Skip to content


Volunteer Team Members

Photo of Alicia Ambrose

Alicia Ambrose

Alicia manages public relations for OVS.

Alicia Ambrose was born into a military family during one of the nine State to State military assignment-driven relocations her family
would encounter prior to her fourteenth birthday. As a result, she developed an outgoing and adaptable personality that served her well as she excelled in a broad spectrum of professions, ranging from retail to freight dispatch to consulting for a Defense contractor.

As a result of the early turmoil, she evolved a caring and empathetic perspective toward people in need, especially the military
servicemembers around whom she had grown up. This perspective drove an interest in mental health advocacy and sparked her involvement In the National Alliance on Mental Illness’ Northern
Virginia chapter where she served as a Resource Advisor and an Instructor the Family To Family course. She also regularly volunteered
to support the Special Olympics, and joined IBM, several local professional sports teams, and the Department of Defense in a series of events geared toward helping wounded warriors to cope with their injuries.

Alicia’s life experience, empathetic attitude, and boundless energy make her a perfect fit to support Operation Veteran Success.

Valerie Bock

Val is webmistress for OVS

She has worked as an IT consultant in the corporate, education, and not-for-profit arenas, and considers herself “mostly retired” these days, but does a little bit of web site design on the side.

Val teaches USA Shuto-kan Karate and mat Pilates, and volunteers for a number of online organizations.

Photo of Jim Cook

Jim Cook

A soon-to-be retired Army command Sergeant Major who currently works with veterans in the Vet Corps Program-Washington State Department of Veterans Affairs. Jim works to expand veterans’ knowledge of resources and access to referral based therapy programs.

Natalie Garcia

Natalie will be helping OVS with social media and events. She is a Safety Standards and Training Manager with over fifteen years of
management and manufacturing experience. Natalie has worked directly with and for
leadership teams throughout her career, from front-line supervisors to directors. She
graduated from Indiana University, earning her Bachelors in English and MBA. She
graduated from Purdue University with her second Master’s degree in Education with a
focus in Instructional Design. Natalie specializes in training and development and has
been responsible for designing and developing training programs from inception to
implementation. Natalie is creative, knowledgeable, and passionate about helping
others learn. She is a powerful force on any team and strives for excellence with any
task. In her free time, Natalie loves to be around her family. She loves to crochet, read,
and watch documentaries. Last, Natalie loves the Wizard of Oz.

Photo of Callista Gerak

Callista Gerak

Callista serves as corresponding secretary for OVS.

She is a Loyola University Chicago graduate currently working toward a healthcare career. She has completed a Certified Nursing Assistant program and will begin an RN program in the fall. She
previously volunteered at the Neurobalance Center in Barrington, IL, a facility that treats people with neurodegenerative diseases, and
worked her way up to become the Director of Operations. Callista has helped out in other veteran charities, including singing the National Anthem for charity runs. She also has a small side business of walking
dogs called Callista’s Canine Care.

Photo of Joe Gerak

Joe Gerak

Joe is the person who first identified the mission for OVS. He brought OVS it’s first opportunity to assist, and continues to provide insight into the most effective ways to be of aid to  America’ s military veterans 

This former Marine Sergeant now serves after 4 years as a veteran as a VSO in the state of Washington.

After serving in Intel and Combat Engineering and as an Instructor at Marsoc in North Carolina, Joe migrated to Wenatchee, Washington. He became aware of many others in active duty and as a veteran who experienced the need for gap funding.

Kevin Gilbert

Kevin Gilbert helps OVS with legal matters. He has served as Executive Vice President of Corporate Development at Veru since May 2018. Earlier in his career at Veru, Mr. Gilbert held roles as Senior Vice President of Corporate Development and Legal and as a consultant, where he focused on Veru’s diversification strategy. From 2012 to 2015, Mr. Gilbert was Vice President Corporate Development and General Counsel at Third Stream Bioscience Inc., a developer of a novel, topical antimicrobial technology. Prior to Third Stream Bioscience, Mr. Gilbert was Executive Vice President of Development and General Counsel at NanoCarbons LLC, a developer of nanomaterials for the energy storage industry. Over the course of his career, Mr. Gilbert worked nearly 20 years in a variety of officer roles in development and legal at Motorola Inc. and as a transactional and securities attorney at the multinational law firm, McDermott, Will & Emery. Mr. Gilbert has successfully completed more than 100 different transactions in more than 25 different countries around the world, including a number of complex cross-border transactions.

Mr. Gilbert holds a Bachelor of Science in Accountancy from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a Juris Doctor from the University of California at Berkeley. Additionally, Mr. Gilbert has been a Guest Lecturer on Mergers & Acquisitions at the UCLA Anderson Graduate Business School as well as the Purdue University Krannert Graduate Business School.

