Cara Colantuono, a 2007 graduate of Penn State Brandywine, has transformed her passion for service into a non-profit organization aimed at helping veterans. Colantuono, of South Philadelphia, is the chairman and founder of Support Homeless Veterans (SHV). Created in 2011, SHV seeks to create permanent housing for chronically homeless veterans.
Colantuono grew up listening to both of her grandfathers tell war stories. One grandparent was in the Marine Corps; the other, the U.S. Army. "I always found their stories of Korea and World War II fascinating and I am sure that they influenced my passion for caring for military veterans," she said.
After graduating from high school, Colantuono entered the Human Development and Family Services (HDFS) program at Penn State Brandywine. "My education at Penn State led me to my first internship counseling homeless women and children," she said. When she discovered her passion for helping those in need, Colantuono decided to pursue a master's degree in social work (MSW) at Temple University. In 2009, she was offered an internship with the Salvation Army Reed House, where sheworked in a housing program for homeless men and women. "Here I fell in love with working with people with severe co-occurring disorders and trauma."
A short time later, Colantuono was hired by Impact Services Veteran Department as a clinical intensive case manager. Now she is the senior case manager. Through her work, Colantuono noticed a need other organizations were not addressing: permanent supported housing for veterans with a family oriented and trauma-informed setting. "The idea to come up with SHV came from conversations I was having with chronically homeless veterans whom I was counseling at Impact. I could see that they were keeping each other safe and sober through their camaraderie and love," she explained. "If only they had a place of their own that would help deinstitutionalize these men and give them a chance to experience quality of life and family in a safe and desirable atmosphere."
Veterans are referred to SHV by other transitional housing organizations. Colantuono noted that the need for veteran housing will only increase in the future. "We expect the number of veterans in need to rise as the U.S. military in Iraq is discharged and as we await the end of the Afghan war," she said. "Since we are still dealing with an amazing number of Vietnam veterans (67,000 homeless veterans reported by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for 2011), we can only imagine the increase."
Colantuono said people can help veterans by supporting the hygiene product drive being held now at Penn State Brandywine. SHV also has a Facebook page that contains information about what others can do. "Showing our support in any way helps, and just a simple thanks and smile can really go a long way," she said.
For more information, please visit http://www.supporthomelessveterans.org.
Penn State Brandywine is a sponsor of the Delaware County, Pennsylvania Welcome Home Parade taking place in Media on April 28, at 3 p.m. For more information, or to join the campus at this event, please contact Risa Pitman at 610-892-1255.
--by Jennifer Santangelo