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