Feature

At Your Service

Service and sacrifice come in all shapes and sizes. Meet the seven men and women dedicating their lives to helping others.

Mikal Sorel

Mikal Sorel

Service / Country

If you want to know what motivates a young woman to join the Marines and serve her country, just ask Mikal Sorel. The fresh-faced 20-year-old is simply following her grandfather’s Marine Corps footsteps of service.

“I’ve always been interested in what makes my grandfather the way he is and how he can handle whatever is thrown at him. Once I got older, I figured out that the Marines had a lot to do with this. Now that I’ve been enlisted, I hope that I can share similar experiences with him,” Mikal shares.

Preparing for her journey, Mikal has sought counsel from both active and retired Marines, who have imparted invaluable wisdom. Among the pieces of advice, one resonates with her the most: “Don’t quit.” Simplicity in its words, this advice bears profound significance, reminding Mikal to persevere even in the face of seemingly insurmountable challenges during basic training.

As boot camp approaches, Mikal embodies the spirit of an aspiring Marine, ready to take flight—literally and figuratively—as she pursues a long tenured career as an officer and aviator. With her grandfather’s legacy in her heart, she is prepared to embrace challenges, thrive under pressure, and make her mark in the United States Marine Corps.

Second Serving

Favorite movie: Almost Famous

Favorite song: Vienna by Billy Joel

Favorite book: Where the Red Fern Grows

I want to travel to: Jackson Hole

Favorite podcast: Joe Rogan’s podcast—he talks to different people from all different walks of life and gives great insight on everything he talks about.

If I were a ghost: I’d take one shoe and hide it, or unscrew light bulbs just enough to where they turn off.

Chad Burden

Chad Burden

Service / Children

If you want to get into law enforcement and make a difference in kids’ lives, being a School Resource Officer is the best way to do it. Just ask Officer Chad Burden.

Chad has dedicated the last 27 years to serving his local community, handling every call as if it were a family member needing his assistance. So it seems only fitting that this husband and father has spent the last two years serving as an SRO with Winter Garden Police Department.

School Resource Officers are the unsung heroes of the local community, making a difference in kids’ lives every day. Indeed, schools are like little cities in and of themselves—the halls and lots are the streets, the classrooms are homes, and the kids are the citizens. SROs serve as protectors and providers of safety for our kids, teens, and young adults, but perhaps more importantly, as role models for many who sometimes have no other positive influence in their lives.

What do you love most about your police service? The opportunity to meet different people and hopefully leave them with a positive experience.

What do you view as the most important day-to-day responsibilities of the police—and what role in the community do you feel you serve? When an officer meets a person on a call for service, this call is the most important thing or issue in this person’s life at that moment. We can only hope to meet their needs as best as we can. Often we don’t have a solution for the problem, but we can provide compassion, understanding, and empathy during our interactions.

Second Serving

One condiment to eat for the rest of my life: Mayonnaise

First movie in theaters: Raiders of the Lost Ark

Favorite movies: Open Range, The Sons of Katie Elder, and Raiders of the Lost Ark

Favorite song: Led Zeppelin “Immigrant Song” or Black Sabbath “War Pigs”

Favorite podcast: Faith Roots with “Willie George”

If money was no object, I’d buy: 1972 Chevy truck

Tattoo I would choose: The first letters of my children’s names on my left forearm

Dogs or cats? Dogs

Best advice given? Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life

"Often, we don’t have a solution for the problem, but we can provide compassion...”
David Johnson

David Johnson

Service / Community

David Johnson swings open the door at the Heritage Museum with a wide, ebullient smile and booms, “Hello! Welcome to Winter Garden! How are you? Where are you from?”

It’s not just a schtick. He genuinely wants to know where you are from. “It’s amazing how people from all around the world find Winter Garden. On market Saturdays, there are people from England, South America, Puerto Rico, Australia. And they all find their way here, to this great place. There’s no other town like it, I tell you.”

This is from a man who has only lived in Winter Garden since 2021, but he has already embedded himself deeply in the community as a beloved volunteer, friend, neighbor, and the City of Winter Garden’s Official Ambassador. Chances are, even if you’ve lived here your whole life, David knows more people than you do. And that’s a beautiful and wonderful thing.

His heart for people and service was born with him in Binghamton, New York in the 1950s, where he was raised by his grandmother in a multi-cultural community. When she passed away, his unofficial family became “a very large network of connected Italians, if you know what I mean,” he says with a smile. “They cared for me, looked out for me, and opened the door to my amazing life.” That life spanned careers in the Air Force, the U.S. Postal Service, and Vice President of the American Postal Workers Union in Washington, DC. He calls famed singer Vic Fontaine a friend as easily as Cesar Chavez, the non-violent leader and activist behind Farm Workers of America. And there’s the three months he spent in a Nigerian prison, charged with economic sabotage. It wasn’t, but suffice it to say, he’s no longer welcome in Nigeria.

