An Anderson University student’s passion for easing veterans’ transition from the battlefield to the home front has grown into a national effort to combat homelessness.
Ron Aderhold, a veteran of the United States Army who served in Operations Desert Storm and Desert Shield, is a graduate student in the College of Business at Anderson University. The Greenwood, S.C. native last summer created Operation Bedroll, a donation drive that provided household goods for homeless veterans in Washington, D.C.
After overwhelming success, Aderhold is helping expand Operation Bedroll across the country, and will speak about his efforts on Dec. 9, when the second Operation Bedroll drive kicks off at The Washington Center (TWC), where he served as a 2017 summer intern in its Internships and Academic Seminars program.
As a veteran himself, Aderhold participated in TWC’s highly selective Veterans Employment Trajectory (VET) initiative, an experience he used to create a partnership among the Washington D.C. Mayor’s Office of Veterans Affairs, the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans and the Washington Center to launch Operation Bedroll. He said that while he was aware of the challenges soldiers face when returning from active duty, it wasn’t until he took a tour of an 82-bed transitional housing facility for homeless veterans in Washington, D.C., that the scope of the problem truly hit home.
“Walking though, I saw these twin beds with dingy sheets and few supplies,” Aderhold said. He knew the hundreds of his TWC interns purchase laundry items, food and other household staples at the beginning of their semesters, and many of these items are discarded at the end of the program.
“I thought, ‘Let’s collect these items and get them into the hands of the people who really need them,’” he said.
“I saw a need,” Aderhold said. “Veterans need to feel like human beings again, like someone cares for them. That’s the biggest thing I’ve learned. Medical care, plus housing, equals stability. (Operation Bedroll) was just the right thing to do.”
Aderhold’s desire to give back, along with his work ethic, doesn’t come as a surprise to Sharon Vargo. She’s Aderhold’s Journey Coach at Anderson University where, as an advisor to non-traditional students, she’s tasked with providing assistance to those seeking a college degree at AU.
Aderhold is one of her star students. He graduated in April with a Bachelor of Business Administration in Healthcare Management; he was honored as the program’s top graduating student. He’s currently enrolled in AU’s highly regarded Master of Business Administration program, with a concentration in healthcare policy.
“For Ron, being a veteran, college is such a different experience,” Vargo said. “And he’s in a challenging program. As an advisor, it’s wonderful to see him flourish. And it’s amazing seeing an adult student with such difficult life commitments be one of our top students. It’s a wonderful opportunity for him, and reflects well on the types of experiences we provide at Anderson University.”
Aderhold, who has testified on Capitol Hill about the need to invest more resources to keep veterans off the streets, said that 19 percent of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom veterans are homeless within 30 months of leaving active duty. He said that’s why programs like Operation Bedroll are so important. It’s a way to ease their transition into permanent housing.
And he’s eager to share ways for others to get involved. Operation Bedroll is now up and running as a part of upcoming TWC internship classes, and future students will begin donating excess items to veterans’ homeless shelters in Washington, D.C., because of his leadership. What’s more, Operation Bedroll is in the preliminary stages of forming a partnership with the Student Veterans of America to bring the program to campuses nationally.
“This program will have a long-lasting effect on the lives of many homeless veterans,” Aderhold said.