For more than 20 years Denise Zellous struggled with drug addiction and its ills. Due to her addiction, she spent 11 years of her life being homeless. But it was in 2000 that she found an organization willing to help her and now, on April 29, Zellous will celebrate 12 years of sobriety. With her found hope for the future, she is now working to share that same hope with other women who were once in her situation, through a new initiative called the Helping Other People Excel Project.
The HOPE Project, in partnership with Dress for Success Pittsburgh, is a community action project that presents hope chests of household items to women transitioning from homelessness to permanent housing. The project currently works with participants from Bethlehem Haven, a non-profit organization that provides support services to women in the Pittsburgh area.
“It’s a miracle. Without the support, encouragement and guidance from organizations like Dress for Success (Pittsburgh) and Bethlehem Haven I don’t think I’d be a productive member of society,” Zellous, a Dress for Success Pittsburgh Professional Women’s Group delegate, said about overcoming her past. Now, Zellous is giving back to the same program that helped her. “My experience is that people that are given a second chance do give back. It is part of showing our gratitude. Bethlehem Haven not only helps address homelessness, but it also treats the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual side. They offer a holistic support system,” she said.
The idea for the HOPE Project began when Zellous, a Dress for Success client, was asked to serve as a delegate for the organization’s worldwide summit and while there, she was given the task of creating a community action project with seed money given by Walmart.
“We are very excited about the project and are very fortunate to have Denise apart of the Professional Women’s Group,” said Michael Glass, CEO of the Dress for Success Pittsburgh affiliate. “She developed the idea and asked (us) to partner with her and we are happy to do so because it is a very worthy cause. Denise was selected to represent Dress for Success Pittsburgh because she embodies the principles Dress For Success advocates. She demonstrates a great deal of perseverance and determination.”
Participants of the project will be given pots, pans, towels, sheets and other items, that Glass said many who have not been in similar situations, may take for granted.
The project is currently set-up to assist 20-30 women, all of whom must be a participant of the Bethlehem Haven Transitional Housing Program, but Zellous said she would like to see it not only be an ongoing effort, but also grow, not only to assist more women, but to reach out to women in transition beyond the program.
Zellous said she is doing this project and giving back because, “there is nothing more powerful than one survivor helping another.”
For more information on The HOPE Project or to donate, call 412-927-3187 or visit www.gofundme.com/dnsaw.