Once homeless, Dayton teen mom now offers helping hand to others

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

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Dionna Walker, the founder of Dionna's Helping Hands, on why she gave clothes to classmates as a child. Video by Amelia Robinson

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

Dionna Walker had a hard head.

"I didn’t want to listen," the now 27-year-old mother of five said. "I wanted to be grown. I wanted to do adult things."

Walker, a student at Clark State University, said she knows what it feels like to be in the shoes of the women and children that her charity, Dionna Helping Hands, assists.

She's walked in them.

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Dionna Walker, founder of Dionna's Helping Hands in Dayton.

Dionna Walker,  founder of Dionna's Helping Hands in Dayton.

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Dionna Walker, founder of Dionna's Helping Hands in Dayton.

Then a Belmont High School student, Dionna found herself pregnant with her first child at 16. She says she hopped from "sofa to sofa and couch to couch."

She had to grow up fast.

"I was homeless. I was struck on my own. I had to start from the bottom," Dionna, the third oldest of her mother's 10 children, said.

She worked at McDonald's, becoming a manager around her 18th birthday,  and volunteered at a local charity to get extra diapers for her son.

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She was not hardened by the experience. 

"I look at it as blessing because I was able to mature myself," the author of the 2015 book "Devious Deeds" said. 

Dionna and her then-boyfriend, Cordell Walker, married three years ago. They have been together 10 years.

With encouragement from her grandmother, Abigail's Journey founder Shallon Coleman, Dionna launched Dionna Helping Hands a year ago.

Abigail's Journey assists needy woman and children through money management, homework help, self-esteem building and other efforts.

At first, Dionna simply intended to collect clothes for the teen mothers in need.

She had experience giving away clothes. 

As a student at Patterson-Kennedy Elementary, Dionna said she gave friends clothes her parents bought her.

It was only years later that she fully understood the impact of her actions.

"I just wanted my friend to come to school," she said. "They didn’t want to come to school because they didn't have clothes."

Since its inception, Dionna's mission has expanded.

Aside from clothing, the organization now provides furniture ranging from bunk beds to sofas, baby items, prom dresses and community outreach.

All said, Dionna said the organization has helped more than 2,000 people through various efforts, including a free community barbecue and clothing giveaway.

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It has worked with YWCA Dayton, Montgomery County Help Me Grow, and House of Bread.

Dionna now hopes to find a permanent building for her charity.

"I want to see Dionna's Helping Hands be nationwide," she said.

Dionna's efforts recently earned her a 2016 Image of Hope Award.

The annual award is given to Dayton youth advocates.

UPCOMING EVENTS  

Dionna Helping Hands will hold its Santa's Little Helpers events in November including a a gift donation drive, ice cream with Santa from 5 to 7 p.m. Nov. 12 at Cold Stone Creamery, 6815 Miller Lane in Vandalia.

Wacky Wing's Wednesday, a Christmas sock party with Santa Claus, will be held 5 to 7 p.m. Nov. 2 at Buffalo Wild Wings, 1900 Brown St. in Dayton.

For information, visit the website or Facebook page.

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