March 2016 - Meet Our Cohort
When we served in the military, we relied on our ability to work with others to accomplish the mission. It didn't matter what anyone's politics, religion, background, or other personal attributes were--we were all in it together to serve our country and represent America's best values and leadership in the world. Now that we're home, we're still ready to serve. And as veterans, we're perfectly prepared to work with people who may be very different from us to do the very best we can for our community, our city, and our country. We're not afraid of a challenge, and we're ready and willing to lead.
Meet our March 2016 Get Ready to Run Cohort:
Elana Duffy, Sergeant First Class (Ret.), US Army, left the military in 2012 with a Purple Heart taking the top position among her awards after nearly a decade of service. With a Masters of Engineering from Cornell University and additional studies in psychology, she made it her mission to examine policies and community change from the ground level. Focusing on policy development with Veterans and women, particularly in technology and education, she continued her service through co-founding a charity and two businesses. This includes tech start-up www.pathfinder.vet, connecting Veterans and families to the local resources with the best services as rated by their peers. She lives in Manhattan with her two cats and a Marine Veteran, and spends any non-code writing time taking Veterans and friends rock climbing and hiking.
Why Elana wants to run for office:
Running for office in the next five years is important to me, not just to get younger, female, and Veteran faces and voices on Capitol Hill but because I've seen what service can do for everyone regardless of age or gender. Service does not have to be military or politics, it just has to be leaving your comfort zone, expanding your boundaries, and helping another. We lose sight of this as our political environment grows ever more self-segregated and polarized, and I want to bring this feeling of brother (and sister)hood back through turning my experience in a multitude of different services into policies to help regain our communities.
LaTasha Peeler is the daughter of two U.S. Navy veterans, and decided to join the Army in 1999. She served at Camp Red Cloud, South Korea, and Ft. Bragg, North Carolina, for four years in telecommunications and as an administrative assistant. After leaving the Army, she spent several years searching for direction and purpose. She moved to New York City in 2006 looking for greater opportunities, but became homeless on the streets and in shelters. She struggled in a system that was under-resourced for women veterans, but worked hard to get back on her feet and earned a B.S. in Human Services from Metropolitan College of New York in 2013. She has been an active advocate with veteran organizations in NYC, served on the board of Vets4Vets NYC, LLC, and is an active member and advocate with the NYC Veterans Alliance.
Why LaTasha wants to run for office:
I believe that my experiences as a female veteran would be beneficial in the public sector by providing a voice for my fellow veterans who are afraid or unable to speak up and seek assistance for their personal, social, and medical needs. Because of my personal experience with homelessness, I am passionate about speaking up for my brothers and sisters who don’t currently have a voice. I truly believe in the military’s motto, “leave no one behind”—no matter their situation or needs. If I fail to help others, then I am failing all those who served before me, and who paved the way for me to serve and succeed.
Samuel Innocent is a native of Brooklyn, New York. He served in the United States Army as a Combat Medic. While deployed in Afghanistan, he witnessed both the need for cutting-edge medical care in combat theater and the full lack of healthcare in the developing world, and he discovered a deep desire to serve in the medical field and care for others. It was this love for medicine that pushed him to re-enlist twice and serve seven years in the U.S. Army as a medic. During his Army service, Innocent obtained his associate degree in science from Jefferson Community College and following his honorable discharge from the Army, was admitted to the City College of New York (CCNY), where he earned his bachelor's degree in Political Science as a Tillman Military Scholar, a Colin Powell Fellow, and a Mercer Scholar. Centered in the community, he served as a mentor in the In Arms Reach program for underprivileged urban youth, he was also an assistant coach to the A.P. Randolph High School boys’ lacrosse team and later served as their head coach. While working for the City University of New York he pioneered many initiatives for veterans of CUNY colleges. Intent on next pursuing his Master’s degree, he plans to become an advocate for better transition services for veterans, quality education and affordable healthcare in low-income neighborhoods like his own in Brooklyn. He credits the knowledge and training that he received while in the military with helping him to better understand systems of leadership and how they can produce positive results in the areas which they serve. Through his government studies and advocacy work, Innocent wants to ensure that local and federal policies are put in place so healthcare remains affordable, quality education is a right and local communities have a say in how the system is managed. With proper representation, he wants Americans throughout low-income communities like his own to realize that real change is possible and that they are not stuck with the status quo, especially when the wellbeing and livelihood of the next generation is at stake. In early 2015, Innocent was appointed to the Veterans Advisory Board for the City of New York by Mayor Bill de Blasio and sits as the Vice-Chair for the Veterans Advisory Board. He also develops policy initiatives for the NYC Veterans Alliance as its Vice President for Policy.
Why Samuel wants to run for office:
The most important aspect of running for office within the next 5 years is my sense of obligation to continue serving. The days of referring to elected officials as public servants are waning and I want to bring that back—all the while re-instilling faith in a system that was meant to serve everyone equally. Before I served in the military, running for elected office seemed out of reach; afterward, I knew it was an obligation. Through strong, decisive leadership I will be able to work with officials and agencies to close gaps in service for those who entrusted us with their votes. I sincerely believe that soldiers-turned-civil-servants for the communities we call home is a recipe for a stronger nation.
Elma Sanchez is originally from Talparo, a small village in Trinidad, and came to Brooklyn as a young woman hoping to attend college and become a U.S. citizen. Her aspirations guided her through many years of working in childcare, where she gained a reputation as a trusted, knowledgeable, and savvy professional. She enlisted in the Army National Guard in 2007 as an administrative specialist, and deployed to northern Afghanistan in 2012 as part of a logistics task force. She gained U.S. citizenship during the course of her military service, and continues to serve in the New York Army National Guard. She holds a certificate in baking and pastry from the Culinary Academy of Long Island and is currently working on a degree in criminal justice at Berkeley College. She lives in Far Rockaway, Queens.
Why Elma wants to run for office:
As a female veteran, I believe that our service is often overlooked, and that we are expected to return home to our everyday lives in roles as mother or caretaker, and with our needs too often going unnoticed or underrepresented. It is important to look at veteran reintegration, PTSD, and mental health as family issues rather than individual issues. We must do better in educating the public about the many obstacles veterans face in a post deployment transition, like how to notice signs of PTSD and drug use in veterans to help them seek help early—this can save families, reduce homelessness, and decrease risk for veteran suicide.
As an immigrant who spent time undocumented, I know what it means to work hard and find ways to contribute as a taxpayer, and eventually become a resident and now proud citizen of this country. I never relied on government assistance as an immigrant and earned my citizenship through military service. I strongly believe that as a country we must do a better job of recognizing hardworking immigrants as an important part of our society, and provide pathways for citizenship.
As a student veteran and military reservist who had to take out loans to complete my college degree, I understand the burden of debt that so many students carry into their early careers, and possibly the rest of their lives. College must be more affordable to both veterans and everyday Americans.
Through my coursework and internships in criminal justice, I’ve seen firsthand the devastating effects of the juvenile justice system and the criminal justice system here in NYC. I believe passionately that we must do more to ensure that incarcerated individuals are properly rehabilitated, educated, or learn a trade so they become productive members of society after reintegration.