Jeff Lafata-Hernandez, Founder & Executive Director
Jeff founded Empowering People for Inclusive Communities (EPIC) in March of 2011, to address the growing need for transition aged youth with disabilities to develop their leadership skills, and to become more active in their communities.
With a lifelong passion for social justice and community service, Jeff began his career in the fall of 1999 as a member of the City Year Boston corps. Through his work at the Nathan Hale Elementary School in Roxbury, MA, Jeff first worked with youth with learning disabilities in a 3rd-5th grade special education classroom. Inspired daily by his student’s contributions, growth and leadership potential, Jeff was awed by their commitment to their own personal development.
Since that time, Jeff has devoted his career to working within the disability community in varied settings: classrooms, community organizations, residential programs and vocational environments. His work includes time at Perkins School for the Blind, North Suffolk Mental Health Association, Partners for Youth with Disabilities, and countless hours of volunteer service at numerous organizations.
Jeff’s favorite quote: “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter” - Martin Luther King Jr
Krystal Linn, Worcester Youth Programs Specialist
Krystal hails from Southbridge, and has spent the last 15 years working in Human Services. They have worked for several different organizations including Head Start, Worcester Public Schools, and the Seven Hills Foundation. Krystal has experience developing inclusive social programs for people with ID, Autism Spectrum disorders, and Brain Injury.
Krystal graduated from BayPath University with a degree in Psychology and additional certifications in Visual Thinking Strategies. They also serve as a member of the National Speaker’s Bureau for Planned Parenthood, sharing their personal stories and speaking both within Massachusetts and nationally on healthcare issues.
Krystal is the wearer of many hats. Along with their work for EPIC, they are mother to seven children: a mixture of biological, step, and foster children. They are also a tireless advocate for disability inclusivity, LGBTQ rights, and healthcare accessibility, having experience lobbying on both the state and national level. They also sit on the board of their local food share as a volunteer and fundraising committee member.
Krystal's favorite quote: “I like to think of ideas as potential energy. They're really wonderful, but nothing will happen until we risk putting them into action.” - Mae Jemison
Ethan Linsky, Boston Youth Programs Specialist
Growing up in Newton, Massachusetts, Ethan’s passions for education, community health, and sports drove him to participate in and coach a variety of adaptive athletic programs. He began his work in adaptive athletics through playing Sled Hockey with the Mass Hospital School Chariots, and went on to play wheelchair basketball for the University of Missouri Tigers, his Alma Mater. At the University of Missouri, Ethan studied Psychology, Sociology & Human Development, and Family Studies with an emphasis on Multicultural studies.
After graduating from the University of Missouri, Ethan returned to the Boston area in order to give back to the community that raised him. Ethan has spent two years working in Boston Public Schools as a City Year AmeriCorps and Senior AmeriCorps member. His work with City Year Boston reiterated Ethan’s desire to advocate for holistic academic services that are accessible and valuable to all students.
In addition to adaptive athletics, namely coaching youth basketball teams, Ethan also loves to participate in the performance arts, especially Improv Comedy. Much of his comedy work includes the themes of education, athletics, and disability advocacy! He is excited to join EPIC’s team as Youth Programs Specialist and put both his professional experiences as well as personal passions to work.
Ethan's favorite quote: "I have spent most of my life worrying about things that have never happened" - Mark Twain
Ocan Ortiz, EPIC Personal Care Attendant
Ocan is from Boston, MA, but born to Puerto Rican parents. He lived most of his life in Jamaica Plain, however, also lived in Dorchester, Roxbury, Watertown, Brighton, and Hyde Park. Throughout his life, Ocan has also lived in various cities such as Manhattan, Miami, Springfield, Hartford, Chicago, and New Haven. His travels have taken him to Cuba (8x's), Mexico (5x's), Panama, Dominican Republic (2x's), Turkey, Puerto Rico (4x's), and Isreal. Though, Ocan has lived in many areas and traveled abroad. His life focus and career in youth leadership development, social and racial justice education, financial development, curriculum building, program and evaluation development, management, event planning, fund development, funder cultivation, and relationship management is his life. In Boston and Miami, Ocan gained notoriety and respect from his peers, other sector professionals, and youth because he wholeheartedly commits to his work and the delivery of outcomes.
