. He says it's partially due to his military upbringing, explaining his parents always encouraged him to be a good person and think of others before himself to find success.

"From a very young age we have taught our kids the meaning of humility," Thomas Parkinson said. "Nick has always exercised his humility by selflessly paying it forward to others."

He recalled the role volunteers played in his son's life when he was unable to be there due to his job, claiming they helped Nicholas cope during critical years of his childhood.

"Nick is very self-motivated, has a big heart and truly wants to share his experience with others," he said. "Volunteering is his way to give back."

Nicholas plans to become a high school teacher so he can share everything he's learned through volunteering with the youth he'll be teaching. He hopes that he'll have a good influence on them.

His father believes volunteering is something Nicholas will stick with and carry on as an adult.

"It's just in his character to help people when and where he can," he said. "We have never made him -- or told him -- to do the things he does; this has all been on his own."