Story and photo by Debbi Casini Klein | Audio edited by Louis D’Aria
Molested when she was 8 years old, Denise Zellous turned to drugs and promiscuity at a very young age.
“I didn’t know the difference between sexuality and love,” Denise said. “I made a lot of bad choices, bad decisions and eventually wanted to numb all of those feelings, and I did that with drugs, which ultimately lead me to be homeless for 11 years, living in and out of abandoned houses.”
She had five children and abandoned them for 11 years, seeking comfort in her drug world. Her world finally came crashing down after multiple arrests. In and out of jail for years, Denise hit rock bottom. She then decided to turn her life around, get help, and help others in similar situations.
She realized other women like herself, who were transitioning into permanent housing, needed help. As part of her volunteer work with Dress for Success, she founded the Zellous HOPE Project. HOPE stands for Helping Other People Excel.
The HOPE Project helps women with everyday things they need to get them back on their feet.
“Everything you could need for the kitchen, things you use every day, silverware, pots, pans, dishes, towels, wash rags, shower curtains for the bathroom, sheets, pillow cases, spreads for the bedroom,” Denise said.
Denise offers much more than just household items for them. She is also a comforting support – a friend, a counselor, anything they need, anytime of the day or night.
“When you reach that point when you know you cannot live another moment the way you are living, something will greet you to show you that’s not the end of the road,” she said. “It’s the beginning of a whole lot of avenues.”