“Carefully watch your thoughts, for they become your words. Manage and watch your words, for they will become your actions. Consider and judge your actions, for they become your habits. Acknowledge and watch your habits, for they shall become your values. Understand and embrace your values, for they become your destiny.” Mahatma Gandhi
Ofelia Romero, AmeriCorps VISTA, Program Development Coordinator
Born and raised in Chicago, Illinois, Ofelia decided to venture out of the midwest for school. She graduated from Roger Williams University in Rhode Island with a Degree in Political Science and Legal Studies. It was while attending Roger Williams that her interest and passion for helping those in the disability community began. She had to opportunity to be a part of Best Buddies, and it took off from there. Participating in and helping coordinate events for the organization within her university pushed her to want to continue to be a part of the community in other ways.
Through AmeriCorps VISTA, Ofelia is able to do so. As a program development coordinator, she is working to strengthen and expand the EPIC Service Warrior Program to ensure that youth with disabilities acquire the educational, employment and independent living skills needed to ensure that they do not enter or to assist them in getting out of poverty.
Ofelia's favorite quote: “I don’t live in either my past or my future. I’m interested only in the present. If you can concentrate always on the present, you’ll be a happy man. Life will be a party for you, a grand festival, because life is the moment we’re living now.” -Paulo Coelho
Samantha "Sami" Vayo, AmeriCorps VISTA, Training Coordinator
Sami was born and raised in Worcester, Massachusetts. With a variety of exceptional opportunities for higher education in her hometown, Sami has received two degrees from Worcester institutions: an Associate of Arts: General Studies from Quinsigamond Community College and a Bachelor of Arts: Communications from Worcester State University.
As an athlete of Special Olympics for almost 21 years, Sami has competed in gymnastics, soccer, basketball, track & field, bowling, and softball.
Growing up and identifying with double disabilities, Deafness and Cerebral Palsy, Sami shared, “I do understand the struggle out there in the community. So, I want to see youth and young adults with disabilities get better opportunities in the community and to be given the knowledge to seek those opportunities.”
Sami joins the EPIC Team as the Training Coordinator, an AmeriCorps VISTA position. She will be spending her year of service working to strengthen, expand, and replicate EPIC’s Community Training and Consulting program to new geographic areas. Her work will ensure that EPIC reaches more individuals, which will build capacity and support for EPIC to serve more youth with disabilities in the Commonwealth and continue to break the cycle of poverty for youth and young adults with disabilities.
Sami's Favorite Quote: “The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched - they must be felt with the heart.” - Helen Keller
EPIC Youth Trainers
All youth trainers co-facilitate EPIC's Community Trainings. Youth trainers are comprised of current Service Warriors or Service Warrior Alumni.
Austin Carr, '14 & '19
Kamisha Heriveaux, '14 & '15
Nick Plaisime, '17 & '19
Samuel Paster, '16 & '20
Zuleny Gonzalez, '19, '20
Malika Jefferson, '19
Tyrel Watkins, '16
EPIC Youth Group Peer Leaders
'14 & '15
'14 & '19
Zuleny Gonzalez, '19
EPIC Advisory Boards
Boston Advisory Board
Jonathan Palumbo, Boston Board Co-Chair
Lauren Piscopo, Boston Board Co-Chair
Salem State University Student
Youth Member, EPIC Service Leader
Boston Center for Independent Living
Youth Member, EPIC Service Leader
City Year Boston
Worcester Advisory Board
Delia O'Connor, Worcester Board Chair
Open Sky Community Services
Law Office of David T. Bunker Esquire
Judy Freedman Fask
Worcester Public Schools
Visions Consulting L3C
Bay State Medical Center