I was born the 5th of 7 children in Warren, Ohio in August 1980. My father was a UAW autoworker, my mother was a secretary for the local church. Visits to her office were frequent, mass was required, and volunteering was a given. Surrounded by progressive priests who always encouraged my need to understand and serve, it’s no wonder I was one of the first female altar servers in my diocese.
While my parents worked to instill my values, my brothers helped instill my work ethic and drive. I spent my early days in the woods, getting dirty and trying to convince my older siblings that I could keep up. My older brother and I shared the “middle step” in our big family and helped each other to become better by constantly pushing each other in school and sports.
My first foray into the world of politics was helping my uncle get elected as president of the local. I learned politics in a swing county, in a swing state, surrounded by union workers and voters. My upbringing sits with me in every value I champion, but also in my love of the outdoors, my firm support of labor, and my belief that it is in serving others that we best serve our faith.
I needed a way to support my daughter, and the military called to me. I joined the United States Air Force in May of 2001 as a weapons loader for F-16 and A-10 aircraft. Four months later, the country was at war and I was shipping off to Germany to be a part of the gun shop.
I left active duty after 6 years and returned to my hometown to get my education and enlist in the reserves. Youngstown Air Reserve Station gave me the opportunity to learn a host of new skills as a cook, a lodging manager, a training and deployment manager — even a search and recovery specialist for mortuary affairs. And it got me back overseas when I deployed to Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan as the Noncommissioned Officer in Charge (NCOIC) of fitness and recreation.
The Air Force provided the best and worst experiences of my life. I learned to work with a diverse group of folks under extreme conditions, how to handle being the only woman in a room full of men, and how to work as a team. It deepend the values of my youth: service, excellence, and integrity, and taught me resilience, adaptability, and the value of teamwork.
Back in Youngstown, I enrolled in Youngstown State University with one goal in mind: become a Park Ranger for the National Park Service (NPS). I wanted to protect our natural resources through education and community involvement.
It was the NPS that brought me to Virginia in 2011. As a Park Ranger at Petersburg National Battlefield, I worked with the mental health community to address addiction and mental illness interactions with the law enforcement communities and created an initiative to bring local kids into the park through “Saturdays with a Ranger.” I even got to fight some fires and was certified as an EMT.
After 4 years with the NPS, I went to the Federal Law Enforcement Training Academy in Glynco, Georgia. It was there I discovered that even when an agency allows you the latitude to create justice in the manner you believe is best, the system overall remains broken. So I resigned from the job I loved to advocate for systemic reform.
I believe in equitable law, justice, and environmental protection. The Park Service taught me that some fights are worth sacrifice and require you to keep fighting even when you are outgunned and outmanned.
I became a mom at 18. After my divorce, I raised my daughter until meeting my partner in life and best friend, Anthe. He and I were lucky to add a son to our crew in 2015.
Demetria and Lars are the center of everything I do and have done. They’ve shaped my life and my politics. They are both on the Autism Spectrum and gifted. The challenges we face on a regular basis to make sure they get to use those gifts have turned me into an education advocate. Knowing that people on the spectrum and with mental illness are more likely to be killed and arrested by law enforcement has increased my devotion to police reform. Constantly fighting for healthcare for the services they need to be the amazing human beings they are has made me a healthcare devotee.
And knowing that the lymphoma that may shorten my time with them is due to workplace exposure while serving in the military has made me more protective than ever of workplace rights.
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I ran for office in 2017, but issues and needs don’t stop after one election. I’ve been working with advocacy groups and candidates to ensure that the message and the work continues. I’ve lent my story to advocates and electeds all over the Commonwealth, hoping to create and build change.
My values remain. My fight for veterans’ healthcare and services, racial justice, gun violence prevention, education, labor, and the environment is just beginning. And I’m ready to lead.
The images of boots you see all over my website are illustrations of my actual Air Force boots. The blue you see is the same color as the blue in the American flag I proudly wore when serving my country. The green is for lymphoma awareness, a cause very personal to my story. My experience with cancer and my time in the Air Force are central to who I am as a person, a mom, a candidate, and an American.