What was your experience in the US Navy like?
Understanding the importance of education as an economic ladder, along with the current construct of the New York economy during our last recession, I knew I needed to capitalize on a resource that would give me the ability to grow professionally but also provide opportunities for me to access higher education. The US Navy possessed the professional opportunities I believed to translate best to a civilian career and also provided me access to the Post 9/11 GI Bill, an education benefit for service-members, veterans and their families.
My plan was to get my undergraduate degree while I was serving active duty and then pursue law school when I exited service. What recruiters don’t tell you during the on-boarding process, is that the Navy has their own plan for you. After I completed Expeditionary Combat School in Gulfport, Mississippi, I went on to join my final duty station in Williamsburg, Virginia, where I was informed I would deploy to Afghanistan for an unknown number of months. It was at that point that I knew I wasn’t completing my bachelor’s degree but the experiences and places the Navy brought me went beyond what any coursework could ever teach me.
From Afghanistan to Antarctica, the world became much smaller and the problems those nations were dealing with felt like my own. Anything from spending time in a region where women and children want nothing more than to be able to read or write or hiking a mountain in Antarctica on a US Base called McMurdo Station, that was once covered with ice, now nothing but stone and rock, is a perspective I wish I could give to everyone.
Of all the experiences that have changed my life, meeting the men and women who chose to serve their nation because of the pride they feel for their country, will always be my greatest takeaway. The honor I felt from learning what It means to put on a uniform and leave your home for months at a time is incomparable to any choice any man or woman can make as a member of the United States of America.
Tell us about the veteran experience in the US. What is your personal experience as a veteran and what was it like transitioning into the Executive MPA program at the Marxe School?
Transitioning from servicemember to civilian is a very emotional process. There are tremendous feelings of pride, hope and freedom that give you this level of excitement that’s hard to dial down. The unfortunate reality to this transition is that New York City and the whole nation for that matter, has become more competitive and increasingly more expensive to build a future. You quickly realize that you don’t have the connections or the years of experience employers look for in prospective employees. Most organizations want to hire veterans but if an employer can hire someone who spent the last 4 years directly working in that space with the preexisting relationships needed to succeed, they will. That is why the Executive MPA program was so valuable to my career.
The Executive MPA introduced me to executive level professionals in the public sector who became mentors and connectors to people in fields and organizations I was interested in working within. Their years of experience were invaluable to my professional growth because it made up for the 4 years I dedicated to my country. Unlike my previous experiences as a veteran pursuing higher education, I wasn’t in classes with people significantly younger than me. My classmates were veterans of service in their own way. Whether it was in city government, a nonprofit, or serving as an elected official, they had personal experiences that made us all more aware of the “meat and potatoes” that go beyond what’s covered in any textbook.
Congratulations on your selection by the Baruch College Alumni Association for the 2019 Alumni Leadership in Public Service award. Tell us about that.
It’s an honor to receive the 2019 Alumni Leadership in Public Service award. The best part about receiving any type of recognition for your work is reflecting on how you got there and much like the points I already referenced, I have my fellow colleagues at the NYC Department of Veterans’ Services, my Executive MPA cohort brothers and sisters and the staff at Baruch College to thank. If there is anything that I’ve learned in my short time on this planet, it is the importance of who you surround yourself with. I’ve had the honor to stand next to people who would take a bullet for one another, both literally and metaphorically. Those same people helped me get through uncomfortable times and as hard as they were, I encourage everyone who works in public service to seek uncomfortable opportunities. Comfort is safe but in times like these, we can’t afford to make safe decisions. We must be bold and choose to do things we’ve never done before. We must choose to be uncomfortable because it’s during that phase that we will grow expediently and become versions of ourselves that we never thought could be possible. Just make sure you’re doing it with people that will help you get back up if you fall because falling is to try and public service awards us all an opportunity to try. As long as we try there is hope.
You have a new role in Department of Veteran Services as Associate Director of Special Programs & Initiatives. What projects are you working on at the moment?
I currently serve as the Associate Director of Special Programs for the Public-Private Partnership unit in the NYC Department of Veteran’s Services. I form critical relationships with organizations all around the city to deliver a public good to the veteran community – specifically to address mental health, employment, entrepreneurship, and/or educational advancement. Currently, my primary responsibility is developing the Veteran Success Network (VSN).
The VSN is a three pillar initiative to empower veterans by maximizing accessibility to various resources and stakeholders around NYC. The three pillars of the Veteran Success Network are (1) Veterans on Campus (2) Mentor-A-Vet and (3) the Veteran Career Path. To connect all three of these initiatives, I partnered with the Institute for Career Development (ICD) to launch the “NYC #GIVEME20” campaign to recruit private sector professionals to meet with at least one veteran for a 20-minute informational interview about their organization and industry. The veterans who take advantage of this resource through ICD will learn of how others got into their organization, ways to become more competitive to gain entry into the organization and most importantly, meet someone who is a veteran and/or wants to help veterans in that industry.
Informational interviews are a less commonly used technique to get your foot in the door of an organization but the value received from a face-to-face discussion with someone who cares and wants you to succeed is priceless.
In addition to #GIVEME20, I am building the first ever Coalition of Veteran Owned Businesses (CVOB) in partnership with the Institute of Veteran and Military Families (IVMF) and First-data. The CVOB will provide veteran entrepreneurs access to business development resources in the form of capital, professional networking events and public and private procurement opportunities.
Prior to joining the Public-Private Partnership team, I worked to house homeless veterans in DVS’ Housing & Support Services (HSS) unit. As a Senior Policy Analyst, I built and managed the first successful “HUD VASH Continuum” program in the nation. HUD VASH Continuum is an intergovernmental partnership between the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, the US Department of Veterans’ Affairs, the New York City Housing Authority, and the New York City Department of Veterans’ Service. In addition to those agencies, the program received great support by the New York City Department of Social Services and HELP USA, a local nonprofit. The program extends a subset of Section 8 vouchers and supportive services to veterans who separated from service with anything other than a dishonorable discharge status. To date, the program has helped over 100 formerly homeless veterans secure permanent housing. The partnership’s success broke silos across governments to effectively reach every veteran in need.
Prior to leaving, I started building two other initiatives that are currently underway, both of which leverage federal and private resources to increase the supply of housing available to veterans in NYC. DVS and our city, state and federal partners reduced veteran homelessness by about 90%. I’m proud of the innovative approach we take to helping vets who have the highest need of support. The reason for DVS’ success comes straight from the top. Commissioner Sutton inspires the entire agency to be innovative, effective and most importantly, compassionate.