Unbelievably, in January 2014, almost 50,000 homeless veterans were identified in this country, almost 10% of the entire homeless population. Most of these are male, are single and suffer from a variety of ailments, from mental illness, alcohol and drug abuse, and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Many have served time in jails. Almost half of them are Hispanic or African-American. They are clearly in need of socialization, health care, rehabilitation, job training and a safe place to live.Knowing all of these concerns and wising to make a difference, Peter Van Heerden, the Executive Director for the Arts at Fairfield University’s Quick Center, had a vision. He wanted to focus a spotlight on the problem and encourage a greater connection with this virtually forgotten segment of society. We have long acknowledged the bravery and courage of firemen and police who risk their lives on a daily basis to protect and serve. How much further up on the ladder of sacrifice are our soldiers who go to war all over the world to guard and guarantee our freedoms?Peter Van Heerden determined to create a theater piece “War Stories” which will premiere Friday, March 31 at 8 p.m. and Saturday, April 1 at 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. at the Wien Experimental Theatre at the Quick Center at Fairfield University, 1073 North Benson Road, Fairfield. His emphasis is on courageous storytelling, with his team that includes writer Sonya Huber and artist Nina Bentley. Since January, sixteen veterans, including a trio of women, representing the Army, Navy and Marines have met every day to develop a full-length performance piece, woven from the real experiences of the soldiers…each of their war stories.Come meet a woman who was born to unfit parents, unwanted by her mother and wanted too much by her father. While maintaining straight A’s as a student, she felt her life was dangerous and surrounded herself with losers. Even though she joined the Navy and finally found good friends, alcohol and drugs became her companions so she wouldn’t feel anything. She finally acknowledges she is in a good place and has forgiven her parents and herself in recovery. This is her war story.For a male Marine, he was raised by grandparents after his parents abandoned him. He was emotionally abused and never felt loved or supported. Now he is a grandfather himself and loves to provide what he was never privy to enjoy. For an Army male, being at Home for the Brave has brought him sobriety for the last 18 months. In another’s tale, this Army man, an African-American, raised himself from the age of 14, was expelled from high school, went AWOL, served in jailed for over two decades where he earned three college degrees. That is his war story.These men and women are clear about what America means to them: freedom, equality, good people, good friends, democracy and opportunity and they are willing to die to defend those rights. These are raw, sensitive, honest and sincere words that pour out of their hearts. These confessions, according to Van Heerden serve as “filters through which we understand information, shaping how we connect to each other and the world around us. Our stories have the potential to alter culture, politics, policy, behavior and perceptions. Through each of our stories, we can make people care.” All the storytellers are residents of Bridgeport’s Home for the Brave where their lives are being restored along with their dignity and they are being given a second chance.This important project is sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts, the Connecticut Office of the Arts and is being presented in partnership with Homes for the Brave. The event is free for Veterans. For tickets ($20, Quick Center Members $15, students $5), call the Quick Center at 203-254-4010 or online at www.quickcenter.fairfield.edu.Come open your hearts and your arms to stories that deserve and need to be told and heard. Come wave an American flag to thank men and women who have sacrificed so much and are striving to create meaningful and productive lives.