Assembly member Chris Holden, 41st Assembly District, recently honored Carol Calandra, South Pasadena resident and a case manager at Pasadena City College’s (PCC’s) Veterans’ Resource Center. She was named as one of 10 Women of Distinction at Holden’s annual recognition ceremony and open house March 2 at his District Office in Pasadena.
Calandra was Holden’s South Pasadena honoree. The nine other awardees reside in communities Holden represents from Altadena to Rancho Cucamonga. The women were honored for making a positive impact in their communities, according to the assemblymember’s website.
Holden presented Calandra with a Certificate of Recognition at the event. He said, “Carol has provided exceptional service to veterans who have had a difficult time transitioning into civilian life after their military service. She is devoted to this clientele and has provided stability and compassion to this vulnerable population.”
Calandra was nominated for the honor by Lynda Bybee, a former South Pasadena resident. Her son, a veteran who had served in the Air Force, was in the PCC program.
“This is a woman who really makes a commitment,” Bybee said. “She personifies the rare combination of the right person doing the right job … and in an area where the dividends are life changing.”
Calandra said she is the only veterans’ case manager at a California community college. PCC is a top-rated school for veterans, according to the “Military Times,” a news source for service members and their families.
Some 600 to 800 veterans attend PCC each semester, she said, with 350 using Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) benefits. Last semester, its veterans’ center logged 15,000 visits, she said.
The center is a “one-stop shop for veterans,” she explained, “with a director, a case manager, a VA employee two days a week, mental health and other services.” It will expand in size from 800 square feet to about 2,600 square feet this summer, she said.
“We take a holistic approach,” she said. “If you’re hungry, if you’re homeless, you will have a hard time preparing for classes. We take the barriers that would hinder a vet from succeeding and try to remove them.”
Calandra is not a veteran. However, she worked for the military in high school as a work/study student and later was employed by the Army Corps of Engineers.
As a teen in Maryland, she had seen the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in nearby Washington, D.C. Her mother explained the conflict to her. Calandra’s uncles served in the war and “came home changed,” her mother said. Calandra later learned more about it from her husband’s war veteran friends.
Reconnecting with that military background led to her working with veterans. Living in South Pasadena in her 40s and never having graduated from college, Calandra began attending PCC.
She enrolled in Boots to Books, a transition class designed for ex-military. A young combat veteran who had just returned from Afghanistan sat next to her in class. As she listened to him, she realized that he sounded like the Vietnam veterans she had known.
“When your service is done,” she said, “there is very little to help in the transition to student or to civilian.”
“I knew at that moment that we could not repeat this,” she said. “I became mad in a good way.”
Calandra began to work with the veterans on campus in 2008 “as a student work-study and president of the Veterans’ Club,” she said. She obtained a bachelor’s degree in rehabilitation counseling in 2012 and a master’s degree in counseling in 2014. Both were from California State University, Los Angeles, where she now teaches. She became the full-time Veteran Center Specialist at PCC in 2014.
The day she found out she had been nominated for Holden’s award was one on which a veteran in her program shared his grades with her.
When he began the PCC program, she said, “he was homeless and addicted to methamphetamine.” The center helped him with housing, benefits and “finding out how to love himself.” He became drug free.
“His grades now? Straight A’s,” she said. “That was a rewarding day.”
At the awards ceremony, Holden named Jaylene Moseley of Pasadena as the 41st District’s 2017 Woman of the Year. He recognized her for her work with the Flintridge Center, which focuses on ex-offender reintegration. Holden’s office had received 50 nominations for the Women of Distinction honor, according to the March 2 “Pasadena Now,” an online newspaper. Four nominations from South Pasadena were received.