I am often asked why do we need a “Veterans” Chamber of Commerce, and why am I the founder? My answer is as veterans we have the resources that others do not have access to. When the variety of great organizations we have, like the Small Business Development Centers, Business Outreach Centers, Chamber of Commerce, Small Business Development Center, all are great at helping businesses, they generally do not look for “veteran” or “military” specific resources. That is what we do.

We are not reinventing the wheel, we encourage veteran and military entrepreneurs to use the resources, however, we also provide other resources, that are specific to those who are military-connected.

Despite the fact that I am probably the least likely person anyone would think of to run the New England Veterans Chamber of Commerce (NEVCC), partially because I am an introvert, and often struggle when I am in a room filled with people. However, most people don’t see the struggle, what they see is someone who is confident, and willing to do what it takes to make the NEVCC successful and help our businesses.

My career path started before I joined the Air Force, I am the daughter of an Air Force retired Vietnam veteran, and that’s where my career path began. When I joined, my first assignment was in the Philippines and I was almost kicked out because my reading comprehension test had been forwarded to my first unit since it was below 3rd grade reading level, it was considered too low. However, my commander decided not to take action.

Each military assignment provided many opportunities for growth, leadership and management. 9/11/2001 changed the way our military and veterans were looked at, as I was leaving the Pentagon on 9/12/2001, I watched as people talked to each other, and how everyone was there for others. As the years continued, additional benefits were being given to our veteran and military, and that change, set me on this trajectory.

In May 2006, I finally earned my Associates Degree in Human Resources, and in December 2006 I retired from the Air Force, and I made every mistake a transitioning veteran can make. I was an expert in Human Resources, and couldn’t find an HR job, my first job out of the military was through a temp agency, and then in 2007, I was hired at Cooley Dickinson Hospital by Diane Dukette, then Vice President of Development. I didn’t understand why people donated money to hospitals, so I began researching why donors had given through the history of the hospital. Diane from the day she interviewed me, until the day I was laid office, she guided me and provided information about donors, and cultivation this training was priceless, and set me up for this position.

In 2007, the Post 9/11 GI Bill was approved, and I began using it in 2009, once again, I made every mistake a veteran can make using the Post 9/11 GI Bill. In 2012, I graduated from the Isenberg School of Management at UMass-Amherst, and in July 2012, I was laid off from Cooley Dickinson. That was the biggest turning point in my life, I had a unique opportunity, I still had some time left with my Post 9/11 GI Bill, and I went back to school to get my certification in 3D Animation and Interactive Media. My employment counselor (every unemployed veteran in MA, has a veteran counselor), helped guide me, and when I showed him the military family tree that I had created, he was so impressed and said “You should start your own business”. I laughed, but I started to think, with my service-connected disability, if I could own my own business and be successful, I could shut down when I needed to. So, I started my own business, once again, making every mistake you can make. I did not ask the right questions, I did not do the right things, and I never searched for assistance for veterans. In 2013 I stumbled across the Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities (EBV) and I applied, and was accepted into the 2014 class. I learned so much in that class and through the program, that I have been able to go back every year and help with administrative and work with Veteran Entrepreneurs in the program.

In 2013, I was in a Mission Continues Fellowship with the American Red Cross, Gary Howe suggested I join the Veterans Outreach Into Community Engagement (VOICE), and with this partnership I was able to help other veterans, but just as important, during outreach events I was able to hear our experts, such as Veteran Service Officers work with veterans and I learned so many things about resources throughout MA.

In 2014 I was hired at Westfield State University, where I am the Veteran & Military Services Coordinator and designed and set-up the Military Community Excellence Center. I ensure students do not make the same mistakes I did, unless they choose to.

In 2016, I was asked by Michael Zacchea, Executive Director, United States Veterans Chamber of Commerce and Director, UConn Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities (EBV), if I would be interested in starting an MA Veterans Chamber of Commerce and I said of course I would. I know all about MA, our resources, I have been doing outreach to veterans since 2013, and working with veteran owned businesses since 2015. Then in 2017, I was asked to establish a Regional Chamber first, as research has shown it would be the best action. I said yes, and founded the New England Veterans Chamber of Commerce.

The NEVCC was started in 2018 and we had our official launch on 11/11/2018 at 11:01 a.m., following the 100th Anniversary of the end of World War I. One of the challenges is not all veterans identify as veteran-owned businesses, so locating veteran-owned businesses is an ongoing challenge.