NEWPORT, R.I. – Lauren De Young Cust of Shelton, Conn., a 2004 Salve Regina University graduate in social work and veteran of the war in Iraq, was named 2012 Outstanding Young Alumna by her alma mater during its recent Fall Festival Weekend celebration.
After enlisting in the Army Reserve as a Military Police soldier, Cust was deployed to Iraq in 2008. When she returned from duty, she discovered that programs for homeless female veterans were virtually nonexistent. Working with Applied Behavioral Rehabilitation Institute, Inc., she established Female Soldiers: Forgotten Heroes, where she currently works as a case manager.
Living in Connecticut with her husband and their daughter, Mary Mae, Cust is also the state liaison for Canine Battle Buddies, a nonprofit that provides highly trained service dogs to veterans. She has experienced, firsthand, how veterans can be healed through the use of animal-assisted therapy, and is now working to create a program to help veterans heal trauma through the companionship of animals.
Members of Cust’s family have fought in every American war since World War I, including both of her great grandfathers, first generation Italian-Americans, who earned their citizenship by defending their new country.
With a bachelor’s degree from Salve Regina and a master’s degree from Springfield College, both in social work, Cust has made it her business to help others and points to lessons she learned from Dr. Mary Montminy-Danna and Sister Johnelle Luciani, Salve Regina professors that shaped who she is today.
“Sister Johnelle showed me the passion for the social work field,” Cust says. “Passion cannot be taught but it can be developed through example. She is why I have such a passion to work with people and to always find compassion for others, whether it be in a war zone or here at home.”
Cust began her career as a social worker at The Connection, Inc. and volunteered for several veterans groups including the Wounded Warrior Project and Homes for the Brave, a nonprofit organization supporting homeless veterans.
According to the Army Times, between 6,000 and 8,000 female veterans are homeless in the U.S. with more than 300 of them living in Connecticut. Today, Cust serves as case manager for the PFC Nicholas A. Madaras Home in Bridgeport, Conn., which provides transitional housing for up to 15 homeless female veterans. The home, named for a soldier who was killed in combat in Iraq in 2006, assists veterans in finding stable jobs and housing.