Cahir Corps works to alleviate homelessness and poverty at Penn State

October 20, 2017

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Erin Fackenthal noticed Cahir Corps during the involvement fair her freshman year at Penn State.

“It was a new organization, but the goals were really well established,” she said. That was in 2013. Fackenthal is now a graduate student in clinical mental health at Penn State and is still actively involved with the group.

Cahir Corps was founded in memory of Sergeant Bill Cahir, a State College native and Penn State alumnus who was killed in Afghanistan in 2009 while working on building a school for girls.

“Bill was a pretty unlikely soldier,” said John Cahir, Bill’s father, Penn State alumnus and former vice provost for undergraduate education.

Bill Cahir was working as a journalist when the 9/11 attacks motivated him to enlist as a reservist in the Marine Corps, as he was over the eligible age to be commissioned. He had completed two tours in Iraq and was working with the Marine’s 4th Civil Affairs Group when he was killed.

“Bill was a leader,” said John Cahir. “He had an incredible ability to read a person, find their strengths and amplify them. He was always interested in serving those who needed help.”

Cahir Corps is a scholarship initiative that focuses on mitigating poverty, especially in the Penn State community, and instilling values such as leadership and community advocacy in students. Since its founding, about 40 students have participated in Cahir Corps. Students who are accepted into the program select a project that’s important to them to focus on throughout the semester.

“It’s a very individualized process,” said Emily Javitt, Cahir Corps adviser. “Students find or design a project on their own. It’s unusual for undergraduates to have that opportunity and freedom. I’m amazed by how driven and determined the students are.”

As a quiet, introverted freshman, Fackenthal was shocked at the opportunities Cahir Corps provided to her. Now, as a seasoned member of the group, she takes the younger members under her wing as they work to develop a project. 

Projects range from providing toiletries for students and making textbooks available on reserve at the library for students who cannot afford to purchase them, to creating a statement piece to represent and bring awareness to homelessness at Penn State. Cahir Corps students also work to connect students in need with the many resources at Penn State and in the State College Community.

“Poverty exists, but you don’t think about poverty existing at a Big Ten University,” said Fackenthal. “Students often end up in poverty due to unforeseen circumstances and it can be hard for students to ask for help.”

Cahir Corps students are working to get conversations started and bring awareness and understanding to the issues of homelessness and poverty.

Twice a year, John and Mary Anne Cahir meet with the students in Cahir Corps to talk about the projects.

“To hear the students talk about their experience in Cahir Corps and how it has impacted them, is stunning,” said John Cahir. “Bill would be thrilled with what the Cahir Corps has done because it is just the kind of thing that would matter to him.”

Members of the University and community interested in supporting Chair Corps can visit or contact Andrea Pagano-Reyes, director of development for University Programs, at For other giving options in Student Affairs, visit

To learn more about Cahir Corps, the resources available or how to apply, visit the Cahir Corps website or contact Emily Javitt at

  • Toiletry Bags

    Cahir Corps provides free toiletries to students in need in locations around campus, including the Student Health Center.

    IMAGE: Cahir Corps
Last Updated November 21, 2017