'New American' sets example for voters
Oct. 26, 2012 at 5:26 a.m.
Updated Oct. 27, 2012 at 5:27 a.m.
By 9:30 Friday morning, the elections office was abuzz with eager voters, most of whom marched in camaraderie from two blocks away at One O'Connor Plaza.
Surrounded by almost 30 colleagues, Heber Lacerda, CEO and president of Regency Nursing and Rehabilitation Centers, made his choice in the country's leadership.
"This is such an unbelievable opportunity that we sometimes don't recognize how big it is," Lacerda said. "The opportunity to say that you made a contribution to make this country great and promote the democratic spirit that millions and millions of people are dying for the opportunity to do."
Lacerda wants to encourage others to follow suit.
"Everybody should have their voices heard - it's part of being an American," he said.
For Lacerda, this American pride is newly-found.
"The very first time I went to vote was a very big deal," Lacerda said. "I was deprived of the right to vote all my life."
At age 45, he said the Pledge of Allegiance for the first time as an American citizen and cast his first ballot at age 46 during the John McCain-Barack Obama race.
Lacerda, a native of Brazil, spent almost a decade trying to become a naturalized citizen.
Since that 2008 election, he has watched the political climate of the country shift.
"Things are so polarized on a national level that people get discouraged," Lacerda said. "We're seeing that lack of enthusiasm. That enthusiasm should never fade away."
He said he is eager to share his excitement and re-energize others.
Danielle Moran, who works in the accounts receivable department of Regency, joined her colleagues to cast her ballot Friday.
She said Lacerda's voting effort is "awesome."
"Not a lot of us have time to do it besides now," Moran said about the group vote.
She said voting is important.
"Because people complain about this and that, if you don't put your vote in, you're not going to make a difference," Moran said.
Lacerda has been an advocate for voter education and voter registration. Political affiliation isn't important; it's about creating camaraderie among his staff.
During working hours, he scheduled candidate forums for his employees to learn more about the local races.
"All it takes is for this opportunity to be taken away for people to realize how big it is," Lacerda said. "People should never take for granted the opportunity - whether it's a presidential, state representative, county judge or mayor."
Debbie Stastny, Lacerda's administrative assistant, has been with the company 14 years.
She followed voters into the elections office, snapping photos and documenting the group's adventure.
"It's an exciting time for us," Stastny said. "We always encourage our employees to participate in community events."
She said because of Lacerda's relatively new citizenship, staff members are more excited about the elections.
"It's been contagious throughout the company," she said. "We hope we set an example for other companies to give their employees a chance to get out and vote."
One by one, the election officers checked the crowd's registration cards and sent each voter to a touch-screen kiosk.
They waited in the lobby with patriotic pride for the group to finish.
"I feel like an American," one said.
Then walked in unison back to work.