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Military families have a friend in Cicero

Sgt. Carlos Bencini Jr. is welcomed home by members of American Legion Post 96 on Monday, March 18.
Sgt. Carlos Bencini Jr. is welcomed home by members of American Legion Post 96 on Monday, March 18.

CICIERO—It's hard sometimes to be among the few, the proud and the brave—sometimes even harder to be a member of their family. But the Military Families of Cicero United (MFCU) is making things easier.

Since March 2009, the all-volunteer MFCU has been addressing the needs of the town's military community, assisting both active and inactive servicemen and women, and creating a a family support system in Cicero.

Maureen Carroll, family outreach liaison, said the group provides help to veterans of WWII, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan and any other places where an American soldier or sailor from Cicero has been sent.
MFCU provides all kinds of information, resources, support and referral services to those in need, and the needs are different, Carroll said.

"If you go back to WWII or the Korean War, it's mostly people who don't have enough money for medication because they need to buy food, or they need in-home care," Carroll said. "For Vietnam veterans it's homelessness and employment issues. They come here with no place to go. For the Iraq and Afghanistan servicemen it's employment and providing for their family. That's the scariest part. Also, adjusting back to the civilian world."

Cicero resident and U.S. Army Sgt. Raquel Cruz served from February 2001 and ended her military career with a medical discharge Dec. 2, 2010. She was deployed to Kuwait for Operation Enduring Freedom with the 57th Transportation Battalion where she suffered a back injury during a truck accident that was precipitated by a bad epidural during childbirth.

Both Cruz and her ex-husband were deployed at the same time, and her mother, Bertha Martinez, was raising their children. Martinez decided to take them to the Central Avenue Pool, and felt it just wasn't right for the children of two parents serving their country overseas should have to pay admission. She placed a call to MFCU and found out there was no charge.

"They actually do a lot; they're very generous." Cruz said. "They provide school supplies, Christmas gifts. It's a blessing."

In Kuwait, she received a call from her mother who said the Town of Cicero wanted her address half way around the world.

"She said Mayor Dominick was interested. I said, "Why is the Mayor interested? What did you do? Within two weeks I started getting packages of cookies, toiletries, crackers. I even got a bottle of Mark Jacobs perfume."

When Cruz came home from Kuwait, her mother picked her up at the airport and their first stop was a Christmas Dinner hosted by MFCU at the Community Center.

"I couldn't believe what was going on," Cruz said. "The next day there was a huge sign in the yard, 'Welcome home Sgt. Cruz.'"

Today, Cruz is a full-time student at Morton College studying computer programming. But she has never forgotten the kindness shown to her and her family during her years in the Army.

"I would like to just say 'thank you' from the bottom of my heart because they did a lot," Cruz said.

Carroll said there have been hundreds of families and servicemen and women who have sought some kind of assistance from the organization.

"Sometimes people will come in asking if we could find out how their child in the service is doing after they haven't heard from them for a while," she said. "That's something we don't normally do, but it's happened. Most of them are parents who have a single child in the military and are looking for a support group or grandparents who are taking care of those children.'

'Or it could be a spouse left behind with two or three children looking for service or support," she added.

Some people just need someone to talk to, Carroll said. "A lot of military people are very private and very proud. They don't want to show any weakness. Those discharged because of wounds or medical issues, it's harder for them because they're not ready to leave their service."

A support group meets every other Wednesday where the group sits informally in a circle with a cup of coffee and just talks about anything. If serious counseling is needed, such as in the case of bereavement issues, that person will be referred to professionals as needed.

"Sometimes it's just a matter of them venting, talking," Carroll said. "I once had a family who came to our support group who had lost their son. The Mom just kept crying and was referred."

Generosity is not exclusive to the volunteers of MFCU. Carroll received an email from Hawthorne Credit Union requesting donation items to send overseas to the troops, she said. She made contact with Operation Support Our Troops, then arranged with Midas Muffler to become a drop-off point.

She then reached out to school districts 99, 100, and 201 and the Town of Cicero Payroll Department, which put out a donation request to all departments.

"We had a great response," she said.

More information about Military Families of Cicero United is available at
708-656-3600 ext. 776.ERO—

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