With such a storied life, how could retirement begin to compare? Turns out, even the golden years couldn’t slow his boundless energy and enthusiasm. In fact, the 89-year-old will tell you he’s just hitting his stride.

“This is the very best time in my life! Every day is an opportunity to meet someone new, to volunteer, to help someone in need, to make someone smile.”

And that he does. On any given day, you’ll find David walking and biking the streets of Winter Garden, dishing out hellos and how are yous everywhere he goes. There isn’t a volunteer opportunity he will say no to if it fits into his schedule, whether it’s the Winter Garden Heritage Museum, the Jessie Brock Center, SoBo Art Gallery, donning a Cat In The Hat Costume for community parades, using his birthday party as a fundraiser,or  tirelessly promoting jazz nights at Pilar’s. “It’s like being at Birdland or Blue Note in New York City, I tell you! Thursdays and Sundays, if you haven’t been, you need to come! I meet so many people and get to do so many great things. I’m so blessed, so happy to call Winter Garden home.

Second Serving

If someone wrote a book about me it would be called: Who. True story.

Most outrageous thing I’ve ever done for money: Gone to Nigeria

Cartoon character I would have a crush on: Betty Boop

Favorite thing I own: Jean Mason art piece—brings color to life

First movie in theaters: Abbot and Costello

Made me laugh hardest: Smoking marijuana in military

Person dead or alive I want to meet, and what I would ask them: Jesus Christ—why?

Luckiest thing that’s ever happened to me: Coming to Winter Garden

Lee and Alexis Lovette.jpg

Lee & Alexis Lovette

Service / Community

Happy, healthy, smart, fit, and good looking, it’s hard not to admire Lee and Alexis Lovette. Even more so when you discover their deep-seated heart for service. Lee is a former SWAT officer and Search and Recovery diver, and Alexis is a registered nurse. Together, they own CrossFit Winter Garden. What drives them is a shared passion for helping others. Alexis says, “I have a servant’s heart and to me there is truly no better feeling than knowing you played a role, even if only a small one, in making someone’s life better.” 

Lee echoes that statement. “In my former job, 90% of what we did dealt with the worst part of someone’s day, month, or even life. Now I’m blessed to be the best hour of everyone’s day. Alexis and I have created a community of like-minded individuals that have a common goal of fitness, but it’s so much more than a workout. We’re a family. Nobody gets left behind—that’s the greatest thing about our Wolfpack family.”

Nowhere does this become more clear than the gym’s passion project, Orange County’s first Special Olympics powerlifting team. “We wanted to break down barriers,” Lee shares. “At the gym, we welcome everyone … stars, stripes, and all types, I like to say.  But this program makes it more than a slogan; it’s a way of life for us.”

For differently abled athletes, powerlifting is so much more than a deadlift, squat, or bench press. It is effort, persistence, determination, and attitude. The barbell, despite testing physical strength, also highlights the athlete’s inner desire to improve. Lee says, “The program is based on powerlifting, but it’s honestly more about mental health and happiness. A sense of fulfillment. I have parents and guardians tell me weekly that their son or daughter has been doing things—good things—at home that they’ve never done. Behaviors change for the better and health changes.”

The strength of the pack is the wolf and the strength of the wolf is the pack, indeed.

Second Serving

One food to eat for the rest of my life: Black beans and rice

Cartoon character I would have a crush on: Johnny Bravo

Favorite movie: Beauty and the Beast and the new Haunted Mansion

I want to travel to: Spain

If money were no object: I’d buy trips for all of my family, to make memories.

Do you believe in aliens? Yes

Dream job: The one I have.

Dan McCarthy

Dan McCarthy

Service / Country

At 54 years young, Dan McCarthy has waged his fair share of battles. The Army veteran served four years as an Airborne Infantry Anti-Armor Specialist in the Army’s 82nd Airborne. “I loved that I actually got to do what I trained years for,” Dan says. “The 82nd Airborne carries on the proud tradition of being the first line of defense for the US and her allies. My unit was the spearhead for the Panama invasion helping to remove Noriega from power. Then seven short months later Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait and once again the 82nd Airborne answered the call.”

These days, service for Dan is a little less life and death, but certainly no less stressful. The owner of Village Airport Van operates a 24/7/365 company averaging 225,000 miles a month traversing central Florida’s roads. “We have our share of challenges. I love seeing my team “close ranks” and come together to solve problems, like road closures and flight delays, to help our passengers catch a flight or make it back home safely.”

No matter which uniform Dan wears, service is at the heart of his daily life. “In the Army, service means no one is left behind, and that’s still true today, only I’m serving my customers, my family, my neighbors and friends. On the roads and off.”

Second Serving

First movie in theaters: Star Wars

Favorite movie: Monty Python & The Holy Grail

My one thing only to eat for the rest of my life: Chicken Francaise

Luckiest thing that’s ever happened to me: Finding my beautiful new wife and having a second chance at love. Followed only by losing my camera on a London Underground train and later recovering it.

Dogs or cats: Why choose? Both!