Leslye Jones-Beatty

Leslye is helping OVS with grant writing and events. She was born in Indianapolis, Indiana. She graduated from DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana with a B.A. in Political Science. Three years later, she graduated from the University of Cincinnati College of Law with a J.D.

Leslye has been married to Brian Beatty for 22 years. Brian retired from the Army in 2012 with the rank of CW2 (Chief Warrant Officer). Leslye practiced law for many years and in 2013, she left her legal practice to work exclusively in the fitness and wellness industry. Leslye successfully earned a certificate for completing the DogTag program for family members of military.

Fr. Chris Kerkeres,
Viki Kerkeres and
Téo Kerkeres

The Kerkeres Family is hosting the OVS Fundraiser at their church, Saint George Greek Orthodox Church. on October 19, 2024

Photo of Eleanor Sweet McDonnell

Eleanor Sweet McDonnell

Eleanor is an executive coach willing to help our veterans get ready for job interviews and career transitions. She is offering her job search books and training expertise to OVS.

Eleanor is the Village President of North Barrington, and CEO of the Remington Group. A graduate of Boston College, Eleanor is a mother of 2 children, and author of 5 books, She credits her interest in helping veterans to the influence of her father, who was Navy ROTC.

Connie McElfresh

Connie McElfresh is a senior Hr executive with broad talent base and skill set in the C suite space.  Wife to an Air Force veteran, she has  been a Blue Star mom simultaneously with a son in the army and daughter in the Navy, managing their deployments and assisting  others serving alongside her family. Connie knows the  need for support and assistance for active duty military, but also  for the vets. Her strong sense of  support carries into her  role as a volunteer Team member for OVS.  OVS hopes she can recruit her veterans to join us.

Anna Puleo McGowan

Anna joins the OVS team to assist in writing grants. She is a middle school science teacher and tutor for the Chicago Public Schools. Anna received a Masters in Health Administration degree from the University of Michigan, and received her undergraduate degree from Harvard University. . She is a mom of 3 and married to John McGowan, the OVS treasurer. Her father and grandfathers served in the military. 

Annette Nikolich

Annette is a partner at Setter Holdings LLC. She serves as Board President of the The DEMAR Foundation, and is a 30+ year volunteer in the Barrington community. A graduate of Northwestern University, Annette is excited to work with Operation Veteran Success in serving veterans and veteran families that have given so much in service to our country. Annette will be assisting OVS with fund raising and events.

Not For Profit

Not for Profit is a 13 piece 70s and 80s band known in Chicagoland for playing to assist  others in raising charity dollars. They graciously agreed to play at the OVS FALL fundraiser to assist raising vet dollars.

Matthew Reed

Matt will be helping OVS with special events. He is an attorney and HR Consultant Trainer at Seyfarth Shaw @ Work, and also a Senior Consultant in employee relations at Chessboard Consulting, A graduate of Loyola law School and Northwestern University, Matt is a musician and serves as Master of Ceremonies at various events. Matt is a father of two and resides in the Chicago Area.

Photo of Anthony Sandoval

Anthony Sandoval

Tony spent his time in the Army operating tanks. Following his service, Tony has identified numerous gaps in veteran assistance and has worked continuously to connect veterans with their entitled benefits. With a history working in WA State veteran programs, as a county Veteran Service Officer, and currently as a Program Specialist in the WDVA, Tony brings a huge amount of experience to the OVS team.

Maura Sujdak-Fitch

Maura will be helping to organize OVS events. She has 30 years of professional experience working in the health and beauty industry as an esthetician and body worker. A volunteer at the elementary, middle and high schools levels supporting the performing arts, and Booster president, Maura’s diverse background in the health and beauty industry, along with her community involvement, make her an asset to the OVS team. Her experience has equipped her with empathy, compassion, and leadership skills essential for supporting and advocating for veterans in need.

Carolyn Van Driesen and Kevin James

Pictured here with friend of 44 years, OVS President Jay Gerak, Carolyn and Kevin co-own Department of Production, where they produce professional videography. They donated their time and talent to make OVS’ first public service announcement to seek additional sources of funding and donations.

Andrea Wells

Andie was active duty Navy 2010-2014 as an aviation electrician attached to VAQ-133 out of Whidbey Island, Washington. She deployed twice onboard the USS John C. Stennis CVN 74 to the Persian Gulf and Northern Arabian Sea in support of Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom. After service, Andie attended DePaul where she earned a BS in Business Management with emphasis in Human Relations management. She has since worked in HR with a federal contractor in Arizona, dipped her toes in the cannabis industry after learning how much it benefits Veterans with PTSD, and performed operations support with a manufacturing company in Crystal Lake. Andie spends her free time in the woods with her dog, Grace, hanging with her family, cooking and baking, or planning her next road trip! She will be helping OVS with events.