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Columbia College Chicago

24 Hours in Sub-Zero: Holiday Spirit Marine Corps, Army Style

by Cara Birch

December 12, 2013

Starting noon Monday, Dec. 16, Matt Patruno (pictured right)—Marine Corps Corporal, Iraq War veteran, and Arts, Entertainment and Media Management (AEMM) student—will lead a 24-hour “sleep out” with the Columbia College Chicago Student Veterans Society (SVS) and their supporters in the Sculpture Garden at 11th and Wabash to raise funds for a Chicago war veterans homeless shelter.

“Our generation has had a lot of support, with opportunities to go to school, to get jobs and other services that help us adjust to civilian life,” Patruno said. “But there are generations of soldiers who didn’t get all those opportunities, especially after Vietnam.”

Patruno says his classmates are often surprised to hear he’s a veteran. After serving in Iraq and Southeast Asia, Patruno, 25, will graduate in May. While just a few years older than his classmates, Patruno has found that Millennials often regard “veterans” as service members of wars past: Vietnam, Grenada, Panama, the Gulf War. 

But the Iraq War ended in 2011 and the war in Afghanistan continues today. Approximately 2.6 million soldiers have returned home since 9/11. Many are Millennials, and many are now homeless, just like the veterans of wars past. With 1 in 5 post-9/11 veterans struggling with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and with an unemployment rate of 22.8% among veterans age 18-24, returning soldiers face numerous challenges.

Patruno, along with SVS co-organizers Brian Ngo (Marine Corps, Marketing Communication: PR Major), Shawn Riley (Marine Corps, Marketing Communication: PR Major) and Dan Nichols (Army, Marketing Communications: Advertising major)--decided they could help. Ngo, who served in Afghanistan, said, “All veterans are family. If someone from my unit were homeless, I’d have to do something about that.”

This Marine Corps and Army band of brothers did some research and found the Eddie Beard Vet House through Inner Voice Chicago. The Eddie Beard Vet House serves 15 veterans at any given time, with a waiting list around 50. Current veterans housed there range in age from 25-80, representing generations upon generations of warriors. The house is managed by a Korean War veteran, Arthur Richardson, who runs it much like a unit. The veterans are up by 6 a.m., and move on to a filled schedule all day, whether it be attending a computer course or attending an AA meeting. The success rate is impressive: within eight months, 70% of the veterans find permanent housing and establish an income. 

While the Obama administration has an ambitious plan to eliminate veteran homelessness by the end of 2015, transition homes like the Eddie Beard House, still struggle to get by on a day-to-day basis. It may make their success rate all the more impressive, but they also deserve better, shares Patruno. Right now, Eddie Beard vets have just one computer between 15 of them, the freezer is in disrepair, and much of the furniture is over 40 years old.

Supporters of the “sleep-out” are encouraged to bring warm beverages, food and blankets throughout the day. Any surplus will be donated to Eddie Beard Vet House. The SVS and Eddie Beard veterans also welcome any donations of clothing, computers, digital devices (laptops, notebooks, phones, etc.), or general household items such as light bulbs and more.

Patruno and the SVS are confident they can make a difference. Chicagoans have a history of facing sub-zero temperatures with a shrug or well-timed curse. But, spending 24 hours outside for a “sleep out” might be greeted by the most weathered city-dweller with at least a smattering of curses involving some iteration of “crazy.” So, how will the SVS and their fellow veterans get through 24 hours of sub-zero temperatures? 

“The way the Marine Corps taught us,” says Patruno.

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This holiday season, the Columbia College community and Chicagoans have an opportunity to give back to the warriors and veterans who’ve returned home and to those still in search of one. 

“Sleep Out" details:
Monday, Dec. 16 – Tuesday, Dec. 17
Noon – Noon
11th Street and South Wabash (Columbia College Sculpture Garden)

For more on the “sleep-out” organized by the Student Veterans Association or to leave a comment of support, please visit their Facebook page

To give a donation to the Eddie Beard House and to learn more about this fundraiser, visit:
http://www.firstgiving.com/fundraiser/24hrsleepout/cccsvs/.
All proceeds go directly to the Eddie Beard House through the Columbia College Student Veterans Association.