Film grad Andrew Ladner approaches every endeavor with a question: How can I use what I know and what I’ve learned?
He certainly has an eclectic knowledge base: “I have a background as an Army engineer, I’ve been in combat, and I’m a wounded warrior,” says Andrew. “I’ve also been on the administrative side of the military. I have marketing experience and now I have a film degree. It was like I was meant to do something that brings all of those things together.”
That something is the United States Veterans Corps, an organization Andrew founded with a commitment to hands on community service. After retiring from the Army in 1996, he noticed most military non-profits provided veterans with life assistance services such as education or job placement. While those things are necessary and good, he saw a need within the non-profit sector to provide veterans with something tangible. He also saw an opportunity for former soldiers to build a community focused on helping those less fortunate. From this vision he drew his organization’s creed, “What a few can do.”
Turns out a few can effect huge change. USVC has, in conjunction with the Home Builders Association, contributed their services to Operation Coming Home, an initiative to provide wounded veterans with new homes free of charge. To date, Andrew and his team have helped build homes for seven veterans. In May, they broke ground on an eighth house. They’ve worked with Habitat for Humanity and have been featured on the reality show Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.
In addition to serving as the executive director of USVC and sitting on the board of Operation Coming Home, Andrew films and edits most of USVC’s promotional videos himself. He graduated from Full Sail’s Film bachelor’s program in 2004, and the passion for storytelling he cultivated while in the program remains a cornerstone of his current work. He’s often required to pitch USVC to award and grant committees the way a screenwriter might pitch a potential script. By using film as a pitch medium, he’s able to relay the unique and deeply personal impact of helping a wounded vet achieve the dream of homeownership.
“To gain funding, you have to attract sponsors and volunteers. You have to show who and what you are. I use film to draw emotion and tell a story. Everything in life is storytelling,” he says.
That’s how he puts what he knows to good use, but what about what he’s learned? “Here’s a good one,” he says. “Always put your logo on the back of your shirt. That way, when you film people you can show them in motion.”
Since 2005, the USVC has won dozens of awards, including two United States Presidential Volunteer Service Awards and a spot in the 2011 Guinness Book of World Records for the world’s largest 24-hour food drive. This year, Andrew and three other members of the USVC were filmed by the Library of Congress for a series on veterans in history. The interviews will be preserved for posterity in the Library’s archives, giving Andrew a chance to share what he knows and what he’s learned with the world for years to come.
“I can take a small group of people and accomplish big things,” he says. “What a few can do. Our tagline is a belief system.”