White House guests at the State of the Union tonight include a pizza parlor owner who boosted his employees' minimum wage and a veteran who has met President Obama on three occasions – once overseas and twice since a roadside bomb in Afghanistan on his 10th deployment left him in a coma for three months, partially paralyzed and brain-damaged.
The guests who will be seated in the box with First Lady Michelle Obama, Jill Biden and Valerie Jarrett, senior advisor to the president, also include an Illinois woman who wrote to Obama, worried about the loss of unemployment insurance -- which Obama is expected to raise in his address.
The newest additions and their White House supplied biographies are: Misty DeMars (Oak Park, IL) who lives in Oak Park, Illinois with her husband and two young sons. At the end of May, 2013 – just a week after purchasing the home they intended to raise their family in – Misty lost her job of eight years due to budget cuts. Misty, who had been steadily employed since high school and who put herself through college, wrote to the President upon the expiration of her emergency unemployment insurance, explaining: “We stand to lose everything we’ve worked for years to build in the matter of months.” Misty is one of millions who is left with limited resources, difficult decisions and an uncertain future as she looks for work without the crucial economic lifeline of emergency unemployment insurance.
Peter Mouskondis, (Salt Lake City, UT). the CEO and President of Nicholas & Company, Inc., a third generation family-owned and operated broadline foodservice distribution company, employing roughly 500 people. Nicholas & Company is known for its culture of mutual respect and care among and for its employees, emphasizing work-life balance and benefits, including maternity, paternity, and bereavement leave, among others. The atmosphere that Peter and the leaders at Nicholas & Company have developed is paying off – the workforce is more productive and the company is expanding. Peter says “Our success at Nicholas & Company is directly related to our family-friendly approach and the work of my grandmother, mother, and wife in making work-life balance an essential part of our culture.” Nicholas & Company has been honored with many awards under Peter’s leadership including: the Sloan Award for Excellence in Workplace Effectiveness and Flexibility, 2013; the Utah Department of Work Force Services Work/Life Award Legacy, 2001-2012; and the Utah Business Magazine, Best Companies to Work For, 2005, 2011, 2013.
Cory Remsburg and Craig Remsburg (Phoenix, AZ) US Army Ranger Sergeant First Class Cory Remsburg has met President Obama on three separate occasions – once overseas and twice since a roadside bomb in Kandahar, Afghanistan on his 10th deployment left him in a coma for three months, partially paralyzed and brain-damaged. He currently endures six hours of occupational, physical and speech therapy per day, and his father, Craig, along with Cory’s step-mom Annie, is the caretaker by Cory’s side as he continues his recovery. Craig is the Vice President of Human Resources for Telgian Corporation and a retired US Air Force Reserve firefighter. A native of Arizona, Sergeant First Class Remsburg joined the Army on his 18th birthday after Craig refused to sign the papers for the 17-year-old Cory to join on his own. Sergeant First Class Remsburg says “I won’t give up.” Sergeant First Class Remsburg has been awarded the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart.
Estiven Rodriguez (New York, NY) Student, Washington Heights Expeditionary Learning School. The son of a Dominican immigrant, he arrived in the United States when he was nine years old and didn’t speak any English. When he entered Washington Heights Expeditionary Learning School (WHEELS) in the sixth grade, he still spoke and understood very limited English. Now a high school senior, Estiven is one of the top students in his class and will attend Dickinson College in the fall on a Posse Foundation Scholarship, making him a first-generation college student. “At only 16, 17 years old, he, in many ways, embodies the spirit of a life-long learner. He is a model student,” said Erick Espin, Estiven’s 11th grade United States history teacher. Outside of his academic studies, Estiven is also a member of the school’s math club, and soccer and track teams. Earlier this month, Estiven attended an event at the White House on expanding college opportunity. His story underscores the importance of the President’s goal to give all kids a chance to get ahead, regardless of the circumstances of their birth.
John Soranno (St. Paul, MN) CEO, Punch Pizza. As a child growing up in Milan, Italy, John Soranno fell in love with pizza. He hung out at a local pizzeria and dreamed of one day opening his own. After moving to the United States to finish his schooling, John founded Punch Pizza in Minnesota in 1996 and is currently co-owner with John Puckett, with whom he partnered in 2001. The company has expanded to eight locations in Minnesota. John and John are determined to grow a strong company built to last over the long term. To do so, they’re focused not only on how they treat their customers, but also on how they treat their employees. So last year, John and John raised the company-wide minimum wage to $10 to demonstrate how much they value their workers, and it’s been a good business move, too – the company is set to open a ninth store this summer.
Nick Chute (Minneapolis, MN) Kitchen Worker, Punch Pizza. A year and a half ago, Nick Chute started working at Punch Pizza as a cashier to help pay for school and rent. In December, Nick graduated from the University of Minnesota with a degree in philosophy. He is still with Punch Pizza, currently working as a “pizzaioli in training,” learning to cook pizzas in the traditional Neapolitan style -- in an 800 degree wood-fired oven in under 90 seconds. Punch Pizza’s decision to raise their company-wide minimum wage benefitted Nick, who said “I appreciate it, and it makes me feel like a bigger part of the company.” After becoming a certified pizzaioli, Nick hopes to move into a management position at Punch Pizza.