How high is up?

Ask Danielle Skranak. The reigning Miss Gilbert, Arizona 2020 has been to a mountaintop – literally. The mountain she scaled is named South Sister, a 10,363-foot hike in Bend, Oregon. Also known as Charity, South Sister is the third highest mountain peak in Oregon.

And Danielle is still climbing, still waiting for the “high point” to happen in a life already brimming with individual achievements despite the odds against her. “Many of the things I have accomplished in life are not the cherry on top of my life,” she says. “These are all building blocks to something greater.”

And that something greater?

If Danielle has it her way, it would be eventually taking up residence at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. “I’d love to be President of the United States,” says the Gilbert-raised activist. “That is my ultimate goal. It has always been that calling, that guiding light because I have been through a lot. I have been through the wringer, and I want to translate what I’ve been through into something where I can help change the world.”

The wringer for Danielle began when she was living in Glendale with biological parents who suffered from alcoholism and bipolar disorder. She was bullied and victimized by racial discrimination as an Anglo member of a bi-racial family, and she experienced homelessness. “It’s surreal to me because my family still lives there. I know it’s incredibly difficult to come out of poverty and because of that I want to help other families, like mine, to achieve greater things and live a better lifestyle.”

Without a doubt the most challenging trip through the wringer in Danielle’s experience is the brain injury she suffered during basic training at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri.

Danielle is a Disabled American Veteran.

Not to be denied, Danielle even turned that setback into a positive when she decided to use her platform to become an advocate for Disabled American Veterans nationwide. Danielle plans to compete for Miss Arizona 2021 and eventually Miss America if her luck holds out. That would put her on the map nationally along with her program to help DAV’s.

“Being a disabled veteran is hard,” Danielle explained. “We need more help. There haven’t been any major changes lately towards VA healthcare and assistance. We need legislative reform, more funding and more volunteers. Those three things are lacking, and because of that it’s not only difficult for veterans to ask for help but it’s difficult to find it as well.”

Following in her ancestors’ footsteps, and always looking for a challenge, Danielle joined the army when her recruiting officer told her that the traditional male-dominated jobs were opening up to females. That was her cue.

Danielle signed up to be a military police officer. Two weeks into basic training she fell during a training exercise and hit her head. After a period of misdiagnoses and the accompanying medical problems, Danielle was finally diagnosed with a brain injury at about the same time her orders came through assigning her to corrections duty at Fort Leavenworth Prison in Kansas.

Despite the situational difficulties in performing her duties created by her brain injury, Danielle

completed her two-year tour of duty and received an Honorable Discharge as a Private First Class. It was then that Danielle became involved with Friends in Service of Heroes (F.I.S.H.), a non-profit group in Kansas City, that advocates for and assists disabled veterans. She brought the idea of the group from Kansas City to Gilbert, listing it as a reason to compete for Miss Gilbert.

“(Competing) had a lot to do with helping disabled veterans,” she said. “I wanted to give F.I.S.H. a nationwide voice.” One of the first orders of business was for Danielle to find sponsors for her run for Miss Arizona 2021. A win there will put her in a better stead to help disabled veterans.

Enter Blackstone Security Services, Inc.®. Blackstone is a federally certified veteran-owned small business (VOSB), a designation awarded by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) Center for Verification and Evaluation (CVE). Blackstone had to meet a strict set of requirements to qualify for the designation and must maintain a stringent set of conditions to remain in compliance. Blackstone’s founding president and CEO Dan Swindall, who served in the US Air Force, was also a military police officer.

Blackstone will sponsor Danielle and her efforts for DAV’s by purchasing a full-page ad in the Miss Arizona 2021 Magazine. Blackstone’s sponsorship will benefit Danielle and the entire Miss Arizona 2021 Competition. “When the information about Miss Skranak’s undertaking came across my desk it got my attention immediately,” said Blackstone Executive Vice President Jeanne Croft. “What a great cause

DAV is and what a wonderful person Danielle is for championing disabled veterans throughout the state. Her courage, leadership, and her uncompromising commitment to helping her fellow veterans

should serve as an inspiration to all who support America’s armed forces. This sponsorship fits nicely with Blackstone’s commitment to hiring veterans.”

Danielle said she is thankful for all supporters but to be sponsored by a veteran-owned company is extra special. “I’m extremely thankful for Blackstone Security’s support,” Danielle said. “To be sponsored by a Veteran-owned business for Miss Arizona is a blessing. I strive hard to support all local businesses that support veterans and will continue to do so as Miss Arizona and as Miss America. Thank you, Blackstone Security!”

Even though life has been an uphill climb for the 25-year-old since her accident, Danielle has gotten everywhere she has wanted to go. She is currently a paralegal at Radix Law, PLC, a Scottsdale based law firm. Her goal is to earn a Juris Doctorate and become the next elected female senator from Arizona. There’s more: among other milestones, Danielle is a graduate of Arizona State University;

a spokesperson for the Brain Injury Alliance of Arizona; the Communications Liaison for the Town of Gilbert’s Veteran’s Advisory Board; the Affiliate Coordinator for the Arizona Foundation for Women’s Young Professionals Board and the spokesperson the new USS Arizona – a Virginia Class Submarine. While on active duty, Danielle was hand-picked for the Presidential Security Detail and was one of the first women to work security inside Fort Leavenworth Prison. And she did all this after her brain injury.

A win at the Miss Arizona competition would mean $10,000 in scholarships, which Danielle says she will need for her postgraduate studies and punch her ticket to the Miss America competition. But Danielle says it would also further enable her to gain some satisfaction from her altruistic nature.

“My life has always been centered on helping others, though I wasn’t able to serve my country for the twenty years as I hoped, I’m thankful that I can serve in a different way – as Miss Gilbert,” she said. “Even if I help just one person in this role, it’s all worth it.”

For the record, Danielle said there has been a Miss America who was deaf and a Miss America with autism, but there has not been a Miss America who is a military veteran with a brain injury – yet.

“Opening that door would be great, because when you leave military service, it’s hard.” Danielle said. “You feel disconnected from your family and the world. This is therapeutic for me as I enter back into the civilian world.”