F. Scott Fitzgerald said there are no second acts in American lives.
Fitzgerald never met Dawn Bennett, a former drug addict who fought hard to kick her habit and now counsels Washington County women struggling with drug and alcohol addiction.
This Thanksgiving, Bennett has much to be grateful for: a loving family and boyfriend, a fulfilling job and, thanks to Washington County Habitat for Humanity, the Washington community and Bennett’s work ethic, a house.
Bennett became a homeowner when Tony Gacek, Habitat for Humanity executive director, handed her the keys at a Tuesday dedication held at her new home on Arch Street.
Bennett’s house is the 48th home Habitat for Humanity has completed in Washington County, and the organization worked hard to make sure it was finished in time for the holiday.
“I’m amazed that my journey in Washington has brought me to this point,” said Bennett, who has stayed clean for 8 ½ years. “All the pain and misery I went through in my addiction is for the positive because I can help another woman. I can give her hope that she can have a good life and to stay clean and sober. All of your dreams and goals are achievable if you stay clean and sober.”
One of Bennett’s dreams was to own a home. That seemed impossible more than a decade ago, when Bennett was hooked on heroin, Xanax, prescription painkillers and alcohol.
A Beechview native, she started smoking marijuana and drinking as a teenager, and spent several years in and out of rehabilation centers.
She was married and working in a beauty salon when she became a victim of physical and emotional abuse, so she left, taking only her clothes.
To support her habit, Bennett would steal clothes from retail stores and sell them to her friends for half price.
“It was really bad. I lost everything and ended up living in my parents’ basement,” said Bennett, 45. “I had nothing. My dad would cry to my sisters and he’d say he was going to bury me. My family finally said they couldn’t watch me kill myself, and I had nowhere to go.”
In 2004, she ended up at Avis Arbor women’s shelter, the Washington City Mission’s haven for homeless women, for five months and successfully completed a drug addiction program. Bennett wanted to help others who were fighting with addiction, so began working with women there. She moved into the one-bedroom apartment she has lived in until she partnered with Habitat, and the former hairdresser now works in the drug and alcohol recovery field.
“I had reached a crossroads when I went to Avis Arbor. They’re faith-based, and that was important. I couldn’t be where I am today without God and the recovery program,” said Bennett, who attends Victory Church, a nondenominational church in Washington. “I’ve met good people.”
Among those good people are the volunteers at Habitat for Humanity, which Bennett heard about from a friend who had worked with the organization to earn a home.
Bennett partnered with Habitat for three years and worked side by side with Habitat staff and volunteers to build her home.
“She’s really a hard worker. She took part in every phase of building this house and all of the guys like her a lot,” said Matt Simon, a member of Ben’s Men, a volunteer group from St. Benedict the Abbott Church in Peters Township, which worked on the house once a week. “It’s very satisfying to see her become a homeowner.”
Habitat builds simple, affordable homes for its partner families using volunteer workers and monetary and material donations. Habitat sells the homes to the families at cost, with a zero percent interest mortgage, and uses the revenues to support more Habitat homes.
For Bennett’s home, Washington Slovenian Savings & Loan donated the property. Also participating in the build were Washington Financial, Peacock Keller, Washington County Redevelopment Authority, Joe Sistek, McMurray Cooling & Heating, Sykes-Scholtz & Collins, Ben’s Men, and other groups and individuals.
Mary Ann Simon, a Habitat volunteer and Bennett’s family partner, helped Bennett through the building process, including financial management classes.
“Dawn is an exceptional woman. She is sensitive and intelligent,” said Simon. “She can get frustrated, but she knows how to deal with frustration. Prayer is an important part of her life. She is going to make many happy memories in this home.”
Bennett will spend this Thanksgiving with her family, and move into her home – with her cat, Precious - over the next several days. One of the first items she plans to buy is a Christmas tree.
“It’s going to be a beautiful holiday.” Said Bennett. “I’m so excited about Thanksgiving and Christmas. It’s going to be one to remember. The biggest dream I have for this house is having family and friends coming to visit and spending time. I want to plant a garden in the back yard and plant lots of flowers. God is good.”