Dennis Willard gathers his tools for his next repair in Monroe on Oct. 29. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Dennis Willard gathers his tools for his next repair in Monroe on Oct. 29. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Looking for his ‘last job,’ veteran found new work, new life

U.S. Navy veteran Dennis Willard, once homeless, now works for the nonprofit that helped him.

EVERETT — When Dennis Willard moved into his own apartment, the Navy veteran was relieved.

After years of living in a tent with his cat, Sprick, he had finally found stability.

Roughly a year later, Willard now works for the nonprofit that found him housing.

“I was looking for my last job,” Willard said. “I’m not looking for a paycheck. I’m looking for something that I can retire from and something that means something.”

When Willard entered HopeWorks Social Enterprises’ career training program, he just needed some help re-entering the workforce. The program is open to anyone but geared toward people who were previously homeless. Many of the trainees, including Willard, are already housed through Housing Hope when they enter the roughly three-month program.

Willard is a skilled carpenter who received a humanitarian medal as a Seabee in the Navy. He traveled the world as part of the Navy’s Construction Battalion, helping with projects like hospitals and drug rehabilitation centers.

In the late 1990s, the Navy brought Willard to Everett. He considered the city close enough to his small Oregon hometown and remembered driving through on his way to snowboard. Willard bought a house and stayed.

He left the Navy in 2001 and later worked at a vinyl plant for many years, helping manufacture windows and doors. When another company bought out his employer in 2014, though, Willard lost his job. He lost his house the following year, too.

“I ended up being homeless for the first time in my life,” Willard said.

The Navy veteran lived in a tent with his cat for four years. He avoided shelters, because they don’t allow pets and said he would rather be unhoused than lose Sprick.

“That cat means everything to me,” Willard said.

When the pair moved to a Housing Hope property in 2019, Sprick became classified as a companion animal. A year later, Willard started the job training program.

Dennis Willard gathers keys for his next repair in Monroe on Oct. 29. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Dennis Willard gathers keys for his next repair in Monroe on Oct. 29. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

HopeWorks owns and operates several businesses that it uses as part of its job training program. Willard chose to complete his internship at Renew Home & Decor, a consignment store in Everett that sells gently used furniture.

“We miss him,” said Kandi Garber, director of Renew Home & Decor, who oversees the job training program.

Garber said the Navy veteran built new legs for couches, made table leaves and repaired rocking chairs. Garber described Willard as industrious and enterprising — the type of person who can fix anything with few resources.

“I saw something that was broken and I was like, ‘Oh, I can fix that,’” Willard said of his internship at Renew. “I started tinkering with it and was able to get it back on the floor for sale.”

Dennis Willard, a Navy veteran, became homeless in 2014 and began job training through HopeWorks at Renew Home and Decor. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Dennis Willard, a Navy veteran, became homeless in 2014 and began job training through HopeWorks at Renew Home and Decor. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Willard graduated from the HopeWorks program and now works for Housing Hope, where he was recently promoted to a maintenance technician. He fixes issues for residents at the nonprofit’s properties.

“The residents love me,” Willard said.

In his spare time, Willard keeps busy with woodworking projects, like building loft beds, chess sets, cutting boards and planter boxes. Renew Home & Decor sells some of his work.

“I do this on the side as my hobby and I have a job that I like to go to,” Willard said. “It’s a good company.”

Katie Hayes: katie.hayes@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @misskatiehayes.

Katie Hayes is a Report for America corps member and writes about issues that affect the working class for The Daily Herald.

Talk to us

More in Local News

Staff are evaluating two more light rail alternatives for the Everett Link extension. One would follow Interstate 5 north of 128th Street SW to the Everett Mall and back to the freeway. Another would go west of 128th Street SW to Highway 99 and north to Casino Road. (Sound Transit)
Snohomish County leaders reject light rail routes bypassing Paine Field

Those options weren’t what voters approved — and would be like “butchering” the plan, the Snohomish County executive said.

A Sound Transit train arrives at Westlake Station in downtown Seattle. (Sue Misao / Herald file) May 2019
Should light rail skip Paine Field and Boeing? We asked, you answered

More than 300 Herald readers responded to an online poll. Here are the results.

Logo for news use featuring the municipality of Lake Stevens in Snohomish County, Washington. 220118
Highway 9 work could disrupt travel through Lake Stevens

Construction is set for roundabouts on South Lake Stevens Road and one at North Davies Road and Vernon Road.

Lynnwood City Council members, from left: Jim Smith, Shirley Sutton, Shannon Sessions, Josh Binda, George Hurst, Julieta Altamirano-Crosby, and Patrick Decker. (City of Lynnwood)
No penalty for Lynnwood council member’s ‘underinformed’ views on racism

The City Council didn’t censure Jim Smith after a report found he discriminated against a Black city employee.

All ears: Mukilteo couple provides surgery for kids born without ears

Dr. Prabhat and Trish Bhama are part of a HUGS volunteer team providing treatment for microtia in Guatemala.

Smoke from the Bolt Creek fire silhouettes a mountain ridge and trees just outside of Index on Sept. 12, 2022. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Humans caused Bolt Creek wildfire, authorities say

Specifics about what ignited the flames remained under investigation. Meanwhile, all evacuation orders have been lifted.

FILE - Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., speaks during a news conference the vote to codify Roe v. Wade, in this May 5, 2022 file photo on Capitol Hill in Washington. Murray is one of the U.S. Senate's most powerful members and seeking a sixth term. She is being challenged by Tiffany Smiley, a Republican from Pasco, Wash. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, File)
Providence continues to face questions about hospital debt collection

The hospital group has pushed back against the notion that Providence “intentionally takes advantage of those who are vulnerable.”

Officers working in North Everett located and arrested the suspect from a June 20 shooting that left two dead and one injured in the 2000 block of Lexington. (Everett Police Department)
Everett triple shooting suspect tied to another homicide

A search warrant points to Shayne Baker, 26, as the suspect in the killing of Scott Pullen at a storage facility in Everett.

(Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest - US Forest Service)
U.S. 2 reopens east of Index as Bolt Creek wildfire moves north

The highway was blocked off earlier this week as the fire spread.

Most Read