When Ron Aderhold, a U.S. Army veteran and a graduate of Anderson University, saw the problem of veteran homelessness firsthand, his heart broke.
That’s why he created Operation Bedroll, a growing initiative to provide homeless veterans with basic necessities by collecting household items from interns at The Washington Center (TWC) in Washington, D.C.
(Read our original profile on Ron here.)
Aderhold is a Greenwood, South Carolina native who served in Operation Desert Storm and Operation Desert Shield, spending much of his active duty in the Middle East.
Aderhold said the United States Army transformed his life and defines who he is. Entering the Army at just 18-years old taught him how to live life and instilled in him a strong work ethic.
“Serving your country defends freedom for everyone else,” Aderhold said. “It’s a special thing.”
After leaving the military, Aderhold ran a construction company. When the economy crashed, he lost his business. Without insurance benefits, he turned to Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) for his healthcare.
“I saw what veterans were going through,” Aderhold said.
That experience sparked Aderhold’s mission to serve other veterans. He saw the opportunity to embrace his calling and decided to pursue a career in healthcare administration.
Aderhold said Anderson University’s Christian foundation, online options and degree choices proved to be the right fit for him.
During his time at Anderson University, Aderhold excelled. He graduated in April 2017 with a Bachelor of Business Administration in Healthcare Management as the program’s top student.
“Ron exemplifies how veterans are some of our most dedicated students and do so much inside and outside of the classroom,” said Sharon Vargo-McLaughlin, an enrollment counselor and Aderhold’s Journey Coachat Anderson.
Aderhold moved directly from one degree program to the next at Anderson when he enrolled in the College of Business and its Master of Business Administration program with a concentration in healthcare policy.
“His commitment to lifelong learning and personal growth is evident and commendable,” said Dr. Valerie Johnston, the primary faculty for Healthcare Management and Leadership at Anderson University.
Aderhold expanded his learning beyond the classroom as well. In summer 2017, he interned with TWC. He was responsible for working with the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans to find shortcomings in veteran support services.
While working with veterans in Washington, Aderhold was overcome by the reality of veteran homelessness.
Within 30 months of returning from service, 19 percent of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom veterans are homeless, Aderhold said. If a person enters the army at 18 and serves for four years, they often do not learn the practical skills they need to live on their own.
Aderhold toured a veteran housing facility in Washington and saw the impoverished conditions many of the veterans were living in, noticing their dingy sheets and lack of many basic necessities.
He recalled the new supplies that many of the more than 350 interns at TWC purchased at the beginning of the summer. Aderhold knew that many of them would be flying home after their internship and simply throwing away gently used sheets and other household supplies while the homeless veterans lacked the staple items.
Aderhold decided to take action. He worked with Washington, D.C. Mayor’s Office of Veterans Affairs, the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans and TWC to create Operation Bedroll.
“Food is one thing, but you have to be able to live,” Aderhold said. “Everybody thinks about food, but they forget about hygiene.”
At the end of the summer, Operation Bedroll collected bedding and other household items and donated them to local veteran housing facilities in D.C.
“My inspiration was being a veteran and seeing veterans in need,” Aderhold said. “The Army is like a family. They walked the same fields as I did.”
The program is still thriving today, and it is in the process of expanding. With Credential Financial serving as the sponsor, Aderhold has partnered with Student Veterans of America to bring a similar program to college campuses across the nation.
Aderhold remembers driving through Anderson’s campus at the end of the school year and observing how many usable household items were piled in dumpsters. He said if students had the opportunity to donate their items to people in need, it could make a big impact on the community.
Though the new initiative will operate under a separate title, the concept of Operation Bedroll will remain. The idea is that a student veteran representative on each participating college campus will lead the program by partnering with a local homeless shelter and encouraging donations on their campus.
“There is effort, but not a lot of up-front cost,” Aderhold said. “It just takes donating your time. Imagine how many people you could help by just giving your time.”
Aderhold said this new initiative just isn’t exclusively focused on homeless veterans, but could benefit all types of homeless shelters throughout the United States. He is enthusiastic about the number of homeless individuals the new initiative will help.
“One day it could be the standard for what college campuses do,” he said.
Aderhold plans to establish his program at colleges nationwide, including Anderson University, as soon as possible.
His efforts to serve his fellow veterans also includes his new role as the Advance Medical Support Specialist at VA Medical Center in Beckley, West Virginia.
Though he took a semester off to move and begin his new job, Aderhold will continue pursuing his master degree at Anderson University.
“A professor's greatest satisfaction comes from seeing students be all that they can be and when a student uses their abilities and talents to serve others, the satisfaction is even sweeter,” Johnston said. “Ron has been an inspiration.”
Aderhold is thankful for his education at Anderson and the support he has received along the way. He said his professors truly care about him.
“Everything I learned at Anderson, I do now,” Aderhold said. “My degree at Anderson got me this job.”
“With the support and care we offer at AU for non-traditional students; we can make the dream of earning a degree a reality for students coming back to school like Ron,” Vargo-McLaughlin said.