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Difference Maker

Shalini Madaras, who lost a son in Iraq, overcame grief by helping women vets

A new facility for women veterans in Bridgeport, Conn., honors her fallen son while helping homeless war vets in need.

By Cathryn J. PrinceCorrespondent / November 28, 2011

Shalini Madaras stands in front of the Pfc. Nicholas A. Madaras Home, a residence she established for female veterans in Bridgeport, Conn., and named for her son. The home opened this fall on what would have been his 25th birthday.

Ann Hermes/Staff

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Bridgeport, Conn.

When Shalini Madaras pushed the polished handle and opened the door of the Pfc. Nicholas A. Madaras Home, she opened a new door for homeless women veterans.

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The facility honors Ms. Madaras's oldest son, killed by a roadside bomb in 2006 in Iraq.

Yet, for Madaras, the home bears more than her son's name: It celebrates his spirit. As Connecticut's first female-only housing for women veterans, the neat three-story house in Bridgeport is a haven for veterans recovering from physical or emotional combat scars, Madaras says.

Fifteen female veterans from the greater New England region call the house home. Each must have been honorably or generally discharged from the military. They may stay a maximum of two years.

"This is something that never existed before," says Madaras, who lives in nearby Wilton, Conn. "There is such a huge need for some of these ladies coming back from these conflicts. They have nowhere to go."

For a time after her son died, the soft-spoken Madaras felt that she had nowhere to go. But she decided she didn't want to stay in darkness.

"Since that day we found out about Nick's death, I needed to surround him with a positive light.... I needed to make it so he would be alive in everybody," Madaras says. "When I felt myself slipping into black depression, I would ask: 'Is this what I want for him?' It's not."

So two years after Nick's death, Madaras founded the nonprofit group Female Soldiers:Forgotten Heroes (FS:FH). With the help of the Veterans Administration (VA) Homeless Providers Grant and Per Diem Program, and donations from citizens, businesses, and dedicated volunteers, the project slowly became a reality.

Nick had come home on leave just weeks before he died. The day he headed back to war, he stopped to look back at his family. It wasn't that he wanted to stay, Madaras says, but she sensed he had a new appreciation for his life and family.

A soccer player, Nick wanted to give soccer balls to Iraqi children. He never had the chance. But neighbors decided to see his plan through. Today "Kick for Nick" has put more than 32,000 soccer balls in the hands of Iraqi and Afghan children.

A tight-knit group, FS:FH works with Homes for the Brave, a home for male veterans that is also in Bridgeport.

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