Dani is still fighting stigma more than four years after achieving sobriety, but she’s found some respect and belonging during her internship with our workforce development team.
“The main thing I have enjoyed are the people who work here. From day one, everyone has treated me like I was a part of the team,” Dani said. “They never made me feel like my opinions didn’t matter. Everyone here is so kind and understanding and wanting me to learn.”
Dani, 40, has been a student in Ohio University-Chillicothe’s human services and social work programs since spring 2020. Once she completes this semester and her practicum hours at Goodwill, Dani will earn her associate’s degree in human services technology and be well on her way to earning her bachelor’s degree in social work. Both accomplishments are realities she couldn’t imagine for herself much of her life.
“It’s a great feeling because I never thought I’d be where I am today,” she said.
Dani, who is originally from Huntington, West Virginia, was 15 when she had her eldest son. By time she was 20, she’d had two more children, a son who was adopted and a daughter who was just 9 months old when she died from SIDS.
“When she passed away, I went downhill really fast,” Dani said.
She was admitted to a mental health facility for a while after her father found her facedown in a tub of ice cold water. When she was released, she spiraled into a 15-year nightmare of addiction and chronic homelessness.
“It just got worse and worse to where I lost custody of my son. Lost my house. Lost my car. I just lost everything,” Dani said, holding back tears. “I was homeless sleeping on a park bench, didn’t even have a dollar for a burger.”
Dani had been to court-ordered treatment several times, but every time she immediately relapsed upon release. About five years ago, though, she met a man who also was battling addiction. He was self-medicating for PTSD caused by his time in the Persian Gulf War where his best friend and several comrades were killed.
“Even though he was here, his mind was still there,” Dani said.
They enjoyed each other’s company but then he was just gone. When he reappeared after three months, he was sober and living in Chillicothe. He’d been in treatment at the VA and wanted to know if she was ready to seek sobriety, too. Homeless, 80 pounds, and beyond tired, Dani was ready.
This time, treatment was different. Dani was ready, willing, and she had support from a man who understood her and would end up becoming her husband.
“I kept trucking and trucking and taking it one day at a time,” she said.
In 2019, she decided to take a chance on herself and apply for college, wanting to earn a degree where she can help others – veterans like her husband or others struggling with the challenges substance use disorder creates.
“I’ve done so much wrong in the world. I just want to do something good and show them (others who are struggling) that there is hope. I was one of those people. I didn’t think I could get clean – it was too hard – but I was ready and willing,” Dani said.
Due to having a felony record, Dani had to write a letter to Ohio University to be considered for admission.
“The day I got the acceptance letter, I didn’t think I’d ever see the day, and here it was,” Dani said.
When it came time to do practicum hours for her degree, Dani called Goodwill and met with Missions Coordinator Cana Horner.
“She told me everything Goodwill does, and I was shocked and amazed,” Dani said. “I knew Goodwill did things to help the community, but not to the extent they do. I even did a paper on it.”
Due to her record and state regulations, Dani isn’t allowed to work hands-on with Goodwill’s workforce participants, but she gets to observe the work of our employment specialists and job coaches. And Cana also referred her to Opportunities for Ohioans with Disabilities to seek help getting her record expunged.
“I’m finding it so inspiring,” Dani said of her internship, adding there’s a level of comradery at Goodwill she hasn’t experienced at other jobs. “They want me to learn and get everything I can out of this.”
On Oct. 24, 2022, Dani will celebrate five years of sobriety. In addition to a having gained a home, a husband, a driver’s license, and a degree in those five years, Dani also has been mending relationships with her mom, sisters, and eldest son.
If you know anyone interested in interning at Goodwill, contact Cana Horner at firstname.lastname@example.org or 740-702-4000.