Ron Abersol sometimes gets to work at Light of Life Rescue Mission two hours before his start time, but he doesn’t complain. That’s just the way the buses run.
During his two days off each week, he calls in just to catch up with coworkers and hear how the residents’ days are going.
He’s also the first to volunteer for extra work when someone calls off.
You might call him a dedicated employee — and he is — but his uncommon drive comes from an equally uncommon path.
“I was sleeping in doorways and on porches, cops being called on me,” he said, citing alcoholism as the cause for his situation. “You get tired of being tired, so I surrendered. It takes a lot to surrender.”
“Surrender” included allowing his sister to connect him with the Light of Life shelter — where he “gave [his] life to the Lord.” He then transitioned to the facility’s residential Life Transformation Program, which is where he was connected with an Achieva Direct Support Professional, Antoinette Frazier, who’s capable of the honest answers he sometimes needs.
“There were times he’d call me and say, ‘I’m ready to leave,’” she said. Antoinette would encourage Ron to remember how far he has come and to continue on that positive path.
Because she stood firm — and because he knew she was right — Ron earned his way to a waiting list and then a brand new apartment at Sixth Ward Flats, an affordable housing project in Lawrenceville containing eight apartments set aside for people with intellectual and physical disabilities with supportive services provided in partnership with Achieva.
Ron’s list of accomplishments since his October 2021 move-in date grows by the day, but his work — which isn’t “work” at all — ranks right near the top, as he says with pride, “I went from being a client to working at Light of Life.”
More alike than different
Ron is a stepfather of two and the biological father of twins, but an unidentified and untreated learning disability festered until alcoholism was the result.
“I got paid on Friday. You wouldn’t see me until Monday,” he said. “I didn’t care about the light bill, the gas bill. I was just looking for the next drink,” a lifestyle that inspired crushing anxiety and depression.
But in January, Ron celebrated seven years sober — a streak he keeps, in part, thanks to twice-a-week AA meetings and Antoinette’s support.
“I enjoy being around her because she gives me motivation, and she keeps me moving,” Ron said. “She’s a caring person and a lovable person.”
With their three days per week together, the list of to-dos is lengthy, including appointments, Sam’s Club runs, paying bills, and much more. But the key to the duo’s success isn’t just checking those boxes; it’s recognizing how similar they really are.
“Before I started working with him, I was learning how to manage my own budget better,” she said. “I have ADHD [attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder], depression, and anxiety. I talk to a therapist. I think I can understand him and the things he goes through. Those things brought us close together.”
‘I just enjoy life’...
As unintentional as it was, Ron knows he hurt the people around him at the height of his addiction. Since then, Ron earned an all-new reputation, as Achieva Housing Specialist Lisa Kerrighen looked at him and said, “You’re one of the most grateful people I’ve ever met.”
While still living at Light of Life, Lisa delivered his checks. With each interaction, he took the opportunity to sing the praises of Antoinette, Achieva, and Light of Life.
Ron was the first person she ever saw move into his own apartment — a memory that still brings tears to her eyes. Part of that memory is how thankful he was for all of the furnishings that were given to him, and the amazement at his own four walls.
And if all stays on track, he’ll be his own “rep payee” by July, meaning he’ll no longer rely on Achieva to manage his bills and bank account. He’ll handle those responsibilities on his own.
“He just deserves all of it,” she said. “He’s worked hard for it, and he deserves it.”
Antoinette feels the same way: “If there was a prize for all of this, I think he deserves it. Just seeing him come so far, from being homeless, drinking, being in Light of Life, to working down there, it’s something to be very proud of. I tell him every day that I’m proud of him.”
Better and better
The dividends of Ron’s hard work aren’t just seen in a Lawrenceville apartment or a job he adores.
Shortly after moving into that apartment, he met a woman in the building who was there only to help her elderly parents. Characteristic of the Ron everyone now knows, he struck up a conversation about how he could help connect her with the Greater Pittsburgh Food Bank to ease some of the family’s financial burden. He’s been in a romantic relationship with that woman for over a year now.
His four children (and one grandchild) have all welcomed him back into their lives: “I have a relationship with them today because they gave me a second chance to be the dad I wasn’t.”
He’s a self-reported “die-hard” Steelers and Penguins fan, which is how he spends his free moments.
And though he doesn’t mind adhering to a bus schedule that sometimes lands him at work hours ahead of time, he does have a goal: to earn a driver’s license and purchase his own vehicle.
Ron being Ron, it’s only a matter of time until he’s cruising down Butler Street. But that accomplishment, like all the others, won’t just benefit him personally. It will serve as yet another positive example for the men and women at Light of Life who look to him as a guidepost.
“If I’m able to do this, they can do it, too,” he said. “One thing I say to them is just when you think everything is crumbling, it’s really just coming together.
“I’m not saying I’m a superhero. I’m not saying anything like that. But I’ve made progress, and I have Antoinette, Achieva, and God to thank for that. I wouldn’t give this up for the world.”