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Wedding bells cap couple’s comeback from the streets

Heather Dunlap poses in her wedding gown at Julie
Heather Dunlap poses in her wedding gown at Julie's Fashion in Federal Way. Dionne Agostini, who took Dunlap and her fiance, Troy Jones, from the streets of Federal Way and into her home, looks on.
— image credit: Jacinda Howard/The Mirror

By JACINDA HOWARD, The Mirror

Sometimes a helping hand and a friendly smile are all it takes it renew the spirits and help the city’s homeless turn their lives around.

Heather Dunlap, 35, and her fiance, Troy Jones, 39, both of whom used to live among Federal Way’s homeless population, are a shining example. They benefited from Fife resident Dionne Agostini’s start-up organization called God’s Love.

With Agostini’s assistance, the couple is slowly recovering from years spent with no place to call home.

On the move

Dunlap and Jones met about six years ago. They fell in love, and within six months were married in front of a pastor. The union did not come with a marriage license, but the couple considered themselves wed despite the absence of legal paperwork.

“We were married by the man upstairs, but not the police,” Dunlap said.

But their alcoholism led them in a direction that would ultimately change their lives. Approximately three years ago, the couple became homeless. They moved from Denver, Colo., to Vancouver, Wash., to Federal Way.

In the process, the couple suffered the loss of a homeless friend to freezing cold weather. They saw extreme violence. After a year of homelessness, Jones experienced a searing pain and made his way to a hospital. He was told he had a heart disease. Jones has since survived 13 strokes, Dunlap said. The couple’s future looked dim until they met Agostini, who works in a Federal Way law office.

A lucky break

Agostini, 34, grew up wealthy and spoiled, and at age 15 she left home, she said. For the next 15 years, she valued her make-up, high-heeled shoes and expensive jewelry, she said.

As a child, Agostini’s parents had been religious, but in the years since establishing herself, Agostini had not regularly attended church. She realized her life was missing something approximately three years ago.

“I felt an emptiness that wasn’t being satisfied by people,” Agostini said.

She rededicated herself to church. She also began to pay more attention to the people around her. Agostini noticed the homeless men and women standing on Federal Way’s corners — and she would stop to say hello and let them know they were important. Agostini became a friend to people who did not have a lot of friends. She prayed with them and respected them.

“Everybody has problems,” Agostini said. “Some just lead to homelessness.”

A lucky break

Dunlap and Jones were among those Agostini visited. She knew their background and believed that with a little help, they could change their lives.

“You could tell they were good people,” Agostini said.

Four months after the couple arrived in Federal Way, Jones was hospitalized for an extended amount of time due to his heart disease. Following this, Agostini invited the couple to live with her. She had never gone to this length to help the city’s homeless. She did so willingly, but felt the decision to house Dunlap and Jones was made for her.

“I really, honestly believe this is all God’s work,” Agostini said.

A new beginning

Seven months have passed, and each day Dunlap wakes up with something to look forward to, she said. Dunlap landed a job as an assistant in the law office where Agostini works. Jones now receives disability funding from the Department of Social and Health Services. The couple will be legally married on Feb. 1.

“Since they have been with me, I have seen miracle after miracle,” Agostini said.

Dunlap dreams of the day she will own a vehicle and phone, she said. She hopes to one day travel to Hawaii, and she looks forward to the moment she is reunited with her two kids, ages 13 and 15.

“I’ll be happy and proud to tell them the way I was and the way I am now,” she said.

God’s Love

Since taking in the couple, Agostini has further dedicated herself to a nonprofit organization she calls God’s Love. She collects money from Federal Way residents and uses it to purchase necessities for the city’s homeless population.

Twelve times in 2007, she collected approximately $150 by sitting outside the Wal-Mart Supercenter in Federal Way. She then used the money to buy items on lists provided to her by the city’s homeless. She purchased goods such as blankets, socks and propane, then distributed the articles to those in need, she said.

Giving back

Dunlap helps Agostini with God’s Love. The two keep a photo album of the homeless people they visit. They also hold on to each person’s list of desired items. Agostini estimates 50 people benefit from her organization, which donates 100 percent of the proceeds it collects.

Agostini dreams of opening a homeless shelter in Federal Way, she said.

“As rock bottom as we were, I think anybody can (turn their lives around).” Dunlap said. “You just need a helping hand.”

Contact Jacinda Howard: jhoward@fedwaymirror.com or (253) 925-5565.

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