Is a hot dog a sandwich: No

Best advice received: From my father, the Latin motto “De gustibus non est disputandum.” He translated that as “About taste, let us not argue.” I look at it like this; It’s OK that you like the people and things that you like. It’s OK that I like the people and things that I like, and neither of us is wrong. No one should try and force their beliefs on anyone else or belittle anyone for their beliefs.

Favorite quote: “Never argue with a fool.” You will never win the argument and anyone watching will not know who the fool is.

One thing I would save from a fire: Photos

Most adventurous/daring thing I ever did: Quit my job to go into business with my father

Most questionable haircut/fashion moment: For my senior prom, I had my hair spiked with frosted tips and wore a leopard-print spandex tuxedo.

Kerry Marquez

Service / Country

The unsung heroes of “service” aren’t teachers, volunteers, or first responders. Yes, their contributions are valuable, important, and treasured, but there is a group of men and women who fly under the radar, whose daily service and sacrifice goes without notice or commendation. They are military spouses. And unless you are a military spouse yourself or know one personally, it’s unlikely you know truly how much these individuals take on while their spouses are bravely serving our country.

Kerry Marquez knows. The K-12 related service coordinator, educator, and mother has been married to Marine Corps Veteran Brandon Marquez for 12 years, a man whose career took him on four deployments, hundreds of assignments, and countless missions. Hers is a steady, loving, yet reflective voice on service and sacrifice that most of us cannot even fathom.

“The most challenging aspect of being a military spouse is the unknown,” she shares. “Military life can be unstable with a spouse deploying, training, and family moves, but as the spouse, you are the one left to find the stability for your family and put on many hats while your spouse is away, usually without family help.”

Is it rewarding? “Of course! Especially in the ways you find strength and depth in your relationship with your partner while being apart and facing challenges, the understanding you feel for your children and life experience they gain, and the support you receive from other military spouses and families that become family,” Kerry says. “But I do wish more people understood that military families face a lot of transitions and times of adjustment. Social media shows the exciting homecomings with hugs and signs and flags, but it is often a very difficult time for military families after the excitement. You do not go back to the same dynamic as when they left. You have to relearn how to fit your spouse back into the family, what roles you’ve been handling that are typically theirs, and also how to help them decompress. You have to balance integrating them back into the family and also understand that they may not be emotionally prepared to step into the roles they had prior to leaving. 

“The most challenging aspect of being a military spouse is the unknown.”

Deployments change both spouses; you reconnect as different people and spend time relearning who your spouse is, oftentimes just in time for another deployment. It requires a lot of patience, grace, and communication, as well as support even after the deployment.”

Today, Kerry’s husband is retired and home for good. They’re building a life and a business in Winter Garden and enjoying the freedom of that new life together. But she’s earnest and straightforward about her experience, especially to those just starting their military lives. “The best advice I could give is to make sure you have your own story. Find good friends, your own hobbies and passions. It’s easy to get caught up in your spouse’s life and miss out on things you love while supporting them. You will be able to be more emotionally available for your spouse when you are taking the time to care for yourself.”

These days, Kerry is incredibly passionate about veterans getting the care they need and helping loved ones recognize the signs of PTSD and TBI. “I share my experiences with other military spouses to help them know they’re not alone. I’m also proud to continue serving through Southern Cross Service Dogs, a non-profit my husband founded to give service dogs to veterans with disabilities at no cost to them. I am so hopeful that we will not only save those veterans’ lives but also give their spouse their loved one back, kids their parent back, and empower whole families to live a fulfilling life after transitioning from military service.”

Second Serving

Most outrageous thing I’ve done for money: My parents told me I couldn’t work as a young teen because I was a student athlete. I forged their signatures on all of my paperwork so I could begin working at 15!

I’d wait in a looong line to do, see, or get: Gideon’s cookies!

Favorite thing I own: Saved cards from loved ones. I love being able to reread them and see the time they took to think of me and write heartfelt messages.

Favorite movie: Man on Fire

Favorite song: Flowers in Your Hair by the
Lumineers

Favorite podcast: Girls Gotta Eat

One thing only to eat for the rest of my life: Chicken tenders

Dogs or cats? Dogs, lots of them!

Believe in aliens: Absolutely!

Is a hot dog a sandwich: For sure

If I could time travel, I’d visit: 1920s. I love a party!

Best advice given: Be your own advocate. No one cares more about you than you!

Best advice received: Be patient with your kids. We have gone through life as adults and still don’t understand our feelings many times. How can we expect kids that are feeling something for the first time or don’t know the word to describe their feelings to know how to manage themselves?

My choice of superpower: Super speed. I would use it to speed through the chores of life so I can be more available for enjoying life!

Question I’d ask my future self: “Did you spend enough time doing what you love?”

Biggest thing I’ve changed my mind on: Parenting. I have learned through years of parenting that you are a different parent to each kid and at each phase of life, and your kids change, too. It’s important to keep growing and changing parenting styles as best fits your family

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