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:; 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

The county canvassing board certifies election results at the Snohomish County Auditor’s Office in Everett, Washington on Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2023.  (Annie Barker / The Herald)
General election results stamped official by canvassing board

In Snohomish County, one hand recount will take place. Officials said ballot challenges were down this year.

The Days Inn on Everett Mall Way, which Snohomish County is set to purchase and convert into emergency housing, is seen Monday, Aug. 8, 2022, in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Over $130M for affordable housing set to be approved by County Council

The five-year investment plan of the 0.1% sales tax aims to construct 550 new affordable units.

Two snowboarders head up the mountain in a lift chair on the opening day of ski season at Stevens Pass Ski Area on Friday, Dec. 2, 2022, near Skykomish, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Ski season delayed at Stevens Pass due to minimal snow

Resort originally planned to open Dec. 1. But staff are hopeful this week’s snow will allow guests to hit the slopes soon.

Siblings Qingyun, left, and Ruoyun Li, 12 and 13, respectively, are together on campus at Everett Community College on Thursday, Oct. 19, 2023, in Everett, Washington. The two are taking a full course load at the community college this semester. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Siblings, age 12 and 13, are youngest students at EvCC campus

Qingyun Li was 11 when he scored a perfect 36 on the ACT test. His sister, Ruoyun, was one point away.

Edmond’s newly elected mayor Mike Rosen on Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2023 in Edmonds, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Mayor-elect Rosen wants to ‘make Edmonds politics boring again’

Mike Rosen handily defeated incumbent Mayor Mike Nelson. He talked with The Herald about how he wants to gather the “full input” of residents.

A speed camera facing west along 220th Street Southwest on Tuesday, Nov. 21, 2023 in Edmonds, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Traffic cameras, and tickets, come to Edmonds; Mukilteo could be next

New school zone cameras in Edmonds will begin operating in January. Mukilteo is considering enforcement cameras as well.

A person walks their dog along a flooded Old Snohomish Monroe Road on Tuesday, Nov. 16, 2021 in Snohomish, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Flood-resistant floors and sandbags are price of riverside life in Sultan

Flooding is a threat every year for 75,000 locals — and the long-term forecast suggests it’ll only get worse in the coming decades.

3 men charged in armed home invasion near Everett

Prosecutors allege the trio targeted other Asian American homes across Snohomish, Whatcom and King counties.

Team members prep for the upcoming ski season at Stevens Pass Resort in Skykomish, Washington on Wednesday, Nov. 29, 2023.  (Annie Barker / The Herald)
Any day now: All eyes on snow forecast at Stevens Pass

The ski area was a flurry of activity this week, as staff made sure a new lift and app were running smoothly.

Carjacking suspects tracked via GPS from Everett to Renton, then arrested

A King County resident reported two people stole their Mercedes at gunpoint. Hours later, its GPS tracker pinged in north Everett.

Man sentenced for racist threats to Edmonds animal control officer

Sean Wagner spewed slurs at an officer who seized his dogs. He was sentenced to jail for a hate crime.

A sign in front of the AquaSox front office references the upcoming Everett City Council vote on a sum of $1.1 million to give to outside contractors to help upgrade a new stadium on Wednesday, Nov. 29, 2023 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Everett AquaSox stadium upgrade gets $1.1M green light from city

City officials want to keep the team in Everett. But will they play in a new stadium downtown in 2027? Or an updated Funko Field?

Support local journalism

If you value local news, make a gift now to support the trusted journalism you get in The Daily Herald. Donations processed in this system are not tax deductible.