Getting a New Start

Serve your country. Beat the odds.

More than 2 million men and women are active and reserved military personnel in the United States. The choice to serve our country opens doors and can lead our service members down unimagined roads – roads that may veer toward life-changing experiences and, in some cases, challenges and sacrifices.

Joel Peters barely lived through his life-changing experience on May 29, 2009, in East Africa. Peters was on his way to provide first aid to fellow marines. He never got there. A mortar explosion flipped the truck he was riding in and threw him out. He suffered a severe traumatic brain injury, and injured his rotator cuff, ribs, and back. He spent two weeks in a coma, and his family was told to prepare for the worst.

Peters lived. His recovery was slow and painful. The prognosis was not great. Doctors warned that he might never again speak intelligently or be able to drive a car. He beat the odds.

Today, Joel Peters lives the full life of a family man, raising three children with wife, Darcy, and is on the verge of graduating from Colorado State University with a degree in social work. Occasionally, he loses his balance and the room spins briefly when he lies down.

Peters says he never imagined he would be here. He could never have turned his life around without the help of CSU’s New Start program and inspiration from student-veteran coordinator Erica Schelly.

"If she wasn’t there, and the program wasn’t there, I’d be less motivated," Peters said. "Sometimes, I need that extra push."

"Through New Start, you realize that just because you got hurt doesn’t mean you can’t ever do anything again," Peters said. "You got hurt, but that’s irrelevant at this point. At New Start, there’s a genuine desire to help. They are a welcoming place."

The New Start program, based in the Department of Occupational Therapy, supports CSU student-veterans in many ways, including aiding memory, concentration, and/or physical challenges; stress management; academic skills; peer mentoring; and campus/community resources. Cathy Schelly, professor in occupational therapy and director of the Center for Community Partnerships, identified the need after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

CSU alumnus and veteran Dennis Repp gave $1.55 million to create the New Start for Distinguished Veterans fund in 2012. Repp has since supported the program with an additional $1 million to better track the progress of program participants, from college entry to graduation and beyond.

New Start now serves more than 135 student-veterans like Joel Peters and is one of the reasons Colorado State ranks in the top tier as a military-friendly university.

You can support this vital program by making a gift online. For more information, please contact Kim Winger, development director for the College of Health and Human Sciences, at (970) 491-2797 or