For Derrick Winding (SNL ’12), a strong community is the foundation of success. As president of the Veteran’s Advocacy Group, a not-for-profit organization which was founded as a student group at DePaul by alumnus Ron Lackey (SNL ’08) more than ten years ago, Derrick has helped to create a place where student and alumni veterans could not only lean on one another for peer support, but also access career panels, hear from guest speakers, attend social and networking events, and more. In short, he created a community for veterans.
But that’s nothing new. Derrick’s success—after a nine-year career in the Marine Corps, he graduated from DePaul’s School for New Learning in 2012 and is enrolled in the College of Law this winter—is built upon his unique ability to connect with people and foster communities. “It’s something I’ve always been interested in,” Derrick remembers. “I’ve always wanted to be of service and help people out.”
Fostering those connections is a skill that Derrick has honed through facing extraordinary challenges. Shortly after beginning his undergraduate studies, he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, a chronic neurogenic disease that can manifest in many ways. For Derrick, it meant that he would have to find a way to get the support he needed to complete his degree at a time when there wasn’t a lot of infrastructure to support students with chronic illnesses.
“Derrick became the posterchild for DePaul’s Chronic Illness Initiative, which was spearheaded by a visiting faculty member, Dr. Lynn Royster Fuentes,” said Shannon Stone-Winding, Derrick’s wife, whom he met as a DePaul student. Through his involvement with the Chronic Illness Initiative, which was later absorbed into DePaul’s Center for Students with Disabilities, Derrick found a community that could support him as he strived to achieve his goals. He also learned the pillars of peer support that would go on to inform his advocacy work for years to come.
“When Derrick became president of the Veteran’s Advocacy Group at DePaul—which he would later transform into an organization with a wider scope, independent of the university—he took what he learned from Dr. Royster Fuentes in the Chronic Illness Initiative and brought all of that into the veteran’s community,” said Mrs. Stone-Winding. “That peer-to-peer way of supporting our veterans really spoke to DePaul’s mission. The student group exploded.”
One of Derrick’s most impactful accomplishments at DePaul was a Black History Month event honoring the Tuskegee Airmen, the Buffalo Soldiers and the Triple Nickels, all African-American units in the U.S. military. “Veterans from previous eras came to campus with their awards and medals to tell their stories. The event was filmed, those veterans were interviewed, and it was made into a movie which now has a place in the Library of Congress,” said Mrs. Stone-Winding.
Through all that Derrick has been able to accomplish, maintaining strong bonds with his communities has been his constant. Mrs. Stone-Winding remembers, “I was a DePaul undergrad, and I started working there in 2005. When Derrick was a student, he learned more about community, more about services that were available, more about people and their stories, more about what people did on campus than I ever did, and I was working there! I thought to myself, ‘How did you learn who these people are?’ He was so invested in people. It’s one of the reasons the Veteran’s Advocacy Group became as big as it did, because people were attracted to Derrick and his spirit. People wanted to support Derrick, and because he wanted to support veterans and students on campus with disabilities, that’s what they supported. I think that’s one of the biggest ways he’s been successful—he learned how to find advocates who would help and support him along the way.”
A number of those advocates deserve special mention as individuals who stuck with Derrick and supported him through his studies: the late Dr. Warren Scheideman, Derrick’s first faculty advisor; Ron Lackey, who positioned Derrick to take the reins as president of the Veteran’s Advocacy Group; Judge Russell Hartigan, who was Derrick’s professional advisor and who wrote a letter of recommendation that helped him get in to law school; Derrick’s graduate mentors, Dr. Gabriele Strohschen, Dr. Ken Elazier and Dr. Patrick Murphy; Seana Jackson, who is Derrick’s disability caregiver; Derrick’s many family and friends; and multiple veteran’s organizations, including VetNet, the Coalition of Veterans Organizations, and Student Veterans of America (SVA), where Derrick has recently accepted an appointment as the new Disability Veteran Liaison for SVA DePaul.
“It was not only his faculty at DePaul, but other students, alumni, the veteran’s community, the chronic illnesses community, all of it. It’s such a family affair,” said Mrs. Stone-Winding. “And for Derrick, it made DePaul home.”