Randi Stenkamp, Marines, Carol Calandra, Veteran Center Specialist, Jessica Ruano, Navy, Cindy Ohara, Army/Navy, pose in front of the Veterans Resource Center on Monday Sept. 29. They are all part of the Band of Sisters, an outreach program for female veterans founded by Calandra. (Paul Ochoa/Courier)
Randi Stenkamp, Marines, Carol Calandra, Veteran Center Specialist, Jessica Ruano, Navy, Cindy Ohara, Army/Navy, pose in front of the Veterans Resource Center on Monday Sept. 29. They are all part of the Band of Sisters, an outreach program for female veterans founded by Calandra. (Paul Ochoa/Courier)

Noticing a lack of space for female veterans to come together, Veterans Center Specialist Carol Calandra founded the Band of Sisters monthly lunch to celebrate, honor, and educate the more than 250 female veterans on campus.

Calandra spearheaded the founding of the Band of Sisters as a way to reach out to the female veterans on campus after having difficulty getting the women together for different projects. The monthly meetings began last year with only four people attending the inaugural luncheon but has grown as the meetings continued.

“Females in general don’t like to identify as veterans,” Calandra said. “Unlike their male counterparts who generally keep their military identities with them, the female veterans are like chameleons. Once they are finished with their service they go right back to being students. I wanted to provide a space for them to meet others that share similar experiences.”

The first meeting of the semester was on Sept. 19 and Calandra said the room was packed with female veterans. The topic of the meeting was “Succeeding in Education.” Associate Vice President of Student Services Cynthia Olivo gave the students tips on how to succeed at PCC and reflected on her own struggles in education.

“We provide resources and referrals specifically tailored for our female veterans,” Calandra said. “We welcome inspirational female veteran leaders in our community who understand the struggles specifically related to the female veteran population. Many of our guests have become role models and mentors and inspire our female veteran students to succeed personally, academically and professionally

Past meetings have featured prominent female veterans including Navy veteran Stephanie Stone, current Chief Deputy Director of the County of Los Angeles Department of Military and Veteran Affairs, and Army veteran and LGBT activist Tracey Cooper-Harris

“The Band of Sisters provides a great opportunity to meet other female veterans and speaker that are pertinent to the interests and experiences of the female student veterans,” 20-year Army and Navy veteran Cindy Ohara said.

The group is important to Calandra and the students because there are 280,000 women who have served in the military during the post-9/11 era according to the Disabled American Veterans. Calandra also reports that female veterans are at the highest risk for homelessness and suicide.

“In our Band of Sisters we hope to foster kinship not only among our female veteran students but also within the communities that support our female veterans,” Calandra said. “One of the main goals of our Band Of Sisters is to recognize and assist our female veterans in succeeding here at PCC.”

The group also creates a network for the student veterans to support their female brethren and develop friendships.

“Its not just a support group it’s a way for us to connect with the other female veterans,” added student and U.S Marine Randi Stenkamp.

The Band of Sisters has been adopted by the larger regional organization, Daughters of the American Revolution, that Revolution that provides financial support to the group. The local California Pizza Kitchen also sponsors the monthly luncheon in an effort to support female veterans.

The next Band of Sisters luncheon is Thursday, Oct. 16 at noon in CC 212. The meeting will be focused on the “save the boobies” movement for Breast Cancer Awareness Month with guest speaker Carrmita Veliz, a PCC Health Services registered nurse and family nurse practitioner Jonalyn Tran discussing self-examinations, cancer fighting foods and diets and recognizing the signs and symptoms of breast cancer.

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