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He's just thankful for a new start in life

"Dean Huskey lives alone in a modest apartment and keeps up with the usual bills. The 36-year-old recently purchased a used but serviceable TV for $170, which he says added more life to his plain abode.“I had bought a brand-new TV, but I soon realized that I wasn’t going to make my other bills if I kept it, so I took it back and got an older one,” he said. Huskey bought the TV from St. Vincent dePaul’s thrift store in Port Orchard, his most recent employer. He also received some dishes and silverware from the store. When Huskey was first hired, he only had a plate and a fork.Huskey and a partner work mornings delivering housewares and other goods to folks in need. The rest of the day, Huskey meets and greet customers at the door, unloads donations and maintains the storeroom.“This is the first time I’ve felt good about my life,” the Los Angeles, Calif. native said, his weathered face creasing about the eyes.Huskey arrived at the St. Vincent’s doorstep after finishing up a short prison sentence a month ago. Operating under the Peninsula Work Release program--he has since completed all sentence requirements--a parole officer instructed him to secure gainful employment and a place to live in the Port Orchard area. He didn’t know where to go. “I’d never been to Port Orchard in my life,” he said.But he found a house and Tina Jeu, the thrift store operations manager, hired him.“Dean has conquered everyone’s heart,” she said. “He’s got this positive attitude, he’s always smiling and he has tremendous energy. He came here with so many barriers to employment, and he was shocked to get the job. It was like he hit the jackpot.”One day last week, Huskey nodded to shoppers near the storefront, never taking them for granted. “Good morning,” he’d say with an earnest smile as he opened the front door. “How are you doing today?”Shoppers thanked him.Huskey said he’s thankful, too.“For the first time in my life, I am being responsible, I’m not letting anyone bail me out. I’m on my own,” he said.For 35 years, Huskey said he’s either depended on his mother, a girlfriend or one of his siblings to get him a job, some money or a place to stay.Originally from California, Huskey migrated toward Portland, Ore. but eventually wound up in Sequim to be closer to his natural father, who Huskey said was never really around while he was a kid.And with each move, Huskey took on odd jobs. He’s been a dishwasher and a fisherman. But whatever the gig, he was always looking for something else. What, exactly, he didn’t know.“I’d steal stuff for pleasure, for gratification,” he said. “One time a girlfriend said we’d have a barbecue and she asked me to get some groceries. She wanted to give me money and I said ‘No.’ Then I stole some beer and some steaks. Of course I was caught and I lost my job at the time and my girlfriend.”For Huskey it was a vicious cycle: Minimum-wage employment, displeasure, low self-esteem, scams, stealing and getting caught. He tried to straighten out, but always slipped back into old habits.Huskey credits his 20-month stint in the prison’s work-ethic program for his turnaround. He got up at the crack of dawn, exercised for several hours, worked and then went to school. He took self-improvement courses and job-training classes. During that time, his mother died.“After this last time, I wanted to get straight, I was tired of messing up,” Huskey said. So he prayed, and ended up in the right place.Jeu said she never had any reason to distrust Huskey, even though he’s been convicted of felony thefts.“This is what we are all about,” she explained. “We trust everyone.”Huskey still can’t quite believe it himself, so he counts his blessings every day.“When I first walked in here, I thought this would be the last place to hire me,” he said.Though Huskey doesn’t see or talk to his siblings often, he seems content with his life. Maybe someday, he’ll go into graphic design.“I don’t want to work minimum-wage all my life,” he said. “I love to draw and paint, and I qualified at one time for some graphic-art classes, but I chickened out because we’d have to use computers and I can’t type. I didn’t think I was good enough, and that’s probably the one thing I’m any good at.”In the meantime, he bustles about St. Vincent’s, tipping his hat, nodding hello."

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