Naomi Nicastro extended a warm smile and flipped through the pages of a nearby pamphlet as she addressed a gentleman standing in front of her on Thursday morning at the UAW 685 hall.

Nicastro — a coordinating entry specialist for the Veterans Affairs [VA] homeless team for the Northern Indiana Healthcare System — was participating in “Stand Down,” an annual resource fair geared toward military personnel, veterans and their families to provide assistance in areas like housing, employment and medical benefits.

Along with the VA of Northern Indiana, around 30 other different agencies and organizations participated in Thursday’s event, something that Nicastro said she was happy to see.

“There seems to be a lot of people think the VA automatically knows how many veterans are in a community, and we don’t,” she said. “ … If we knew who they are, where they are, we could just send them all a brochure, but we don’t.

“… It’s hard to figure out how to get the word out to everybody. So resource fairs like this are good because we can kind of explain some of these things. I’ve been working with the VA for almost 28 years now, and it’s amazing to me that I still run into veterans that are eligible for things they don’t know about.”

Angie Ciski, director of Jackson Street Commons, and Debbie Norris, a case manager at United Way of Howard County, were two of the organizers for Thursday’s resource fair.

“Now more than ever, they [military members] need to know about all the resources that are out there for them,” Ciski said. “And this is an opportunity where we can have one day and have all of these vast service providers in one spot to address their needs and connect with them.

“And people sometimes have multiple needs,” Ciski added, “so by having all of the different service providers here, we can give them the resources and connections to those individual needs. Being able to maintain stable housing, mental health support, substance abuse support, legal assistance, those sort of things. … These are the experts in their own fields, and so it’s important that we’re all working together so that we can use our individual expertise and try to help that veteran in the best way possible.”

Norris agreed with Ciski, pointing out that COVID-19 has also had a negative impact on so many military personnel right now.

“A lot of people right now are homeless or near homeless or facing evictions or getting their utilities shut off,” Norris said. “So that’s another reason why this [resource fair] is important. There are many agencies here, like Jackson Street Commons, that can help veterans with rent assistance. United Way does the same thing. So it’s just so important to make people aware of these resources before they may actually need them.”

Norris works with United Way’s “Mission United” program, which helps to connect veterans and their families to much-needed assistance, and she said the program has come a long way in its first two years.

But there is still a lot of work to be done too, Norris added, especially when veterans have sacrificed so much for this country.

“They served all of us, so it’s our turn to serve them,” Norris said. “They’re all very entitled to every benefit that they could possibly get, and we owe that to them.”

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