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.
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"Shalini Madaras is our own special hero. Without her own powers of persuasion I don't know if we'd have this project," says Joy Kiss, chief executive officer of Homes for the Brave. "Through her presentations, and our presentations, we've really been able to reach different parts of the state and raise awareness."Skip to next paragraph
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Between 6,000 and 8,000 women vet-erans are homeless nationwide, the VA estimates, including 200 to 300 in Connecticut. Female veterans are 3.6 times more likely to be homeless than the average woman.
Nationwide, fewer than a dozen veterans' facilities are devoted to women.
The project proved to be an arduous journey for FS:FH. The group withstood three rejections for potential sites for the home in three years, in part because no appropriate zoning category existed.
But Madaras persisted. She wanted the home to be in a residential neighborhood.
Finally last summer, Bridgeport's Zoning Board of Appeals approved a house at 66 Elmwood Avenue. A nearby bus line makes it easy for veterans living there to reach jobs and travel to the VA hospital for appointments.
When Madaras and her husband, Bill, officially opened the home Oct. 21, on what would have been Nick's 25th birthday, it was a dream come true.
"I kept putting myself in the shoes of someone else – what if that were my daughter?" Madaras says. "We want to show residents that the whole community cares about them and is there to support them."
The 15 veterans receive counseling, skills training, and health care. There is room for young children to live with their mothers, and there are facilities for three handicapped residents.
"Angel is the right word to describe Shalini," says US Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D) of Connecticut, standing on the porch of the newly opened home. "We make a statement here today; we send a message. Maybe only 15 veterans will live here, but we send a message to America and to the world that female veterans will not be forgotten. They will not be forsaken."
Some time after Nick's death his sergeant contacted the Madarases. He wanted to tell them about that November day in 2006. "The sergeant told us ... that Nick had died instantly," she says. "The sergeant said Nick 'had such a peaceful look on his face, such a smile on his face.' "
She experienced an odd, but comforting, feeling. "For a flash of a second, I wondered if Nick saw it all then," she says.
"Did he see the troops sharing the soccer balls? Did he see the house? I believe that he saw it all – everything that was going to happen."
IN PICTURES: Shalini Madaras
• For more, go to: www.kickfornick.org/FemaleSoldiersForgottenHeroes
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